And so the four-day Easter long weekend has drawn to a close. I don’t believe we will have another public holiday as long as this until Christmas rolls around? *sad face* I hope everyone is sufficiently over-dosed on chocolate; I know I am. While I fortunately/unfortunately did not receive any chocolate goodies from friends or family this week as I think everyone has somewhat grown out of the tradition of exchanging chocolates, I visited the shops as soon as they opened on Easter Monday to buy my groceries..and also to buy an enormous super-sized bag of eggs in solid milk chocolate and milk chocolate filled with caramel. I’m sitting in bed, laptop on my lap with the bag open beside me and no longer touching it; I’ve conceded defeat after 10 or so little eggs – so weak! I do have my refined moments, I promise. One of these was when I attended the Fleet Steps at the picturesque Mrs Macquarie’s Chair last Wednesday evening for Opera Australia’s performance of Aida. This is the fourth year Sydney’s stunning harbour will have played host to a Handa Opera (named after benefactor Dr Haruhisa Handa). The setup itself is nothing short of a miracle: 3,001 seats (a rather unusual number), 150 staff and four months for a outdoor stage of such proportions to be installed. If you were wondering about the missing eye on the erected 15-tonne head of Nefertiti, it has been presented so deliberately to symbolise the toll and tragedy that the war has created in the story of Aida, which I will tell you a little more about later on. Intriguingly enough, Nefertiti isn’t involved in the Aida storyline at all, but more on that later. Before the sun set and the show began though, I had been invited to a three-course pre-opera dinner at the exclusive Platinum Club; an exclusive undercover restaurant and bar, headed this year by the fantastic crew at Fresh Catering. Fresh Catering are responsible for the food at many of Sydney’s iconic venues, including The Governor’s Table at the Museum of Sydney, the Vaucluse House Tearooms, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The options available are a three-course dinner in the restaurant from 5.30pm. $220 will stretch you across a North African-inspired three-course dinner with premium Tyrrell’s wines, or if you like you can elect to go exquisite signature buffet style at the pre-performance bar for $110 from 6pm. I can personally attest that the Turkish Delight at the buffet is sublime – I sneaked a piece with a few slices of baklava into a napkin before hurrying off to the opera at the end of dinner! But back to the main three-course meal. It was a glorious Sydney autumn evening and the restaurant was drenched in late afternoon sunshine; as if the view wasn’t already blindingly breathtaking. For entree, I select the Caramelised Chickpea Puree with Sumac and Grilled Bread. The amount of food that arrives is frankly enough to be a complete meal! It’s a wonderfully interactive dish. Cutlery is dispensed as fingers go to work nimbly tearing the bread apart, dipping it into the creamy hummus, picking at olives and fresh crudites. I loved the beautifully smoky baba ghanoush – a dollop served in a crisp cos lettuce leaf – the best baba ghanoush I’ve ever had. Main course is a choice of lamb, chicken or the vegetarian option. I opted for the chicken: Roast Sumac Organic Chicken, Parsnip Creme, Golden Raisins and Tarator Sauce. While I would have loved for the skin to be crispy, it was a succulent piece of chicken which I demolished easily. So much flavour, but not overpowering nor spicy. The parsnip creme was beautifully smooth and silky. I did have epic food envy when the person sitting beside me received their lamb main, the 12-hour Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder, Maple Glazed Carrots, Date Puree and Pistachio Dukkah. Just the presentation of the dish itself was amazing. Needless to say, those with the lamb polished off their dishes spotlessly. Time for dessert. I’m one that needs to end a meal on a sweet note, so I had chosen the Caramelised Fig Pavlova, Lemon Mascarpone & Halva Parfait. Look at the perfect smoothness of that pavlova! The immaculately sculpted sides! The elegant curl of the whipped tip! Tap the shell with the back of a spoon to reveal pillowy-soft innards, its sweetness balanced with the creamy tang of the lemon mascarpone and other accompaniments. Some of the others went for the cheese plate, which held a Selection of Cheese, Onion Jam, Charcoal Lavosh & Pickled Radish in Rosewater. Thank goodness figs are in season! I walked past the buffet at the end of the meal (when I was sneaking sweets) and saw piles of gorgeously grilled figs; so appropriate for this type of setting. The bell called for us to take our seats and off we went, tickets in hand. It was amazing to experience this outside: to watch the last colours of the sun set away behind the Harbour Bridge and the glimmering lights of the city, to see the reflections cast off the dark lightly rippling waters of the harbour and to feel the cool breeze on your face as you absorbed the sheer scale and magnificence of the production laid out before you. So the story of Aida: a rebellion is brewing on Egypt’s borders and the High Priest selects Radames – a brave soldier – to lead the battle against Ethiopia. Through victory in battle, Radames hopes to win the hand of the beautiful slave girl Aida – handmaiden to the princess Amneris, and also secretly an Ethiopian princess. Aida is torn between her love for her Egyptian hero and her loyalty to her country, while the Princess Amneris also harbours a crush on Radames and starts to have suspicions of Aida’s and Radames’ feelings for one another. I won’t ruin it entirely for you, but it’s your typical tragedy with an emotional love triangle. What I found different about this one was how heartbroken I felt for Princess Amneris; you could really sense the depth of her emotions for Radames – which were not returned – and her despair.
And of course – you can’t have an opera on the harbour without some fireworks.
Aida Opera on Sydney Harbour Fleet Steps, Mrs Macquaries Point March 27 – April 26 2015 Tickets available at Opera Australia (you can add your dining or drinks selection after selecting your tickets)