This year, the Sydney Festival has passed me by. I was preoccupied when I needed to focus on the program and book tickets in advance; then I was busy or out of town over Christmas and New Year; and finally when I focussed on shows or events I might like to see they were already finished or booked out. Oh well, I guess there's always next year.
But thanks to one of my friends I did get to see one thing. Sydney has a traditionally planned and planted Chinese Garden on the edge of Chinatown. It was a gift from Chinese sister city, Guandong, for Sydney's Bicentennial celebrations in 1988. [1788 was the year when British settlement of Australia occurred. Celebrating this settlement - which happens tomorrow on Australia Day, January 26, is always slightly uneasy as it can also been seen as marking the dispossession of Aboriginal Australians]. Anyway, the Chinese Garden is beautiful. In the twenty years or so since it was planted the trees have grown to maturity and it's become a sanctuary in the middle of a very busy part of Sydney. This January the Gardens are the site for an event called Power Plant at Darling Harbour. There are lighting installations throughout the Gardens, often coordinated with sounds. Some are absolutely magical; others less so. The organisers had done their best to regulate entry so the Garden wasn't too crowded, but nevertheless there were lots of people and consequently neither the quiet not leisure to linger that would really have done justice to some of works.
While it's not technically part of the Sydney Festival, I've also been to the opera to see Bizet's Carmen. This is not really one of my favourite operas. It's full of cliches and stereotypes, at least for a modern audience, and I guess it suffers from being just too familiar. The music has been used for advertisements, muzac, circuses, anything - you name it. I've seen the opera a number of times over the years, and after this recent viewing, while the music was going round and round in my head, I reflected on other experiences of seeing Carmen. I didn't grow up with opera - not even Carmen - but I did go to the movies (the pictures) a lot as a child. I first encountered Bizet's music in Carmen Jones, a film made in the mid-fifties. My hazy recollection is that the film was quite faithful to Bizet's score, but that the story was set during the second world war and the whole cast were African Americans. The role of Escamillio, the matador of the opera, was rewritten as a boxer. Even now, every time I hear the the 'Toreador' music from Carmen, I have the lyrics from Carmen Jones running through my head - 'Stand up and fight until you hear the bell...'. I really must watch the movie again.
I also remember seeing the exquisite Australian ballerina, Lucette Aldous, sometime in the early 1970s, dancing with Garry Norman in the ballet that is set to Bizet's score. I remember it because it was probably the most emotionally moving dance I've ever seen.
But to return to the current Opera Australian performance. It was very good, without being wonderful. There was lots of colour and movement, splendid sets and costumes, Australia's towering opera heart-throb Teddy Tahu Rhodes as the bull-fighter Escamillo, and an extremely good performance from visiting artist Rinat Shaham as Carmen. She not only sang passionately, but looked the part, acted convincingly, and danced well. All very enjoyable.
As always, the pleasure of going to the opera was heightened just by visiting the Opera House. I feel so fortunate to arrive for a performance on a hot summer's late afternoon
and to leave after several hours of delightful music to discover a cooling southerly breeze and the city lights.