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A Visit to Lincoln Center, In Progress

From Winter 2009

I know what you're thinking. Isn't that Holly Golightly there above, centered in the photo of the photo, awaiting the opening of the completely renovated Lincoln Center? Do you think she is excited about a night at the Metropolitan Opera, a place far away from her gritty roots in Tulip, Texas? Yes, of course. New York glamour lives on.

I'm not one to take organized tours. I tend to wander off and ask too many questions, but for some places, that's the only way to go. On Wednesday I had every intention of traveling to Lincoln Center (vicinity of E. 64th @ Broadway) to hear a concert at the lovely redesigned Alice Tully Hall, but I was running too late. So, I made my reservation for a tour of the center yesterday, Thursday, at 11 a.m. In my befuddled state, I had expected that Tully Hall would be part of the tour (no doubt confusing it with Avery Fisher Hall), which it was not, but as you'll read later, things worked out anyway.

Yesterday, I checked in at the Avery Fisher tour desk at a little before eleven, and shortly thereafter, a tall, congenial man met about a dozen of us and guided us through the maze of construction, pounding hammers, and plywood that is the current state of Lincoln Center.

It's a little disconcerting to see the center torn up like this, but amazing sights await inside (but no pictures allowed inside these hallowed halls.) Our first stop was the vast interior of the Metropolitan Opera, making our way through the labyrinth of the stage door entrance to a technical booth facing the stage. Looking out onto the stage, we watched for a few minutes the Met company rehearsing La Sonnambula ("The Sleepwalker") by Vincenzo Bellini, and we could monitor the sounds of the lighting designers setting their cues. The guide apologized in advance for any coarse language we may overhear. As someone who writes about walking in waking moments, I was naturally fascinated by the opera's story. Natalie Dessay stars, and Mary Zimmerman directs this production, modernized and Pirandello-ized (set at a rehearsal of the opera), and we could watch them both from the booth. We were in fact watching a rehearsal of a rehearsal, a confusing spectacle that appealed to my sense of the absurd.

The tour continued to the Vivian Beaumont Theatre (above, inset), where we sat in the rows facing the stage. Currently home to South Pacific, the theater, we learned, is vast and deep, in addition to being configured unusually with its large three-quarter stage. From there, we made our way back out onto the plaza and to the New York State Theater, home to the New York City Ballet (inset). Taking an elevator to a higher floor, we sat in the nose-bleed seats and watched a little of the ballet company rehearsing the dazzling piece Mercurial Maneovres, part of their 21st Century Movement program. Sitting so high up we could see the patterns of choreography but still appreciate the lithe moves of these young dancers. What a great sound - the patter of toe shoes on an empty stage! From there, our guide took us to the seats of Avery Fisher Hall, the home of the New York Philharmonic, where no one, alas, was rehearsing. Still, it was nice to sit in the balcony and imagine the music.

After the tour ended, I walked across the street to Alice Tully Hall. While I wasn't able to go into the Starr Theater, I enjoyed walking around and contemplating this soaring new space. A cafe is open for business inside the lobby, and it's a beautiful place to sit even when there's no plan for a concert. Because I'm an architecture geek, I immediately recognized the architect, Liz Diller, standing outside the hall. I went up to her and introduced myself (God and Texas did not make me shy) and thanked her for this wonderful gift to the city.

Information: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Daily tours between 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. See Lincoln Center website with more information on tours and times. Special 20-minute tours of Tully Hall, March 8-21, for $5.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple, February 26, 2009. More pix of Alice Tully Hall on Flickr WOTBA.

See the companion walk, A Walk From Lincoln Center to Zabar's.





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