Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Opera on Sydney Harbour: Carmen - A Spanish feast for the senses

From memory I've only been to the opera once before, at the Sydney Opera House, so its not surprising that my knowledge of the fine art is limited.

But even then, I've had two iconic arias stuck in my head since seeing Carmen in this year's Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour at Mrs Macquarie's Point; surprisingly, one tune that most people would actually know.

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Carmen at Fleet Steps, Mrs. Macquarie's Point, Sydney
It's a night at the opera like no other - it's completely outdoors and the stage is indeed, in the harbour.

The Opera on Sydney Harbour is an Opera Australia initiative aiming to bring opera to a broader audience in a more accessible arena.

Indeed, there's nothing stuffy about having a stage sitting in shimmering Sydney Harbour at what looks like a precariously sloping angle, with ferries passing behind and the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge just over yonder.

The setting for Carmen
For its second year running, Opera on Sydney Harbour is showing much-loved and passion-fuelled Carmen by French composer Georges Bizet, telling the love triangle story of passionate gypsy, a smitten soldier and a toreador bullfighter.

The stage from the Southern Terrace
Despite the looming dark clouds, there's an air of excitement all round the Fleet Steps area, which is completely taken over for the show.

My extended stroll through the Botanic Gardens sees me arrive at the red carpet a little flustered, but greeted by the varied array of dining options all by Fresh Catering.

Adina Garden Bar
As part of bringing the opera to the masses, Fresh Catering is again taking charge of the onsite food and beverage options, and goodness, are there options.

They've strived to cover any taste and any budget with an on-theme Spanish touch, and food outlets located conveniently in every direction and area.

Adina Garden Bar food offerings
Near the entry the Adina Garden Bar was serving spicy chorizo off the grill, simply in a roll with peppers, rocket and aioli.

Southern Terrace
At the elevated Southern Terrace I was drawn in by the smell of pastry from generously-sized empanadas and a selection of self-serve cold dishes and snacks like terrine, potato salad and antipasto plates.

Cold food options at the Southern Terrace

View from the Southern Terrace

Food offerings from the Sparkling Wine Bar
A number of Sparkling Wine Bars dotted around near the stage front had lush picnic style options including natural oysters, olives and chicken on brioche rolls.

The Northern Cantina
Hungry members of the audience would be found at the northern end of the area where a purpose-built three-storey structure housed three separate areas, all looking directly at Sydney's most famous view.

The Northern Cantina
There was plenty on at the Northern Cantina, ranging from bocadillo rolls and salads and plenty of dessert options to go with beers and wines.

There was also the upstairs Northern Terrace offering more substantial eats: a huge range of tapas-style share plates and a specialty paella station.

Platinum Lounge
But for real decadence it has to be the exclusive, ticket-only Platinum Lounge where we were treated to a three-course meal, cooked to order, with table service, matching Tyrrell's wines and that view.

The Platinum Lounge dining area

Confit salmon with a salad of broad beans, spiced almonds and horseradish creme with asparagus and flowers
There are a few options per course and the confit salmon caught my attention as a entreé, served with a colourful salad of baby beetroot, broad beans, asparagus, radish and crunchy spiced almonds.

Heirloom tomato salad with broad beans, spiced almonds and horseradish creme with asparagus and flowers
The vegetarian entreé was much the same, with halved heirloom tomatoes replacing the salmon.

Pyrenees lamb rump with potato catalana, roasted Brussels sprouts
with mojo sauce and shaved manchego cheese
To mains I couldn't pass up the lamb rump, served tenderly pink with a herb-green mojo sauce, while the accompaniments of roasted Brussels sprouts and scalloped roasted potatoes were executed perfectly.

Chocolate and orange tart with hazelnut praline
Dessert was no after-thought in the Platinum Lounge with three options to please any diner. The chocolate offering was a Jaffa-like chocolate and orange tart, served with hazelnut praline and decadent chocolate and orange mousse.

Seasonal fruit plate with kaffir lime syrup and orange sorbet
The healthy option was a seasonal fruit plate served with the tempting sounds of a kaffir lime syrup and blood orange sorbet.

Selection of Spanish cheese with quince, muscatel and crackers
The cheese plate got my pick, with segments of a particularly pungent blue cheese and a full-flavoured hard cheese amid the lavosh, crackers, bread stick, quince paste and dried muscatels.

The poncho-wearing audience
While we were squirelled away in the Platinum Lounge, the looming clouds had become showers but as an outdoor event, the show goes on unless it becomes dangerous for the performers or audience.

So, the hundreds in the crowd donned the sponsor's blue ponchos en masse and became a spectacle itself, watching and listening through the pitter-patter on the rather efficient plastic coverings.

Milijana Nikolic as Carmen (Photo by James Morgan)Image from a different night - courtesy of Opera Australia

James Clayton as toreador Escamillo (Photo by James Morgan)
Image from a different night - courtesy of Opera Australia
The night's show started in the rain and was called to a halt temporarily as the rain got heavy, but came back bravely to finish late but in full flourish, fireworks and all.

In spite of the rain, and in fact, maybe because of it, my second experience at the opera was an unforgettably enjoyable one - and I can't wait to see what Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour will be doing next year.

See more photos on my Facebook page. Carmen runs from 22 March to 12 April 2013 - more details of the show and dining packages here.

Food, booze and shoes attended Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Carmen as a guest of Opera Australia.


Sherrie Huang said...

I love Bizet's Carmen and I've heard about this Opera House/Sydney Harbour backdrop rendition and it does indeed seem delightful! :)

retrodaze said...

Wow the Platinum Lounge looks luxe indeed!

Sara - Belly Rumbles said...

They really do an amazing job building it all from scratch, blew my mind.

Anonymous said...

Tina, how did you get these free tickets? Did you promise to post a glowing review?

Tina @ bitemeshowme said...

I am so impressed they built that stage! Definitely looks like something you'd see in production in America or something!

thang@noodlies said...

Pretty impressive set and great idea to include dining option esp given the location

Tina said...

Hi Sherrie - So much fun; even in the rain!

Hi retrodaze - It was; amazing that it's a purpose-built structure just for a few weeks.

Hi Sara - So impressive; wasn't it a great night?

Hi Anonymous - I was invited by Opera Australia's PR; but thanks for the interest.

Hi Tina - The stage and the entire Platinum Lounge, from scratch!

Hi thang - Good to see you again ;)


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