In trying to sell concert tickets to people, this is perhaps the most inadequately answered question that I get, both by Esplanade’s website (maybe it’s not PC to talk about it themselves) or by other random forums. Here’s my take on the Concert Hall side (which I perform and watch disproportionately more than the theater side).
Firstly you have to consider what kind of concert you’re attending. In general I’ll classify them into 2 categories: “Music” and “Dance”, which sort of represent a purely audio entertainment versus a audio/visual entertainment. Admittedly everything is sort of visual, there are groups where the sound is the main performance (such as a symphony orchestra) while others are visual (such as a dance). Naturally, most “visual” related shows are held at the theater.
Visual considerations are simple and straight forward. If it’s supposed to be some dance show, center seats gives the best view. The first 4 to 6 rows next to the stage are usually only for die hard fans, because the height of the stage is way above your head, no matter you you tilt (some fancy seeing the legs of singers / musicians… others just want to feel like they are right next to their idols). The next set of seats up to the foyer stalls are generally excellent for visibility of stage from a frontal view. The height of the stage matches around the foyer stall height (the semi circular shaped place still on the “ground floor” behind the stalls). However, if you take the circle seats, then you can see more of the stage, and that’s generally preferred (circle 1 especially) for shows that has movement behind (e.g. lots of dancers). This applies to the theater as well – I always go for circle in the theater.
But for sound typically it’s ok to be on the side. Usually the sound is engineered pretty well to ensure that wherever you go in the hall, you can hear mostly the same thing – just as different dynamic level (loudness). I say generally because there are some shows where the sound don’t project (go the distance), then circle 3 becomes largely disadvantaged.
In the middle of the hall there’s a big circular reflector thing that drops down from the ceiling. That’s the most important part of the setup to make the hall ring. For a traditional classical concert, the sound that’s produced on stage is reflected through this board to the entire hall. The walls around the concert hall are usually hard and will allow for the sound to linger for a while.
Also, you’ll notice that depending on what kind of concert you go to, the sound quality will be different when you’re too close to the wall, on whichever floor. For an amplified concert, typically the curtains will be drawn so as to absorb all the natural sound that gets reflected all over the hall, so that nothing gets reflected and the sound on the stage is absorbed into mics. That way all the sound you hear will come from the speakers. Therefore, for amplified concerts try to sit slightly away from the last 1 or 2 rows. Of course the entire mechanism is more complicated than that (e.g. also got some reflectors that looks like pipe organ at the top, and some magic that can be done through sound engineering) but you don’t need to care so much about those.
Then there’s the question of ‘Box Seats’ and whether they are better. For the last few hundred years, “box seats” were reserved for VIPs, where Kings and Queens will sit to watch their royal commissions. [ Check out the seat maps ] Actually the box seats in the Concert Hall (called VIP Box A, B, C and D, and might as well Balcony A and F) are pretty awkward if you ask me. It might make better sense in the Theater to buy box seat so that you can have the opera diva sing her aria to you personally. Some performances will take those spots for special “offstage” effects. Mostly, the official photographer would be around circle 2 (above all the “box seats”) for best view.
Naturally, unless it’s a entirely sold out concerts, what I call the “choirs seats” are usually closed. They are for.. ehm the choir, situation behind the stage. But some shows are so packed that those seats are also open so that you can buy those seats and see the performance from behind. Besides being awkward, the sound you hear is most likely going to be very different (e.g. for orchestra music you’ll hear a disproportionate amount of percussion). I recommend those seats only for those who are performers themselves and trying to learn from the best, because it makes them feel like they’re sitting IN the performance itself.
Hope that’s sufficient information for any of the concerts you’re coming to (please add on any tips). Last tip: take the aisle if you’re those who needs to go to toilet. You’ll piss off a lot less people 🙂 🙂