An opera house can assume a larger-than-life presence and become a symbol of a city. Think of Milan's La Scala, the swooping sail architecture of Sydney or the stunning 21st-century opera houses in Copenhagen and Oslo. These theatres become a point of pride for citizens, even if they never went to the opera, because they placed the city on the cultural map.
Toronto has wanted to join the big leagues for a long time. Since 1960, the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada bunked together at what is now called the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, a multi-purpose hall that also endured circus acts and, when the Clash came to town, seat-tossing antics. With a sloped floor and a capacity of 3,000, the setting was anything but intimate for those in the cheap seats.
In the 1980s, plans were launched for a dedicated opera house. After a quarter-century of infighting and political dithering, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts opened in 2006. At long last, Toronto got the first purpose-built opera house in Canada.
Designed by Toronto architect Jack Diamond, the $180-million music box has a prominent location on the corner of University Avenue and Queen Street West. A high glass curtain across the main lobby connects the streetlife to the rarefied world of opera within.
And yet Toronto is not satisfied: this is not the picture-postcard icon many had hoped for. The Four Seasons didn't even make it on to the Toronto Star's 'Ten projects that changed Toronto in 2006'. Architecture critic Christopher Hume called it 'a generic box that looks no further than its own black-brick walls'. When hopes are pinned on a building to vault a city's reputation, disappointment is often the end result.
But settle into a seat in the intimate, multi-tiered auditorium and forget the naysayers. With perfect sight-lines and vastly improved acoustics, a night at the opera - or the ballet, which also performs here - is worth the price of admission (if you can get a ticket).