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Friday, January 30, 2009

Sydney (Part II)

After another breakfast at the Chinese place, we went to the Sydney Opera House for a tour. The mother of all cost over-runs, the place cost $100 million and 16 years to build, confounding the early estimate of 3 years and $4 million. The architectural community must still be cackling with glee over the profits from this amazing building. Looking at the design today, I wonder how anyone could conceive that it would be cheap. What's neat about the place is that it's got several theatres in it, ranging from small intimate theaters to the large, impersonal halls required for formal things like Opera and classical concerts.

I would have gone for one of the small shows like the complete 37 works of Shakespeare in 90 minutes, but Lisa was enchanted by the Opera space and so we signed up for the Magic Flute. Then we visited Google once again for lunch with Lea, and then the Sydney Wildlife World, which is quite a bit of a tourist trap, but I did learn about all the poisonous snakes trying to kill me while I'm hiking. You do get quite a number of simulated environments, one of which is the nocturnal exhibit that's quite enchanting.

After that, we went back to the hotel and finally had dinner at Mamak. From the Roti to the Nasi Lemak, this place is quite good. Lisa ordered the vegetarian curry, a mistake as I don't recall ever having it in Singapore.

The Opera, however, was a disappointment. This was my first Opera and I can definitely see why the art form is dying. The stories are inane, the music --- well, I'm not the world's biggest fan of Mozart but even I could tell this was not his best work. The amount of latent racism is quite astounding for a modern audience. I will not be sad when this art form is consigned into the rubbish bin of history --- I was sorry that the multi-cultural world that is Sydney couldn't find anything better to do with the $100 million building. The venue did live up to its billing in the evening though, with views of the lit up Sydney Harbour bridge and the other side of the Bay.

We got back to the hotel around midnight, and I was quite tired from the day, so we scuttled plans to visit the Zoo tomorrow in favor of a quieter day around town.


N said...

I think Mozart wrote "Magic Flute" just for money. "Don Giovanni" would have been better, I bet.

The opera house sounds cool!

Piaw Na said...

The Opera House is definitely a defining feature of Sydney. I can see a better Opera being about 2X better, but being a cultural philistine, I don't see why paying $100+ per seat for that when the cinema is offering $10 per seat would be something I would do more than once a life-time. And when it comes to philanthropy, there's no way cultural institutions such as this or the ballet would get any money from a person of conscience, with all the other problems we have to solve in this world.

N said...

I also don't understand the joy of going to the ballet, symphony, or opera. I've been to each of those exactly once, and wouldn't mind if I never go again to any of them.

Shane Liu said...

Hmmm, by the same logic then "The Merchant of Venice" is a bad play because of anti-Semitism and you'll be glad that Shakespeare's plays are never performed again. I think you are painting with a very broad brush here.

1. "Magic Flute" is not all Operas. 2. I think its extremely unfair to judge Shakespeare or Mozart, who never met a Jew or a Moor in their life, and hold them to modern standard. Not to mention the opera is an allegory advocating masonic enlightenment. It's impossible for Mozart to be aware of sensibilities of someone 300 years later.
3. Opera is dying because no new operas are being created. An old classic like Magic Flute will be around for a long time. With so many famous arias and numbers, I'm surprised you disliked it so much. Now Opera Australia is not exactly famous(unlike the opera house), so its possible that this production is terrible. But Magic Flute is like the top 10 performed opera today. So good or bad, it's not going away.

Piaw Na said...

Well, if you paid me $100 for me to go to the Opera I might not turn it down. But ask me to pay $100/seat for it, and I won't do it more than once to find out I didn't like it and didn't think it was worth the cash.

I am familiar with Merchant of Venice, and I wouldn't be sad to see it disappear from stages. There are much better plays by Shakespeare, but even then, when I go to plays I tend to try to go to newer ones, which I enjoy a heck of a lot more than much of Shakespeare's work, mostly because nobody seems to take a daring approach to Shakespeare any more. And plays are a heck of a lot less than $100/seat, and newer ones at least, don't seem to have inane plots.

My point here is while there are plays that I'd rather see than to go to a typical movie, I rather doubt if there's an Opera I'd rather go to than a typical movie. I'm an equal opportunity cultural philistine, though! I can't stand Chinese Opera either!

Shane Liu said...

Was $100 the cheapest seat there? That would be crazy. I have a feeling they're charging the money for the building and not for the music. When I went to SF opera, it was only about $40 a seat ($15 if you are willing to stand).

I can think of many movies (say 80% of new movies from Sony Pictures) that I would rather skip and watch an opera instead. :-) May be you can try an opera from more recent times, like Bizet's Carmen. It is a little less silly plot wise.

bawa said...

Well, I had my first taste of symphony, opera, etc in London when I thought I disliked them and I fell in love with them. We had a large group of young students who felt the same way and queued up, even overnight for tickets (cheap tickets in Paradise i.e. the top floor)

What I mean is just because you didn't like it, does not mean that it should be consigned to the rubbish bin of history.

By this yardstick, everything cultural should be in a rubbish bin, because a load of people are sure to dislike whatever in some part of the world.

However, seeing the enthusiastic numbers of very young students enrolled in the Conservatory across the road, I think you would have a better idea that classical music and opera and ballet have a much wider audience than you imagine.

Piaw Na said...

OK, you might convince me that I'm a cultural philistine, but all the numbers are that the number of classical music appreciators and opera and ballet are a dying breed. Every opera and ballet company (and nearly every symphony) is on life-support --- their entry fees do not cover the costs of running those operations at all. They are continuously in need of corporate donations and wealthy people who like to see their names on buildings. The reality, though, is that with the world in the state it is in today, I consider anyone donating money to things like symphonies, opera, and ballet instead of say, global warming, to be morally bankrupt. I think those are much bigger problems and deserve to be solved first. But if you appreciate the opera and ballet, by all means go to them, but don't expect me to vote for their $100 million buildings.