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The bolder, the more beautiful

The Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House in the downtown Dallas Arts District. The Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House in the downtown Dallas Arts District. (Iwan Baan)
By Stephen Jermanok
Globe Correspondent / January 10, 2010

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ARLINGTON - We drive past the water park called Hurricane Harbor and the red brick exterior of the Texas Rangers ballpark before we get our first glimpse of Cowboys Stadium.

“Where’s E.T.?’’ I say to Bill Bury as I stare in amazement at this spaceship-like orb that has landed in the parking lot here about 20 miles from Dallas. The fritted glass glows a silvery blue, a mix of the team’s colors.

Bury chuckles and says that this stadium is certainly built for the new millennium. As project manager behind the three-year construction, he knows every nook and cranny of the building and its chief influences. Not only did he escort Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his family to football and baseball stadiums across the country, but he also went overseas to have a look at London’s 90,000-seat new Wembley Stadium and even an airport in Lyon, France. It was a trip to Mitsubishi Corp. in Japan that led to the stadium’s signature piece.

“That’s what we call the chandelier,’’ says Bury, pointing to an immense video board suspended high above the field. The four-sided behemoth, stretching 160 feet in length, has exceptional HD clarity. So good, in fact, that the Cowboys faithful in the top-most seats rarely look down toward the field during the game, Bury says. Along with the largest video board in the world, the 73,000-seat stadium boasts the longest freestanding arch, the first rack-and-pinion retractable roof, and a glassed-in lounge on the ground floor where fans can watch players run to and from their locker room to the field.

Surprisingly, the line between lowbrow and highbrow culture is blurred, as art plays an essential role in the new venue. Enter Cowboys Stadium at any entrance and you’ll be treated to colorful murals and contemporary sculpture - with labels, no less. Bury says that Jones’s wife, Gene, was determined to include art in the new stadium. With the help of contemporary curators from the Dallas Museum of Art and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, she selected all of the 17 site-specific art displays.

Open since August, the $1.2 billion stadium has attracted more than 10,000 visitors a week who simply want to tour the building.

Football might be king in Texas and Cowboys Stadium deserves its acclaim, but there are two other significant buildings in nearby Dallas that visitors should also experience. The Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House stands directly across from the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. Both were unveiled in October as part of the burgeoning downtown Dallas Arts District.

Stroll past the donor pool at the Winspear and you’ll spot Jones’s name on the list of 130 benefactors who gave more than $1 million to the new opera house. A slatted canopy extends from the rectangular glass and steel structure to shade folks from the hot Texas sun. But it’s the red oval that rises dramatically through the building that gives the house its contemporary flair. Designed by Foster + Partners under Pritzker Prize-winning architect Norman Foster (the firm behind the expansion at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts), the red egg contains a traditional five-tiered, horseshoe-shaped opera house where every sightline has ample views of the deep stage and the acoustics are magnificent.

The 2,200-seat venue is the new home of the Dallas Opera and Texas Ballet Theater, and a showcase for traveling Broadway productions like “South Pacific’’ and “Avenue Q.’’ The glass-enclosed lobby opens like garage doors at intermission so people can flood out onto the concourse, a gesture to the city that this opera house is open to all.

Across the street, the Wyly Theatre also has its stage on the ground floor, surrounded by the plaza. But first you must walk down a concrete ramp and then back up a staircase to make a grand entrance into the 600-seat space. Here’s where the fun begins. Designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, another Pritzker winner, and his partner at the time, Joshua Prince-Ramus, the interior can change with the flip of a switch. The balcony and proscenium wall can both be pulled up into the 11-story tower. So one day, you have a familiar theater and stage, the next day you could have an empty floor better suited for an experimental dance troupe.

From the aluminum tubes that ripple like a stage curtain and form the exterior of the building to an upper level terrace covered in Astroturf, where actors can rest while practicing, you can tell Koolhaas and Prince-Ramus had fun with the whimsical design. There’s also ample space to house costumes, props, a small black box theater, and a rooftop deck from which to see how downtown Dallas has evolved.

The Winspear and Wyly are part of the emerging Dallas Arts District, first coined when the Dallas Museum of Art opened in 1984. Five years later, the I.M. Pei-designed Morton H. Meyer Symphony Center was added along the corridor, followed by the light-infused Nasher Sculpture Center in 2003, created by Renzo Piano. Soon to arrive are an outdoor amphitheater and City Performance Hall, set to open next year, and a new 5-acre park connecting downtown with uptown.

Bury tells me that the arts district is ideal for out-of-towners because you can walk from downtown hotels like the Ritz-Carlton and Fairmont Dallas to two of the pillars of Southwestern cuisine, Fearing’s and Stephan Pyles, and onward to the night’s performance of a play, opera, or symphony.

“You never have to set foot in a car,’’ says Bury, shaking his head. “Not many places you can do that in Texas.’’

Stephen Jermanok can be reached at www.activetravels.com.

If You Go

Cowboys Stadium

925 North Collins St., Arlington

817-892-4400

stadium.dallascowboys.com
Tours 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 Sunday. Adults $15, children $12.
Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House

2403 Flora St., Dallas

214-880-0202

attpac.org/thevenues

Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre

2400 Flora St., Dallas

214-880-0202

attpac.or/thevenues


Where to stay and eat

The Ritz-Carlton Dallas

2121 McKinney Ave.

214-922-0200

Fearing’s

214-922-4848

ritzcarlton.com

Doubles from $239. Dinner for two at Fearing’s, including appetizer and wine, about $150.

Fairmont Dallas

1717 North Akard St.

214-720-2020

fairmont.com

Doubles from $120 in winter. Try the innovative fare of chef J.W. Foster in the Pyramid Room.