Sunday, November 16, 2008
Incongruousness aside (of Rieu’s name here, and of someone on the south side of 60 being at one of his shows), the cultural juggernaut of Rieu and his 200-strong ensemble are as much a product of the times as the next Arcade Fire album. Arguing with spectacles such as these witnessed tonight is like arguing with the Vatican; you may disagree with the redolent cultural imperialism, the sentimental formalities as empty as one of the thousand balloons that fall at the show’s end, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the grand gestures and the tenacity of those involved in it’s execution. Before you can construct another (entirely valid) ‘but it ain’t got no soul’-based argument, another stupendous artifice dazzles and the thousands of overjoyed seniors break into another clap-along rhythm. This is modern entertainment of the highest order and no one, it’s safe to say, leaves with any well-entrenched expectations unmet.
To begin with there is a castle; a recreation of the Habsburg’s summer palace, flanked by two ice rinks, before which ornate fountains stand, jets synchronised to swell and burst with the strains of The Blue Danube. The castle holds a verdured forecourt for the orchestra and a grand chandeliered ballroom for the Viennese Debutante dancers and the Imperial Ballet of Vienna to gesticulate and twirl within. 500 people were flown over from Maastricht and Vienna to put this production on and it shows. It’s a testament to the music then, that the magisterial pageantry doesn’t overshadow it. Yes it’s cheesy, predictable and pandering, a celebration of Caucasian culture in a time when then the white-middle class feels more threatened than ever and made so accessible even if you don’t like it there are distractions aplenty, but it succeeds wildly in what it sets out to do. ‘What would the world be without music?’ ponders Rieu before flattening haughty theories, severing the person from political persuasion and doubt, and bearing us away with Strauss’s Voice of Spring.
Rieu brings a succession of uber-talented guests so even if you don’t (heaven forbid) like Strauss’s waltzes you’ll soon have three tenors sing a Pavarotti-dedicated Nessun Dorma, an angelic soprano (naturally, dressed as an angel and flying over the gargantuan set) regaling us with Concerto pour une voix, slapstick comedy broader than Rieu’s forehead, a medley of Mozart motifs, and a version of Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again from Phantom of the Opera that sends a Mexican wave of poignancy through the crowd who, it’s safe to say, know this material pretty darn well.
After introducing Brisbane soprano Mirusa Louwerse (the aforementioned angel) to sing a version of Botany Bay that renders the Telstradome surprisingly dusty, the fearlessly patriotic Rieu (after many times telling us ‘Melbourne has the most joyful audience in the whole world’ to loud cheers) with a wave of his ‘magic bow’ has us stand and sing the national anthem. It’s a curious moment, one closely followed by Bananas in Pyjamas, the theme from Neighbours and a few rounds of Waltzing Mathilda. ‘Andre “Kanga” Rieu’ says a banner in the crowd.
‘Are you aware that we’re on sacred ground?’ he solemnly intones. ‘What is this?’ I wonder, ‘an acknowledgement of an indigenous culture?’ ‘I would like to thank the Kangaroos for allowing our castle on their holy grass,’ he continues. Ah, no. Sport.
Abruptly six white horses appear at the far end of the stadium drawing Princess Sissi in a golden carriage, here to sing the story of a teenage queen ‘imprisoned’ by the chains of tradition in a royal marriage. Then Bolero…all this and we haven’t even reached the 100-piece pipe band brought on for a dazzling Amazing Grace. Simply staggering - in the nicest way imaginable.