Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dreaming Out Loud

Peter Ladner, a former city councillor and mayoral candidate in Vancouver, recently said that our city “desperately needs a visible centre for the high-tech industry.”

Well, Mr. Ladner, there has been something I’d want to get off my chest for a long time now. What this city truly and desperately needs are some world class performing arts centres. Let us look at what we have right now.

The Queen Elizabeth Theatre, opened with great fanfare in 1959, represents the absolute worst of architecture from the 1950’s and 1960’s. This hall is now, unfortunately, the home of the Vancouver Opera. Whenever I am inside the theatre, I am taken back to the time when Vancouver was a quiet and very provincial backwater. What is more, the acoustics of the hall is deplorable, and both the stage and the orchestra pit are far too small. Unless you are seated at the first ten rows from the stage, there is no immediacy in the sound. If you happen to be unlucky to be seated in the upper balconies, you can perhaps see figures moving on stage, but the music being played on stage would, unless amplified, sound like listening to a stereo system from far, far away. The theatre is one of those so-called “multi-purpose” halls that ends up being good for not much else, and is a disgrace to our city. Perhaps it is good enough for Andrew Lloyd Webber, with all the voices singing into hidden microphones, but it is certainly not good enough for Mozart.

The Orpheum Theatre, home of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, dates from 1927 and was restored in the 1970’s. It is, and deserves to be, a heritage building, because of its old world splendour. But it is not a concert hall. No matter how many acoustical panels they install, there are far too many dead spots for sound. Again, unless you are one of the lucky ones sitting close to the stage, you might as well stay home and listen to your own sound system.

We are certainly fortunate in our city to have the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, situated in the campus of the University of British Columbia. The hall, not much to look at from the outside, does have comfortable seating, and the acoustics is beautiful. But the hall is limited because of its small stage and lack of an orchestra pit.

Apparently Vancouver did have a “real” opera house once upon a time. In 1890, the Canadian Pacific Railway built The Vancouver Opera House, on
733 Granville Street
, for the sum of $100,000. At the time, it was considered outrageous to spend such an amount of money for a “small town”, but it was an indication of the CPR’s optimism in the city’s future. The opera house seated 2,000 - when the population was a little over 10,000 - and it opened in 1891 with a performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin.

I have a dream. That one day we will have a world class performing arts complex that can house both our orchestra and opera company. I have a vision that the complex will be situated in the Vanier Park area, looking out towards Burrard Inlet. Like Sydney Harbour, we will then have a beautiful performing arts centre in the midst of spectacular natural beauty. Do we have someone with the optimism in our city’s future to initiate such a project?

When that day comes, Vancouver will truly be the international city it purports, or wishes to be.

Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

No comments:

Post a Comment