Saturday, December 6, 2008

A perfect Sydney night

Today is day one of a disjointed holidaying at home initiative. We have theatre tickets for the Opera House tonight so have booked a table at Aria and have gone one further today by booking the 1 hour essential opera house tour at 4:30 pm.
We have a smooth and free flowing 45 minute drive in, entertained by our British friends Supertramp and park in the Opera House Car Park, stunned as we emerge from the car to find that the car park is like an oven. Considerably hotter than the weather outside which seems odd for an underground facility. We find our way to the tours desk to collect our prebooked tickets. There is a sign up advising that all tours for the rest of the day are fully booked and the tours desk attendant congratulates us on having the good sense to book ahead. Tickets secured we’re in plenty of time so we spend a half hour or so wandering around the promenade and around the Opera House exterior admiring the view of Admiralty House - Sydney residence of the Governor General of Australia.

and Pinchgut.

We’ve had quite a bit of rain in Sydney lately and though the weather is mostly fine today, there is quite a bit of cloud about and it is very warm and humid. After soaking up great views of the bridge and the sails of the Opera House

We grab a drink from the café and admire some nice opal jewellery and nuggets and browse the Opera House gift shop. We come to performances in the OH regularly, but I don’t believe I’ve ever been in the gift shop before!
We join the tour group at the meeting point and notice on the flyer that they hand out with the tickets that we could have got 20% off tix to the backstage tour. Bugger!! I booked the backstage tour online already in a separate transaction. Would have meant quite a saving too. Grrr
They have rearranged the route for the tour at the moment due to the death of Jorn Utzon and we commence in the foyer of the Opera Theatre with a video about the planning and construction of this architectural icon. It’s saccharin sweet and hubby and I glance at eachother and share a look and a smile. Apparently we Sydneysiders watched with delight and awe as this marvellous vision arose from the ashes of Bennelong point. Oh yeah? That’s not the way I remember it. I rather think that by the time there was any sign of a sail going up we Sydneysiders were getting pretty bloody annoyed at the time and budget over-runs. I also seem to recall that people were reasonably polarised about the whole project. Those that liked the concept and figured it would be a great building in the end, and those that couldn’t see past the black hole money pit that the project had become.
We enter the Opera Theatre and take our seats and I’m instantly wishing I’d booked those Mikado seats when they went on sale on the 29th. The guide explains the terminology for the style of stage arrangement and orchestra pit and we hear a few amusing anecdotes and have an opportunity to ask questions. We then move on to the northern foyer. The guide points out a few landmarks – which would all be well known to locals and tells us a bit about Fort Denison. The guide is quite formal and doesn’t mention that to locals it is more usually referred to as “pinchgut”. We spend some time hearing about the guiding concepts and vision that influenced the design of this space – very impressive and effective – and we move out of the eastern shell and into a small space between the two main shells to hear about the tiles with which the sails are coated.
Here in the northern foyer we pause once more for another snippet of video. This time the video answers an earlier question from someone about the controversy that occurred during construction when the government stopped paying the architect who then left the project and was replaced by a local firm to bring the building to completion. It’s no secret that from an original cost and time estimate of 3 years and 7 million dollars, the project ended up taking 10 years and $103 Million, during much of which they hadn’t figured out how to actually convert the design concept into an actual structure, and with some other architects and engineers claiming it couldn't be done - Hence the prevailing feeling in Sydney during construction actually being more one of concern than of awe and delight. I think any awe at the time was reserved for how a government project could be so apparently mismanaged. Nowadays I guess we all understand that if you want an iconic groundbreaking piece of architecture in your city you have to be prepared for that. It’s an accepted part of commissioning something from Frank Gehry I understand, but that sort of speculation is inevitably going to raise some serious questions when entered into as a Government project. Now of course we have the benefit of hindsight and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a Sydneysider that doesn’t love the Opera House…and the bridge. We Sydneysiders love “the coathanger” like it’s a member of the family.
We move into the larger shell which houses the Concert Hall. We are lucky today to be able to access these two main performance spaces shortly after the matinee performances have each finished. An hour earlier and this would not have been possible. We enter the concert hall. This is my first time in the Concert Hall and it is a beautiful space. We have tickets booked for Masters of Tradition on Australia Day in here and I am thrilled to have the opportunity of sitting in this space for an extended period when the time comes. It’s just delightful and photos don’t do it justice at all. We are told about the organ and that the acoustics are up there with the best acoustic spaces in the world.
When question time arrives I rather indelicately ask about the common perception that the acoustics in the Opera House pretty much suck – I gather that must be a myth? Our guide – ever unflappable – explains the detail of Utzon’s commission and that while the acoustics in the Concert Hall are excellent, the acoustics in the other performance spaces are less so. We hear about how the Opera House was paid for (go on the tour) and move on into the northern foyer of this shell. Similar to the other northern foyer but in this case with vibrant purple rather than the red in the northern foyer of the opera hall shell. We move along once more - again outside and down to the Drama theatre – which commonly houses performances by Sydney Theatre Company. At the moment it is housing Pig Iron People a new play by comedian John Doyle. We are curious to get a glimpse at the sets as this is the show we’re seeing tonight.
A few more anecdotes and we hear about the chairs. Our guide with a straight face tells us that they were designed by an orthopaedic surgeon (or something like that) and that they are often in receipt of compliments that the seats are very comfortable. Really? Most people I know don’t think so. I mean they could be worse, but they could be a lot better. Now greater union has comfortable seating. I think that’s pretty much the benchmark at the moment in Sydney. Indeed I understood that the reason the Opera House can’t replace them with more comfortable seats is that they are actually also heritage listed. I ask about the heritage listing of the seats and this is confirmed by our guide. I won’t spill all the tid bits about the seating – I mean you want to enjoy the tour yourself surely.
Our tour concludes and we have enjoyed it. Along the way there’s a bit of name dropping of now internationally famous actors who have performed and worked in other roles at the Opera House when they were starting out. It will be interesting to compare this tour to the backstage tour we have booked in January.
Having worn sensible shoes for the tour, we adjourn to the car and I change into my heels and we wander down to Aria for dinner, making a point of trying to travel on the more even of the surfaces. I can’t say the Opera House forecourt is entirely heel friendly.
Well. Aria. What can I say. Wonderful. Just wonderful. We are greeted by a very friendly woman and shown to our window seat at what I describe as a chaperone table, which is too wide to touch eachother but does have pleasant views over Circular Quay. The service is just the right level of attentive without being intrusive. We start with complimentary warm sourdough rolls. Yum. Hubby orders a Coopers before checking out the actual drinks menu, while I stick with the chilled water as is my usual preference. We’re on the pre-theatre menu of course.
At just the right interval our entrees arrive. Hubby’s the terrine of duck, dates, baby carrots and duck ham, I’ve gone for the roast spiced scallops with prawn crisps, shaved fennel and a tamarind and date dressing. It’s a challenge at this chaperone table but we each sample and agree so far in our ordering competition we are level pegging. Each dish is just delicious.
Meanwhile hubby has browsed the drinks menu and decides to try a moo beer from Tassie. It’s a wheat beer and he’s enjoyed other wheat beers he’s tried and it’s an intriguing name. It arrives and I sample the aromas. Hmm, I can definitely understand why they called it moo beer. It smells like a cow paddock…. novel.
Apparently it also tasted like a cow paddock… well, lets not be delicate about it.. it smelled and tasted like a cow pat. .. not that we’ve actually TASTED of course. Definitely required another coopers to get rid of the taste.
Our mains arrive looking equally tantalising. Hubby has gone for the roasted Glenloth chicken breast, crushed mint peas, ricotta filled zucchini flower and almond dressing. I had been tempted by that but as we have a preference not to both have the same thing I go for the roast cutlet of lamb with a lamb pastia, fennel and red capsicum. We have chosen sides of truffled mash and broccolini. We enthusiastically sample once more and once more we are unable to pick a winner. Everything is just delicious and we clean our plates (and side bowls). No way we’re sending that mash and broccolini to the bin!!
We don’t need it, but yes please we’ll see the dessert menu. A wait of 20 mins for my passionfruit soufflé with pina colada sorbet. Before the desserts arrive I’m confidently predicting that will beat the coconut panna cotta with mango sorbet, mango and pineapple chips hubby has ordered. The soufflé is as marvellous as expected, perhaps even better. Light as a feather…. But the tension rises as hubby’s panna cotta looks just sensational too. Again we sample and are delighted that in fact no winner can be declared tonight. We tie. Quite a compliment to the chef.
Hubby finishes with a cappuccino and we are brought some complimentary petit fours. The petit fours smell great!. Tiny squares of banana cheesecake, chocolate truffle and macadamia nut nougat. We start with the banana cheesecake. Mmmm.. then agonise as to which of the others to finish on.. I decide that the nougat smells too good to not go last which proves to be the right decision. A delightful flourish to end a superb meal. We can’t wait to come back. $260 and we’re off to our show.
There’s a shift in tone as the sun sets and people arrive for the evening performances. There’s plenty of people around who’ve decided to dress up briskly walking to towards the Opera House. We arrive at the perfect timing to pick up a program and take our seats. Pig Iron People was very funny and I recognised a number of pig iron people I have known in the characters. There were also more serious moments and the audience really responded in either case. An all star cast – Max Cullen of course, and Jackie Weaver is perfect as Rosie and has opportunity to use her lovely voice; Bruce Venables Judy Farr and Danny Adcock all a delight to watch as they bring the characters to life. I feel grateful to have the opportunity to see these wonderful actors strut their stuff.
We emerge to Sydney in her glamour wear. The city lights and the harbour are a magical fairly land at night and with the Bridge and Opera House all lit up Sydney is just SO beautiful. We amble back to the car. Pay the hefty parking fee and join the snail trail out of the car park – clearly we didn’t spend long enough soaking up the ambience along the promenade or the vibrant buzz of the Opera Bar.. A hop and a skip and we’re back on the motorway home.
What a brilliant evening. This is what Sydney is about. The harbour. fine dining. great theatre on a beautify balmy summer night. It doesn’t get much better than that.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Came here from the TripAdvisor forum. Great post! I will be in Sydney in June and will have to take the tour now. Can't quite afford Aria, but it sounded amazing!! Just reading about it was a delight.