Melbourne venue in concert with the times
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.