The most passionate fans in Cleveland this weekend won't be football crazies but classical music enthusiasts.
Tonight, the world-class Cleveland Orchestra plays for the first time in its refurbished home, Severance Hall, following a $36.7 million renovation.
"I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it," said Jodith Janes, a season ticket-holder for about 30 years. "I expect most of the city of Cleveland is just as eagerly awaiting."
Much has changed since work began two years ago on Severance, which is regarded as one of America's finest concert halls and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
An ugly, modernist concert shell has been discarded for an ornate one that blends seamlessly with the lotus flower decorations throughout the hall. An organ made unusable by a previous renovation is being reinstalled.
A new extension to the building has opened up a cramped backstage. All of the seats in the 2,000-seat hall have been replaced. A full-service restaurant has been added. So have more women's restrooms, which were almost nonexistent in the original, 1931 version of Severance.
The main idea is to give patrons the kind of amenities they have come to expect from other entertainment venues, from movie theaters to sports arenas such as the newly opened Cleveland Browns Stadium.
For all that is new, orchestra executives have preserved the look of the old Severance, right down to matching one-of-a-kind art deco light fixtures and rare Spanish marble in a corridor. And the orchestra has only tinkered with the Severance's greatest asset: its acoustics.
Judging from a rehearsal for tonight's opening concert, which is being televised locally and is sold out despite $300 ticket prices, the Cleveland Orchestra's fans won't be disappointed.