Mel­bourne venue in concert with the times

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - KEN­DALL HILL

FRESH from its two-year, $136 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion, Hamer Hall is show­ing off its best as­sets with thrice-weekly tours of the sparkling front-of-house and back­stage ar­eas.

These 45-minute in­duc­tions to Mel­bourne’s premier concert hall in­clude cameo men­tions of stars such as Lu­ciano Pavarotti, Joan Suther­land and Shirley Bassey (who re­ceived the long­est stand­ing ova­tion any of the ush­ers can re­call) and end with a glass of bub­bles and canapes at the bar. Very civilised. The walk is led by Amanda, a pony­tailed dy­namo who de­liv­ers her lines smartly and al­ways with a big smile. We be­gin at the new riverside en­trance that makeover ar­chi­tects Ash­ton Rag­gatt McDougall carved from the solid wall of the orig­i­nal aus­tere de­sign. Hamer Hall now faces and em­braces the Yarra af­ter 30 years of turn­ing its back on the river. Its glass walls frame the arches and blue­stone col­umns of the 1888 Princes Bridge.

Amanda ex­plains how Hamer Hall is not round, as ev­ery­one as­sumes, but egg-shaped. Mod­ernist Roy Grounds, ar­chi­tect of the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria and Arts Cen­tre Mel­bourne, en­vis­aged a con­crete won­der­land but the au­thor­i­ties of the late 1970s wanted some­thing a bit more bling so they en­gaged the flam­boy­ant de­signer John Tr­us­cott to gussy up the in­te­ri­ors.

Ceil­ings are clad in Dutch gold leaf of such fine qual­ity, it had to be painted on. Even the sta­lac­tite lights sus­pended above the Stalls Bar are caked in gold to cre­ate the im­pres­sion of a daz­zling cave. Lush leather wall pan­els were crafted from cows hand­picked by Tr­us­cott who, Amanda says, trav­elled to Swe­den to choose the most suit­able herd.

The hides proved to be so flaw­less the pan­els looked like vinyl when they were in­stalled, so Tr­us­cott hired artists to paint im­per­fec­tions into the grain.

As we pass be­neath Robert Owen’s Fall­ing Light in­stal­la­tion, a shim­mer­ing ceil­ing fix­ture fit­ted with 1024 LED lights that mimic the south­ern hemi­sphere sky, I re­sist the urge to lie on the floor be­neath it, but make a men­tal note to do so next time.

We visit func­tion rooms wall­pa­pered in pink and bronze Florence Broad­hurst prints, and the Tr­us­cott Lounge with its emer­ald car­pet and plush vel­vet walls be­neath a golden ceil­ing. A glass case con­tains Tr­us­cott’s two Os­cars, both for Camelot (1967).

The lounge has its own en­suite, which was to have played a star­ring role in the 1983 royal visit by Prince Charles and Princess Diana, but Di was too shy to en­ter such an ob­vi­ous space so an usher es­corted her to the pub­lic loos and shooed away pa­trons so she could go in peace. (Handy fact: The num­ber of women’s toi­lets has dou­bled from the orig­i­nal, and in­ad­e­quate, 35 stalls.)

We are un­able to visit the main concert hall as the MSOis in re­hearsals but there’s a nifty sub­ter­ranean cor­ri­dor that leads to a sound­proofed view­ing room from were we lis­ten to, and watch, the or­ches­tra prac­tise.

Amanda runs through the tech specs for the hall but the de­tails are be­yond my com­pre­hen­sion. The up­shot is that the acous­tics have been im­proved to lift the mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. Au­di­ences have re­sponded pos­i­tively to the acous­tic em­bel­lish­ments; ap­par­ently two women went into labour dur­ing Tina Arena’s re­cent per­for­mances.

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