Henrietta Bredin talks to Spencer de Grey, architect of the new opera house in Texas
There can’t be a gesture much more brave and defiant than building a new opera house in the current doom-laden financial climate. Deep in the heart of Texas, in the centre of its freshly revamped arts district, Dallas has done exactly that.
The project was awarded to Foster and Partners and has been the brainchild and chief responsibility of Spencer de Grey, whose previous work includes the Great Court at the British Museum and the Sage music centre in Gateshead. It is of course possible for an architect to design a law faculty (as de Grey did in Cambridge) without being deeply conversant with the law but, as it happens, he is passionate about music, opera in particular, a regular attendee and extremely knowledgeable. The stash of tickets he has clipped to the noticeboard in his kitchen — for performances by English National Opera, The Royal Opera, at the Wigmore Hall, the Southbank, Sadler’s Wells and numerous other venues — is as thick as a deck of cards.
‘It was something of a dream commission,’ he says. ‘And the way in which the whole project was set up was very clever. Various buildings and institutions were already in place — the Booker T. Washington high school, which specialises in the visual and performing arts, I.M. Pei’s concert hall, the museum of art and the sculpture gallery — and a group of Dallas citizens got together and decided that this needed expanding. The opera company, which was founded in the 1950s, was based in a great barn of a place and desperately needed a new home. So they decided to build an opera house, also designed as a home for dance and for Broadway shows, and a new theatre.