Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres

There is lots of talk here about Toronto’s cultural renaissance, but there is also a lot of grumbling, as can be expected, that we are not a world-class city and are unlikely to ever be. There is much argument for and against. I am going to use my blog this summer to occasionally bring you some charming and intriguing corners of the city that mean a lot to me, famous and not-so-well known.

To start with, this post is about a location where I have spent many happy evenings: the last operating double-decker theatre in the world: The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre. The larger 1561-seat Elgin Theatre is a throw-back to a gilded age, complete with ornate boxes and a gorgeous lobby.

The Elgin Theatre:

The 992-seat Winter Garden Theatre, up in the roof of the building, has an outdoor ambience about it with walls hand-painted with garden scenes, columns disguised as tree trunks and a ceiling hung with real beech leaves, cotton blossoms and garden lanterns.

The Winter Garden Theatre:

The centre was originally built in 1913 as a vaudeville theatre; it has also been a nickelodeon and movie palace. Restoration was completed in 1987 and this double theatre is now a National Historic Site.

An early photograph:

Here are some fascinating renovation details:

~ in the lobby 28 layers of paint were removed from the original surface:

~ over 300,000 sheets of wafer-thin aluminum leaf were used in the seven-step process of re-gilding the plaster details in the Elgin. The photograph below shows some of the opera boxes of the interior.

~ 1,500 pounds of flour were made into bread dough, which was used to clean 20,000 square feet of hand-painted walls in the Winter Garden

~ 5,000 branches of beech leaves were harvested, preserved, painted, fire-proofed and suspended from the magical Winter Garden ceiling

Most of the productions I have seen there have been by Opera Atelier. The two founders and co-artistic directors are husband-and-wife Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Zingg. The two trained as ballet dancers, grew too tall and ended up dancing at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, before it closed, to give them access to the documents they sought to research baroque opera and ballet. They are a most glamorous couple, tall, dark-haired, lean and equally beautiful. Zingg is photographed below:

They returned to Toronto from Paris and formed Opera Atelier in the early 80s. To audiences here and around the world on tour, they brought the look and feel of Baroque performance in operas by great composers such as Monteverdi, Gluck and Purcell. They researched the rather extreme and very symbolic gestural acting and choreography. A large part of their early success was the costuming by self-taught Dora Rust-d’Eye who produced the most remarkable and sumptuous pieces.

Cyril Avvity and Nathalie Paulin in Persée, photo by Bruce Zinger:

They continue to flourish as they evolve and delve into more “modern” composers such as Mozart and their current production of Idomeneo has been receiving great press with the casting of Canada’s Measha Brueggergosman as Elettra and the American male soprano Michael Maniaci as Idamante. Brueggergosman has an intensely media-friendly persona. She is famous for her talent and for losing a boatload of weight, and emerging even more stylish, funky and front-cover worthy than she was before. Maniaci is famous for being a very rare male soprano. We're not talking counter tenor or male alto here, but male soprano, a voice created a couple of hundred years ago through the dreadful process of castration. Of course, that practice has long been banned. But Maniaci, physically complete, happens to have a voice redolent of those magical, mysterious voices of the castrati. The production has been lauded. I can't concur, but I’m glad I caught it, if not for yet another opportunity to see the lovely Elgin Theatre.

Measha Brueggergosman and Curtis Sullivan in Idomeneo, photographed by Bruce Zinger:


Eaglewing said...

Ok, not really an opera fan here, but I do like old buildings and history. Thanks for the blog tour of the Elgin, fascinating stuff. I really like that early photograph too.

And they used bread dough to clean the walls?! Who knew?

Bachelor said...

Blog Princess G,
Please continue this wonderful tour of Toronto. The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres are gorgeous! The history of the stars is very interesting.Toronto just might be a nice city to visit someday. Oh, by the way, your opera date is waiting at my today's post.

laurie said...

oh i love these old theaters.

the summer i lived in columbus, ohio, there was one downtown that had recently been restored. a grand old place.

they showed old betty davis and joan collins movies all summer, and i was there for every one.

willow said...

You know how much I loved this post. Well, done!

When I walk into an old theater, I can feel the energy from years of performances, can't you? Magical.

BTW, my daughter, performed with Nathalie Paulin in L'Etoil at the Cincinnati Opera!

glamah16 said...

This is a tressure!

Betsy said...

Thanks for sharing these pictures of this gorgeous theatre center! I'm ready to sit there and take in a performance! :) And excuse me, but how is it that I keep finding you sauntering off to the photographer's studio to be given little treats of dark chocolate??? Hmmm....I'm jealous!

Blog Princess G said...

Eaglewing ~ I love all music, I'm just on a real opera kick right now. I go in waves. I was wondering about the bread dough too. I'm not going to include it in my cleaning routine. Hey... what the hey ~ I don't have a cleaning routine! Thanks for dropping by. :)

Sir B ~ I've just started my tour. Fasten your seatbelt (teddies included), it's going to be an interesting ride and I've got my new ace girl tour-guide cap on.

Laurie ~ That's fantastic! How wonderful to see the old movies in a proper movie palace! Sigh... we had a pretty nice one here, the Eglinton, but since has closed down and re-opened as a special events hall.

Willow ~ I was just having a catch-up chat with Nathalie Paulin the other day. A small world!. :)

Coco ~ I hope to experience Chicago's opera venue this fall. :)

Betsy ~ well now you know why I spend so much time at the photographer's studio. Heh heh heh. He had some assorted treats today and seemed quite miffed we could only get through about half of them. Very nice man!

Capt. Luke said...

Toronto is certainly a world class city...I know of a certain landmark (not historic) I'd like to visit ;-)