One of the big stories in the Houston arts community this year was the renovation inside the Wortham Center, and the major change it made in the -sound- of the music performed there. They corrected a mistake that was made when the Center was designed in the 1980’s.
It’s the orchestra pit. It was built in the mid 80s exactly the way Houston Grand Opera wanted it, with the back half of the pit under the edge of the stage, like the pit in the historic Bayreuth Opera House in Germany, and they wanted it to be like Bayreuth. This means several rows of musicians sit and play under the overhanging stage, and HGO Technical Director Greg Weber says they now know that was a mistake. What works at Bayreuth doesn’t work at the Wortham.
The Wortham’s resident arts groups — Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet — have lived with this problem since it opened in 1987, but two years ago, they agreed something had to be done. With money from the City of Houston, they’re moving the orchestra pit out from under the stage and farther out into the hall, and Weber says audiences will hear a big difference.
Houston Ballet Managing Director C.C. Conner says he’s delighted and relieved to see this change coming to pass, because, with the old orchestra configuration, dancers can’t hear the music — really!
Conner says having the orchestra out in front of the stage instead of under it will make a big difference for dancers — and audiences.
With the orchestra pit coming farther out from the stage, the Wortham is losing a row of seats — 22 in all — but officials say the lost ticket revenue won’t be significant. They say the new and improved Wortham Center orchestra pit will be finished in time for Houston Ballet’s season in September. The $2 million cost is coming from the City’s Convention and Entertainment Center budget, which is funded by the hotel-motel room tax.