Seattle Center’s McCaw Hall has a new building next door. The grand opening for the new Opera Center was held on December 15, 2018. It will add needed space for more intimate performances, rehearsals, community events and offices.
My husband and I were delighted to tour this spectacular building. As you walk towards the entrance on Mercer Street you notice large windows. This is Tagney Jones Hall, a new performance space for special concerts and lectures. Seattle Opera calls it a glass box performance hall where events may also be observed by people walking outside. Inside it holds seating for over 300 people, and there were a series of concerts for its opening celebration.
As you walk along the main floor inside the building there is an overlook to a large downstairs costume shop. Seattle Opera staff were busy making costumes for upcoming productions, and this area is also visible from an outside garden. According to the opera, the costume collection has more than 1300 linear feet of racks — more than twice the height of the Space Needle.
An upper level features three multi-purpose studios. The largest one is the same size as McCaw Hall’s stage, where cast members were practicing sword play for the upcoming opera, Il trovatore. Some of these spaces will be used for youth opera projects, summer camps and special events.
Rehearsals used to take place in an older building in South Lake Union. My opera volunteer husband remembers how inaccessible this building was even before Amazon traffic. Moving cast members, costumes and props back and forth between this building and Seattle Center was always challenging.
The Mercer Arena formerly occupied the Opera Center site on Mercer Street. This site was made available to the opera by the City of Seattle, but the 1928 building had seismic issues and could not meet its needs. Plans to design a modern building came to a halt during the 2008 Great Recession. Funding was later provided through public and private sources, including the sale of property on Mercer Street donated by the former Kreielsheimer Foundation.
General Director Aidan Lang was hired in 2014 in time to make improvements to the plans before construction started. The new Opera Center was designed by NBBJ and constructed by Lease Crutcher Lewis. It includes administrative offices, entertainment areas and a library with archives of more than 10,000 items. Reclaimed fir saved from the Mercer Arena roof was refinished for use on seating risers.
Seattle Opera is the largest arts employer in Washington state. There are 75 administrative staff and more than 500 employees who work on operas throughout the year. These people include the Seattle Opera Chorus and orchestra players (also members of the Seattle Symphony), staff members in the costume department, stage crew, hair and makeup artists and stage management.
The Opera Center is the newest member of the Seattle Center campus. This modern space will support new concerts and educational events to enhance our community for years to come.