In match between Rexall Centre, traffic chaos and bone-chilling cold, new concert venue squeaks out a victory
If I had not gone to the opening of the BlackCreek Festival at the open-air Rexall Centre last night, I'd be dying to know how it all went.
All will be revealed in Monday's Star (hopefully), but I can't help sharing some thoughts now.
Let's get the concert itself out of the way first. Some events are guaranteed to succeed, musically, and pairing veteran tenor Plácido Domingo (who has been singing well literally as long as I can remember) with American-Canadian powerhouse soprano Sondra Radvanovsky is as safe a recipe for vocal satisfaction as one could think of. And they didn't disappoint.
As for the Rexall Centre -- a not-so-old tennis stadium out in the middle of nowhere (for a downtowner) conscripted into summer-music-festival duty -- this was no guaranteed grand slam.
We arrived with jangled nerves after navigating the near-gridlock surrounding the few entrances to York University. It took as long to navigate the three final blocks as it did to drive from downtown to Downsview. Urban planners of the 1960s, I curse you (they sit in a panteon in my little anti-shrine of voodoo hell that includes the creators of popcorn ceiling stucco and silicone caulking).
It was also unnerving to watch the veneer of human decency peel away as people inched their cars into each others' at the York U grounds ("It's like a big game of chicken," my companion said at the time) and then scattered pell-mell over formerly lush lawns to try a park-and-run while the going was good.
Also stacking the court against the venue was the weather. It didn't rain, but it was bone-chillingly cold. The concert started 30 minutes late (because of the traffic problems) and the official part of the programme finished at 11. That's a long time to sit under a northwesterly breeze without a parka.
That said, the magnetic force of the music and the surprising intimacy of the Rexall Centre won the night. The organizers' spokesperson said there were about 8,000 present. All had a clear view of the spacious stage and/or one of three large screens suspended above it. The canopied stage was nicely lit with coloured stage lights.
Given the right weather and a relaxed arrival (my companion suggested a blanket, some Thermoses and a picnic dinner on the campus lawns a couple of hours early), this could feel like a classic under-the-stars summer gathering place.
The amplified sound was clear and echo- and reverberation-free. (There was only one instance of poor-quality sound, when the full chorus was belting out the Triumphal Chorus from Verdi's Aida.)
I noted that the quality of the silence at the Rexall Centre, tucked away as it is on a sprawling university campus, is excellent. It was disturbed, several times during the first half of the evening, however, by planes taking off or landing from nearby Pearson Airport.
But, in the end, even that didn't matter.
Once organizers sort out how to direct traffic efficiently in and around the venue, and once the weather decides to be more summery, BlackCreek Festival should turn out to be the GTA's place to go for big-scale musical entertainment in the summertime.
Think everything's glamorous for a globetrotting opera star?
The "backstage" passageway, a clutter of equipment, wires, stray musicians and security personnel, was hardly the place to glitter and by gay.
Taped to a concrete wall in the sub-stand tunnel was the evening's set list (conveniently colour-coded by singer, solo and duet):