Classical goes High Tech

It's nothing new to hear all about the new special effects for a major rock concert. U2 was filmed (in 3D) and the concert was over the top in terms of lights, effects, video and the like - and for what - music. Opera has a tradition for incorporation new effects techniques, from way back when and Weber wrote Der Freisch├╝tz incorporating demons from Hell to accompany his diminish seven chords.

Well, another satanist story, Faust, hit The Met this week and, according to David Patrick Stearns of, "The stage was loaded with technology that's not unusual in France but is just now finding its way into U.S. opera houses." Earlier this year, The Fly opened in Paris with huge special effects, and then there was Robert Lepage's The Rake's Progress which was transferred to the early days of Hollywood and incorporated video screens and elaborate effects to set the scene. Doctor Atomic was also at The Met last month with less of the high tech splendor, but still managing projections and unique lighting effects to thrill the audiences.

Andre Rieu and his supporting cast charm the masses. Picture: Jon Hargest

Not that I'm trying to equate Andre Rieu with Satan or even one who has sold his soul to the devil, but there is a similarity in the Faust production and the Australian concert tour of the Dutch Violinist. Moving to the concert hall (read: converted Docklands stadium in Australia), Andre Rieu will take to the stage amid a flurry of effects that make U2's concert seem perfectly boring. According to Geoff Strong of The Age, the crew are going to "smother that grass with thousands of aluminium plates. Simultaneously, in front of the stadium's functional western end (and raise) a life-size replica of the front section of Vienna's Schoenbrunn Palace. Two fountains are now being tested in what would have been the forward pockets, and both sides of the palace front will feature ice rinks totalling 600 square metres. It is a 700-tonne stage set worth close to $6 million and so big that it took 220 shipping containers to bring it from Holland. Putting it together has taken more than a week, with the construction workforce peaking last Saturday at 350, about 200 of them specialists from Europe."

Luke Dennehy of the HeraldSun reports, "(Rieu) brought along a small town with him to put the stage and show together -- 500 people in total. The Viennese palace theme includes a 600m ice rink and the staging is so heavy the underground car park had to be reinforced. His crew is working around the clock to get the stage set. Each show in Australia costs $5.6 million to stage."

Perhaps there is a common theme here. In opera we see lavish production that deal with demons from hell, or at least those who are possessed by demons (one turns into a fly and the other is just a rake beyond all proportion). Maybe Rieu hasn't sold his soul, but he's certainly pulling in the crowds. Whether it's the music or the effects, or a combination of both, it seems to be working. The performances for all are near sellouts.


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