Pas de divorce

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  April 2, 2008

Is Boston Ballet — which, despite being a young (40 years) outfit in a smallish town with limited corporate and public support, has become one of America’s top ballet companies — headed down to the minors? Skeptics might point to the Opera House’s smaller capacity, the smaller size of the stage, and the orchestra pit’s unsuitability for anything like an actual orchestra (as opposed to the 17-or-so-member ensembles that accompany touring Annies and My Fair Ladys). But Nissinen is adamant that this is an opportunity for the company to control its future. At 3600 seats, the Wang is bigger than any dance company really needs. The Opera House stage may be smaller than the Wang’s, but it’s as big as the ones other major companies perform on, and Nissinen says there isn’t any large work — like Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty — that the Ballet won’t be able to do in the future. As for the orchestra pit, Boston Ballet faced a similar situation at the Wang, where as part of the 1990 renovation the pit was rebuilt with wood instead of concrete and enlarged to make room for as many as 85 musicians. Boston Ballet music director Jonathan McPhee — one of the organization’s prime assets — oversaw that restoration, and he’ll doubtless do the same at the Opera House, where Live Nation has agreed to rebuild the pit. (If the Ballet wants an elevator, and Nissinen says he does, the company will pay for that part of the restoration.)

And if eyebrows have been raised over the Ballet’s committing itself to Live Nation for 30 years, one might equally well wonder why Live Nation is tying up the Opera House for eight weekends plus The Nutcracker every year — and redoing the orchestra pit for its new tenant, and giving the Ballet a deal that, Nissinen says, will save the company money. Back in 2004, Boston Ballet couldn’t get the Opera House for The Nutcracker because The Lion King was in the middle of its seven-month run, but the only shows that have run longer than two weeks there since are The Phantom of the Opera and Wicked. It seems clear that Live Nation doesn’t see a lot of long-running Broadway shows coming down the pipe anytime soon and that it’s looking for steady business. There’s even been speculation that it’s looking at Boston Lyric Opera (BLO), which now performs in what may be the Theater District’s least comfortable venue, the 1600-seat Shubert Theatre. The new orchestra pit will of course make the Opera House more attractive to an opera company. Whether BLO, which in recent years has had to downsize from seven performances of four productions to six performances of three, would be ready to move to a venue that’s half again as large as the Shubert is another matter. In any event, its lease with the Citi Center runs through the 2012–2013 season, so it won’t be moving anytime soon.

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