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Sunday, June 22, 2003
Great expectations: PNB, Seattle Opera plan to make the most of their new venue

By Melinda Bargreen
Seattle Times music critic

Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic co-directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell are enthusiastic about the artistic possibilities the new hall presents.
No one has watched the transformation of McCaw Hall more eagerly than its two major resident companies, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Seattle Opera. How the hall works for them could essentially rewrite the future of both companies, by expanding their artistic possibilities and their development.

The proof of this pudding won't arrive for a few months, until they raise the curtain on their two blockbuster season-openers: Seattle Opera's August staging of "Parsifal," and Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Swan Lake" in September.

But in the meantime, the people behind the scenes have rave reviews for what they've seen so far.

"It's hard to talk about the new hall without sounding like a booster," says Seattle Opera general director Speight Jenkins, "but the hall is more exciting and thrilling than I anticipated. It's 70 percent new, but to me it's 100 percent new. We have moved from an all-purpose auditorium to a bona fide opera house.

Speight Jenkins
Seattle Opera director Speight Jenkins says the hall is "more exciting and thrilling than I anticipated."
"It has all the amenities that an opera house needs. Until you see it you don't think about what you haven't had. One important part of both opera and ballet is having an exciting entrance into the house, seeing other people come in. We have three balconies people can look over, big staircases coming up, and a presentational aspect of the open spaces."

Arts companies survive because of their donors; now there are two beautiful rooms to reward them for their contributions.

Despite seeing the drawings and mockups for the inside of the auditorium, Jenkins wasn't prepared for what he saw when the space finally began to take shape.

"I always liked the sweep around of the first tier going down to the orchestra seating," Jenkins says, "but until we saw it, we didn't realize that giving two more rows to first tier and two more to balcony actually brought everybody closer to stage. There's a feeling of increased intimacy, moving each side 16 feet closer to the center. That's going to be amazing for our singers; some of them have already visited the new house, and they're thrilled by what they saw and heard."

Like Jenkins, Pacific Northwest Ballet co-director Kent Stowell is thrilled by the reality of the new McCaw Hall.

"It's hard to envision until you see it," he says, "but it's been a delight to see this hall unfold. It's the opposite of the 'Field of Dreams,' where the motto was 'Build it and they will come.' Here, we've been playing in the ballpark for a long time, and we've finally built the hall for our dancers and our audiences — and for the whole community."

Technical improvements in the new hall, including trapdoors in the stage and a larger proscenium (stage opening), will make many things possible for PNB that were impossible before. So will the increased income from more ticket buyers.

"If ticket sales go well, and they're going very well, this will allow us to do more new works and more new productions," says PNB co-director Francia Russell. "And the big lobby spaces will allow us to stage many events and activities. Our 'Nutcracker' audiences will have a real feast (of activities) at intermission."

Both Russell and Stowell think the new hall will be a jolt of fresh energy for performers and audiences alike, showcasing the company as never before and giving audiences a sense of excitement with all the vibrant colors.


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