The night Vienna came to Sydney
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.