State-of-the-art opera house to open in Denver
DENVER – When the Auditorium Theater opened here in 1908, only New York’s Madison Square Garden was a larger U.S. venue. Over the years, Enrico Caruso sang there, countless high schoolers held their graduation ceremonies and prizefighters slugged it out.Now, only the buff brick walls remain. But tucked inside is a new, $92 million opera house architects liken to a ship in a bottle.”We wanted to keep the history,” said lead architect Peter Lucking of Denver-based Semple Brown Design. “It is a lot harder and more expensive. Building inside a building is incredibly difficult. There was a time when we were watching it in case it collapsed.”Lucking, whose firm designed the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, said the trouble was worth it.”The building has a soul. There is an energy in here because hundreds of thousands of people have passed through these doors,” he said. “It hasn’t left the building.”The opera house will hold a gala debut Saturday with a concert featuring soprano Renee Fleming and bass-baritone James Morris performing “At the Statue of Venus” by composer Jake Heggie and playwright Terrence McNally. A public celebration is scheduled for the next day.The first full production will be Bizet’s Carmen with Denyce Graves in the title role. Eight performances begin Nov. 3.Denver is seeing a boom in cultural building, including the $70 million Newman Center for Performing Arts at the University of Denver and a Daniel Libeskind-designed addition to the Denver Art Museum. Funding is being sought for a museum dedicated to the late abstract expressionism painter Clyfford Still.The Ellie, as it has been dubbed, is the first building in Denver specifically tailored to opera and ballet in a century. Opera Colorado and the Colorado Ballet are the main tenants.”I think it has created an excitement for opera that will produce growing audiences,” said Marc Scorca, president and chief executive officer of Opera America. “Nationally, it is important that operas have robust partners across the country to join in productions. That will mean Denver audiences will see some leading productions that have been produced in other places.”The cozy, 2,268-seat opera house is a model of comfort. With a minimum of 38 inches between reclining seats, there is enough space for another audience member to pass through without brushing your knee. Seatbacks have LED screens with translated opera lyrics.There are no obstacles to sight lines and the greatest distance from seat to stage is 113 feet, the equivalent of the dress circle at the Metropolitan Opera, said Peter Russell, president of Opera Colorado. On every level, members of the audience are visible.”We want a community,” Lucking said.Acoustician Bob Mahoney said he’s extremely pleased with the clarity and reach of the unamplified sound, funneled to the audience by serrated walls next to the stage. Dried, processed seaweed was placed on basement walls to absorb sound and special doors were installed at each entrance. A back row of seats will be used for latecomers, and restrooms and bars are plentiful to cut down on lines during intermissions.”The principal artists’ rooms are so big that in New York 12 people would be living in them,” Russell deadpanned.Opera Colorado will continue to stage three operas a year, though with more performances and spaced throughout the year, until 2007-2008, when it will put on four.Russell said Opera Colorado has seen a surge in subscriber interest and tours of the facility for patrons have been packed.”People are coming out of the woodwork. People who would go to New York or Santa Fe because they weren’t satisfied with opera here are calling us,” he said.Since it began productions in 1983, Opera Colorado has had to use two adjacent theaters in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, neither designed for opera, and both requiring electrical amplification.”Now audiences will be able to hear opera the way it is supposed to sound,” Russell said.Vail – Colorado
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