Lyric Opera patrons will return to new, wider seats and better sightlines - Chicago Sun-Times

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To express confidence in the future, the company has been changing each seat and reconfiguring its audience space, and is expected to complete the project this week.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago is about to rebuild and reorganize its 91-year-old theater, located at 20 N. Wacker. This is the first project of its kind since the overhaul of the interior of the large room in 1996.

The entire floor is equipped with slightly larger new seats, staggered configuration and wider aisles on the main floor. These changes are intended to improve sightlines, accessibility and audience comfort. But the transformation will reduce the overall capacity from 3563 to 3276.

"This is an extraordinary moment when you can redecorate and rebuild an opera house the size of the Lyric Opera," said Anthony Freud, general manager, president and CEO.

Despite financial pressure due to the coronavirus restrictions on live production, Lyric Opera was able to continue the project due to a limited grant from an anonymous supporter two years ago.

In order to respect the wishes of the donor, Lyric did not disclose the amount of the gift, but the company's technical director Michael Smallwood (Michael Smallwood) said that the donation exceeded $1 million and was less than $5 million.

Freud said: "This is a beacon of hope, because this huge work in the auditorium really symbolizes our determination and optimism for the future."

The project started shortly after receiving the donation, and theater consultants, architects and other experts participated in the planning. One of the biggest challenges is to ensure that the changes made will not harm the sound effects that the theater touts. To this end, the company hired Kirkegaard, an acoustic consulting company headquartered in Chicago, to carry out the 1996 renovation project.

Freud said: "And it is expected that the relocated auditorium will not be significantly different from the previous seats." "If there is, the reverberation may increase slightly, which will make the acoustic effect warmer or even richer. "

Unlike the overhaul in 1996, when the theater’s existing seats were renovated, Lyric Opera decided to replace all seats produced in Colombia with SERIES Seating. The company provides venues such as the Winspear Opera House in Dallas. The Lyric Officer decided to order a customized seat with the following characteristics:

Aisle lighting will be adopted for each row of seats (rather than other seats) to achieve safer and more uniform lighting. In the past, the width of the balcony seat was 18-21 inches, and the width of the main floor was 19-22 inches. The new one is about one inch wide. "I think people will notice, I do." Smallwood said of the slight increase in width.

Unlike the previous seats, the new seats are installed on the main floor in a staggered manner to provide better visibility, and legroom in some areas has increased by about 1 inch. This configuration requires bending the main channel that was previously straight. In addition, these aisles have been expanded to improve traffic and accessibility, and 19 platforms and other disabled seats have been added throughout the opera house. The seating arrangement on the balcony remains unchanged.

One of the most noticeable changes in the theater is the aisle in the rear of the main building, which is five feet away from the stage to expand the front area of ​​the theater's main seats.

According to Smallwood, the increased ticket value due to the increase in the normally sold-out portion will help make up for the lost revenue caused by the loss of 287 seats in this new configuration.

These changes will mean subtle changes to the seats of many subscribers (mainly on the main floor). Public relations manager Marianna Moroz said via email: "We will take all precautions to move season ticket holders to seats comparable to their previous positions."

Initially, the seating project will be squeezed between the end of the 2019-20 season and the start of the 2020-21 lineup, and the work of the theater must alternate with stage preparations for the upcoming performance. However, due to the coronavirus, human production has been closed, which means that the schedule has been relaxed, which is a bright spot in other situations.

The project is scheduled to be completed on Wednesday, leaving only the testing and final adjustment of the seats and the required city inspections.

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