‘Otello’ and the Winspear: You can’t go wrong with even the least expensive seats.

Our ‘Otello’ ticket winner from this week’s Back Talk contest was kind enough to send along a photo from last week’s performance. Angie Parra was the winner, and pictured with her is Nicolas Camacho. You can read her review of the performance by clicking here and scrolling down to the comments.

Also, one of our regular Back Talk readers (CitizenKane) asked about the opera house and the acoustics. My family and I attended one of last week’s shows, too, so I’ll give you my off-the-cuff impressions.

We were sitting in the mezzanine level, which is a couple of levels up from the orchestra/floor level and a couple of levels below the highest seating at the Winspear Opera House. In fact, we were about at eye level with the very top of the stage, where a screen displays English subtitle translation of what the performers are singing. There were between two and five rows in our section, depending on the specific location around the mezzanine, and from what I could tell, every single seat in the main section has an excellent and, for the most part, unobstructed view of the stage, assuming you’re not sitting behind Dirk Nowitzki. (Just so you know, there has been some grumbling about the few ultra-cheap (like $15) seats nearest the stage, so keep an eye on that if you’re buying seats.)

If you’ve attended the Meyerson Symphony Center Downtown, just imagine a slightly smaller venue with upper-level seating pulled closer to the stage and smaller (in terms of number of seat rows) capacities in the higher levels. Honestly, I don’t see how you can go wrong here from even the least expensive seats.

Inside, in the words of one of my sons (a reluctant attendee, as he continually pointed out during intermissions), the building "didn’t seem that big." He’s right — the public hallways on each of the higher levels allowed enough room for two people to pass comfortably and one to look out over the lobby below, and that’s about it for passing space. It wasn’t a problem and didn’t detract from the experience, but the common areas were a little tighter than I expected.

The lobby on the main floor was fairly plain, but that’s not a complaint. It’s not like the overwhelming old-time lobbies you’ll find in European theaters, filled with hardwoods and carpet and gold-gilded everything. This one is nice, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also utilitarian and allowed ample space to mingle. Interestingly, there were quite a few simple plastic/metal dining-table-and-chair combos in the lobby if you wanted to try the reasonably priced sandwiches, sushi and snacks (generally $4-10 each), along with beer, wine, water and sodas.

The tables and chairs seemed more picnic-table oriented than I would have expected at a venue that cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but to be honest, they make the place seem more accessible. And as for the food, I wouldn’t recommend the overall experience for a sit-down meal, but if you showed up straight from work and didn’t want your stomach to keep the patron next to you awake, you won’t go broke.

Inside, the theater was well-appointed but not what I would all opulent. The seats were nicely cushioned and the seatbacks were a dark-toned pressed wood. The place is what I would call upper-middle-class rather than over-the-top extravagant. And I think that’s a good thing.

Acoustically, the theater seemed great. The music and lyrics were clear, the sound didn’t seem distorted in any way, and my amateur opinion is that it couldn’t be much better. Even from the cheap seats, I didn’t feel far from the action, and I felt like I heard everything.

One more thing: Attending an opera is something most people simply have never done, in many cases because it’s perceived to be an intimidating — and dare I say it, boring — experience.

Based on Thursday night’s visit, there’s no reason to worry about being intimidated, even if it’s your first rodeo. Many guys were wearing coats and ties, but there were an awful lot of open collars (including my own); a few women were dressed for the ball, but most seemed to think "business casual" was appropriate. I saw some jeans, too. There’s no reason to be uncomfortable at this venue, even if you aren’t an opera buff; in fact, a lot of the people attending seemed to be newbies, too.

And as for the "boring" part, what can I say? The opera isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth checking out at least once in your life, if only to say you’ve been. My first and only experience prior to Thursday was during a junior high school field trip, and it wasn’t pleasant. On Thursday, though, I enjoyed the experience, I understood what was happening on the stage and (thanks to the subtitles) I could follow the show.

In my opinion, you’re missing something big if you don’t check out the Winspear, and the entire Downtown arts district, sometime soon.


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  • siddabear

    I sat in the crow’s nest (3rd row from the top) – what a nightmare. I have been an opera goer for more than 10 years (sitting in the mezzanine until a divorce caused me to move up!) and have never left during the middle of an opera until Thursday night. During the 2nd act most of the events took place on the 3rd level of the set. Amazingly, none of us saw anything but legs. What happened to sight lines with the set designer? The chairs are very uncomfortable for those under 5’4″ because of the depth of the seats. If you sit back you can’t see over the rail and your legs dangle in the air.

    I will have to rethink my season tickets in this new venue.

  • Rick Wamre

    CitizenKane, you raise an interesting point about the subtitles. Because of our mid-level-in-the-auditorium seats, the subtitles were at about eye level for us so it wasn’t difficult to read the words and keep an eye on the stage. Had I been sitting in lower-level orchestra seats right in front of the stage, it might have been more difficult. I don’t think it would have been a big problem, just a little more head-bobbing than would be ideal. All in all, though, I’ll be going back for more.

  • CitizenKane

    Thanks Rick for giving us some info on WOH.

    As an aging rocker hippie ( I went to Woodstock ’69), I think Opera is the best musical format going. Especially the Big Kahunas (Aida, Turnadot, Madame Butterfly). They are big events which deliver great music, drama, over-the-top staging, and sometimes wonderful acting/performances. In fact I think it is the best deal going for the price of admission.

    In the hey-day; opera was very much a common man event. So I urge people who have never been to give it a try. Don’t think of Opera as a snooty form of art. It really is meant for the masses.

    PS I am disappointed that the WOH has the transaltion presented about the screen (on some kind of crawl, i presume). I prefer the Met’s method in which the transaltion is available in the seat back in front of each patron.