I still remember the first piece of advice my sister gave me regarding attendance at an opera performance:
“Don’t be too worried about not understanding what’s going on or what’s being said”, she reassured. “Just lean back and enjoy the spectacle. There are subtitles, and when you look at them they usually say something along the lines of ‘I love you! I love you; I can’t live without you’, and then when you look back at it ten minutes later it will still read ‘I love you! I love you; I can’t live without you.’”
With this in mind, I traipsed along the pathway down to the Fleet Steps at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair to attend this year’s Handa Opera at Sydney Harbour, Turandot. It was my second year in attendance after last year’s stunning performance of Aida, and while the sheer enormity of the show had been burned into my memory, what I acutely remembered was how good the pre-performance dinner had been – thanks to the team of Fresh Catering over at The Platinum Club.
This year the Fresh Catering team have set up a number of food outlets for the performance, selling street food, gua baos over at the Qantas Bar, and that notable chicken dish – General Tso’s Chicken – because we all know that Sydney is currently in the midst of a fried chicken epidemic. It’s a glimpse into the culture and era behind the story of Turandot, and while the Platinum Club utilises traditional Asian cooking styles, the ingredients carry a tone of familiarity that is not too foreign to our Sydney-palates.
All of the wines for the event are provided by Tyrrell’s Wines, a 158 year old brand – fifth generation – with the oldest vines in Australia. The red and white (Semillon and Shiraz) are sourced from single vineyard vines, making it easier to control in terms of obtaining a more consistent flavour. I’m also a fan of the sparkling (the Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut), and we are told that Tyrrell’s utilise French champagne-making methods. A bit of insider information – apparently the Governor-General’s wife only likes French champagne, however as the Governor-General is a staunch advocate of local New South Wales produce they are a big supporter of this sparkling wine 😉
Service is with a smile and very attentive – I’m offered sparkling wine top-ups at least four times before I’m seated for my dinner, so I try and pace myself. The first course I had selected the regular Autumn Awakening Tasting Plate, which looked amazingly plentiful and smelled incredible when it arrived.
The tasting plate had a (from top left to right) Spicy Shrimp Rillette with garlic, chives and szechuan cucumber relish, Duck Salad with XO dressing, an Open Wonton of Asian slaw with miso ranch dressing and peanut sambal, Braised Aubergine with fragrant sauce, and Drunken Chicken with Goji berries and scallion.
Every element on the board had good, punchy flavours, each little dish clearly distinguishable from the other. Sometimes with tasting boards the flavours can either mesh too much or not work together at all – not the case here. My favourite was the shrimp rillette, which I liberally piled into the crisp prawn cracker – it had a wonderful tangy aroma that I could not get enough of.
For the main course I had selected the Braised Wagyu Beef Shortrib with rice noodle roll, wolfberries, Chinese greens and five spice pork scratchings.
The twice sous-vide’d shortrib was melt-in-the-mouth tender and packed with flavour from the masterstock it had been simmered in. Even the Chinese greens were the best Chinese greens I’ve ever tasted – considering I’m Asian, that’s saying something – still crisp and crunchy. I mopped my dish neatly clean with the rice noodle rolls cushioning the rib from beneath.
The other option for the main, other than the vegetarian dish, was the Steamed Barramundi on lobster fried rice with snake beans and black bean butter sauce. Steamed ever so delicately, the flesh of the barramundi was still moist and deliciously tender.
We were sorry that we couldn’t linger longer over our mains as we only had ten minutes before the show began, so the waiters hurried us along to dessert. For those with a sweet-tooth, the Green Tea Pavlova with cumquat curd, black sesame cream and lychee salad would be your forte:
While for those who prefer to end with cheese, the Selection of Premium Local Cheeses served with quince paste, crackers, lavoche, walnut and fig roll has an out-of-the-world slice of blue cheese from Byron Bay.
The starting bell sounds more insistently and we hurry to gather our things, pausing to grab one last morsel of that cheese before making our way to our seats. The view over the Harbour is nothing short of phenomenal.
Turandot is an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini, with the original story based on the earlier text Turandot by Carlo Gozzi. The original story is based on the story of Princess Turan-Dokht (daughter of Turan) and set in China. Prince Calaf falls in love with the cold Princess, but to obtain permission to marry her, a suitor has to solve three riddles; any wrong answer results in death. Calaf passes the test, but Turandot still refuses to marry him (which I think is a bit rude – considering she set the terms!). He offers her a way out; if she is able to learn his name before dawn the next day, then at daybreak he will die.
The opera is roughly two and a half hours in duration, and at intermission we are treated to high tea back at The Platinum Club, with Portugese egg custard tarts, tapioca pudding, macarons, a red bean cake, and other goodies – washed down with more sparkling and wine, of course! 😉
My favourite character is Liu – a slave girl who has helped Calaf’s father in his exile and is secretly enamoured with Prince Calaf. You can’t help but feel sorry for the poor girl who loves a man who falls head over heels for a haughty princess he has only seen once in his life! The actress’s voice is enchanting, sweet and soulful – the effect of hearing the singers’ voices reverberate across the Harbour is breath-taking.
- Sydney Harbour’s Handa Opera by Opera Australia is ranked #4 in the world for best outdoor opera performance venues;
- It look over one hundred people 23 days to build the site;
- Two surf lifeguards stood by during the set up of the site;
- Opera Australia expects 55,000-60,000 tickets to be sold, with six performances a week;
- About 30% of the tickets are interstate visitors, 15% international;
- The dragon was partially hand-crafted by a sculptor from Burma, before being completed by robot. It’s apparently a very popular selfie spot 😉
- Turandot will be showing six nights a week, closing on Sunday 24 April 2016. Tickets available on Opera Australia here!