Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Toronto opera house, situated at the southeast corner of Queen St West and University Avenue.
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Toronto opera house, situated at the southeast corner of Queen St West and University Avenue.

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Toronto opera house, situated at the southeast corner of Queen St West and University Avenue. Built in 2006 as the permanent venue for the Canadian Opera Company (COC) and the National Ballet of Canada, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts is Canada's first custom-built opera house. It is owned and administered by the Canadian Opera House Corporation.

Planning and Development

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts was the result of a long-term plan initiated in 1983 by COC director (1976-88) Lotfi Mansouri and the Opera/Ballet Hall Corporation to provide an alternative to the poorly suited O'Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts. Despite setbacks - provincial support for a $320-million plan collapsed in 1990 - the campaign for a Toronto opera house was pursued by the COC board and the company's director 1994-2007, Richard Bradshaw.

In 2001, the Ontario government donated a 1.7-acre block of land. Construction began in April 2003, with Diamond and Schmitt (Toronto) as architects, Sound Space Design Ltd (London) as acousticians, and Fisher Dachs Associates (New York) as theatre consultants. Initial funding, in addition to the $31-million land donation, was provided by the federal government ($25 million); Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, after which the Centre is named ($20 million); the Fraser Elliott Foundation ($10 million); and Isadore and Rosalie Sharp ($5 million). The remaining portion of the $186-million budget was obtained through fundraising.

R. Fraser Elliott Hall and Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, though visually austere, was designed with a focus on sound and function. The main performance space, the R. Fraser Elliott Hall, combines state-of-the-art acoustics (500 rubber and steel pads isolate it from outside noise and vibration) with structural elements of European opera houses. Measuring only 28.5 m wide by 32 m deep (with a proscenium arch of 15.85 m wide by 12 m high), it is deliberately modest in size, seating a maximum of 2,071 (923 at orchestra level, 1148 on surrounding levels). The hall's traditional horseshoe shape (modeled after Munich's Nationaltheater), four tiers of shallow balconies, sound-absorbing stucco walls, and modern convex plaster ceiling create the sight lines, spatial intimacy, and sound clarity best suited for opera and orchestral music. The orchestra pit, which can be raised and lowered, can accommodate up to 110 players, placing few limitations on repertoire. A large backstage facility, as well as side and rear stages, have allowed for three full-scale productions at one time.

The Four Seasons Centre also houses the 100-seat Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, used for smaller concerts and lectures.

Performances and Productions

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts opened 14 Jun 2006 with a gala concert featuring Ben Heppner, Adrianne Pieczonka, Gerald Finley, and Brett Polegato, with the COC Chorus and Orchestra under Richard Bradshaw. On 12 Sep 2006 the COC launched its first season at the Four Seasons Centre with an extravagant Canadian premiere of Richard Wagner's cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. The $18-million production extended over 12 nearly sold-out performances and was broadcast live by CBC radio. In a review (American Record Guide, Jan-Feb 2007), Leslie Kandall wrote: "The most memorable element of Canada's first homegrown Ring Cycle was the house where it was presented. . . . I can state that in no other hall I know save Bayreuth's Festpielhaus is the sound of the orchestra so well blended with the singers. . . . The sound is always warm and generous with exceptional clarity yet never clinical."

Subsequent COC productions at the Four Seasons Centre have included Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro (2007); Verdi's Don Carlos (2007); Janáček's From the House of the Dead (2007); Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande (2008); and Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin (2008). By 2008, the Centre had attracted more than 135,000 patrons to COC productions alone.

Further Reading

  • Eatock, Colin. "About the house," Opera Canada, Summer 2005

    Gooding, Wayne. "Underwriting Valhalla," Opera Canada, vol 46, no 3, Sep-Oct 2005

    Eatock, Colin. "The COC builds its dream home," Queen's Quarterly, vol 113, no 4, winter 2006

    Webster, Paul. "Sounds of Silence," Canadian Geographic, vol 126, no 1, Jan-Feb 2006

    Gooding, Wayne. "Home at last," Opera Canada, May-Jun 2006

    Hume, Christopher. "Nothing to sing about: you get what you pay for, and Toronto's opera house is no exception," Toronto Star, 8 Jun 2006

    Amiel, Barbara. "Bravissimo!" Maclean's, vol 119, no 24, 12 Jun 2006

    Knelman, Martin. "The Bradshaw touch: he made opera sizzle and donors wanted in on it," Toronto Star, 12 Jun 2006

    So, Joseph K. "Home sweet home: COC reaches high note with the Four Seasons Centre," Opus, Summer 2006

    Everett-Green, Robert. "Opera house enters its Rheingolden age . . .," Globe and Mail, 13 Sep 2006

    "The sound and the view: Toronto's new opera house," American Record Guide, vol 70, no 1, Jan-Feb 2007