The night Vi­enna came to Syd­ney

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

TWO Wed­nes­day evenings ago, the sails of the Syd­ney Opera House lit up like a jagged-edge IMAX screen as images of paint­ings by fa­mous Aus­trian artists and pic­tures of Vi­enna’s his­toric palaces and public build­ings were pro­jected in a won­drous show of colour and move­ment. There were works by Egon Schiele and Gus­tav Klimt and, hey, wasn’t that the Ringstrasse flash­ing by, ar­guably the world’s most beau­ti­ful boule­vard, home to mu­se­ums, the Vi­enna State Opera and, in the city park, a me­mo­rial to the king of the waltz, Jo­hann Strauss.

Skirts were gath­ered and jack­ets straight­ened and, as the mu­sic started, all around me on the west side of Cir­cu­lar Quay, peo­ple started street-waltz­ing. The Syd­ney Sym­phony Orches­tra, un­der Aus­trian con­duc­tor Ola Rud­ner and fea­tur­ing Vi­en­nese so­prano Elis­a­beth Flechl, were per­form­ing polkas, waltzes and marches in the Syd­ney Opera House Con­cert Hall as images of the show were si­mul­ta­ne­ously pro­jected on to Jorn Ut­zon’s fa­mous roof of shell-shaped tiles. Sway­ing and swoon­ing, the out­door au­di­ence, with not a con­cert ticket be­tween us, gasped at the sheer the­atri­cal­ity and au­da­cious scale of Vi­sions of Vi­enna.

The NSW cap­i­tal is known for its fire­works dis­plays and the coathanger bridge is as much a can­vas and cen­tre­piece for such ex­trav­a­gan­zas as is the Syd­ney Opera House. But be­yond the Ro­man can­dles, sparklers and whoosh­ing comets, mod­ern light shows are evolv­ing as show­cases of en­ter­tain­ment and cul­tural en­gage­ment.

The French have long loved a good son-et-lu­miere and there’s a sen­sa­tional ex­am­ple on sum­mer evenings in Rouen, in Nor­mandy, on the River Seine. Many rivercruise itin­er­ar­ies in­clude overnights here and it’s lovely to stroll the city and wait for the sound and light show to start on the west­ern fa­cade of the city’s Gothic-style Notre Dame cathe­dral. Dur­ing my visit in 2013, the theme was Claude Monet and there in high and loom­ing images were the wa­terlilies he painted at Giverny, his haystack-stud­ded land­scapes and, with won­der­ful syn­ergy, over­lays of his paint­ings of this cathe­dral. Monet painted more than 30 can­vases of its ex­te­rior and now, thanks to elec­tronic wiz­ardry, the build­ing took on a sec­ond skin, as tex­tured as Monet’s orig­i­nals. Lo­cal hero­ine Joan of Arc was fea­tured, too, and I be­lieve there are Vik­ing-themed shows, all from May to Septem­ber.

I’ve seen sim­i­lar amaze­ments at Delhi’s Red Fort and, years ago, the Tem­ple of Kar­nak in Luxor (where the au­dio sys­tem went hay­wire and we all lis­tened to pharaohs speak­ing in Ja­panese) and learned of his­toric bat­tles and sto­ries of der­ring-do and rev­elled in the dif­fer­ent air and un­know­able scents of a for­eign place and sipped tea and things of more sub­stance from pa­per cups as bats and wide-winged birds cir­cled and cawed. How many more sleeps til May 22, when Vivid Syd­ney’s lights go up?

Vi­sions of Vi­enna on YouTube: hy­outu.be/A99kUmqaLpM.

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