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Review: Notre-Dame at City Recital Hall

Review by Charlotte Leamon


On April 15th, 2019 the world watched on as Our Lady, Notre-Dame perished in a catastrophic fire. The world watched on as 850 years of history was disappearing before them. The world watched on as a place of faith and beauty, ironically of hope…was lost. 


Alana Valentine and Paul Dyer collaborate to provide an engaging performance of music and drama celebrating the history and life of the Parisian cathedral, Notre-Dame. A story of an excited Australian civil engineer (Matilda Ridgway) who travels to Paris to work on the cathedral restoration, unfortunately arriving on the day of devastation. On her journey she meets the ghost of the novelist Victor Hugo (Glenn Hazeldine), whom provides his wisdom of the history of Notre-Dame. We see this duo galavant about the cathedral and cherish all it was with the accompaniment of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir. 


The City Recital Hall was full as the audience took their seats and gazed at the mirage of stain glass windows. We reminisced as images and videos of Notre-Dame were displayed. The performance began with five choristers singing a cappella as the videos showed a collage of tourists and people surrounding the Notre-Dame through the years. The choristers tones of clarity were blended to perfection, highlighting harmonies and melodies of equal importance. Composed by Charles Tessier, this court song written for the French king is delicate and strong. As our protagonist is accepted to work at Notre-Dame and begins her travels, the audience is treated with a victorious overture written by Jean-Philippe Rameau. Featuring the Brandenburg Orchestra in full force, their performance provides an air of excitement under the direction of AO Paul Dyer. 


As we were taken through the journey of this Australian engineer, the choristers and Dyer were reactive to the story. Partaking in actions of awe, aeroplane sequences and the public walking through the cathedral. This addition of action, as well as orchestral sound effects of construction hammering and cellphone rings of the surrounding environment was highly appreciated by me. The further atmosphere created and integration of all performers within the story meant the audience was enclosed in this space and time. 


Pérotin’s chant Viderunt omnes performed by the men of the choir was beautifully sung and led by Dyer. This polyphonic responsorial canon was full of ornamentation and melismas, creating a beautiful sound world symbolic of forest spirits and folk dance. 


The audience is spoilt with a collection of French-baroque pieces featuring composers such as Rameau and Lully. Interspersed throughout these compositions are facts about the cathedral and quotes from Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The witty character of the engineer provides an awestruck perspective with a descriptive take on the architecture. On the other hand, Hugo provides a poetic and metaphorical understanding of the cathedral. These opposing views wonderfully capture the importance it had to someone who knew its history and architectural design back to front, and someone who was new to all its glory. 


As the duo climb to the roof of the cathedral, Sonnerie de Saint Geneviève du Mont-de-Paris by Marin Marais and arranged by Alice Chance accompanies a video of the Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1923) swinging on the bell. As our protagonist exits the burning building, lighting by Trent Suidgeest turns an orange hue as a haze fills the room. A spotlight on the engineer appears as she beautifully expresses her despair and loss for this historical monument. 


As we mourn the loss of the cathedral, the music and text are quick to point out the hope of the restoration of the cathedral. As the choristers line up to sing Dawn by Ronzani, the orchestra swirls with mourning strings. Symbolic of the dawn of a new day, Ronzani states, “The dawn is a reminder to all that whatever terrible things may have transpired during the night, the light and warmth of a new day brings hope.”


Overall, a concert flawlessly intertwined with poetic monologues and exquisite baroque repertoire beautifully tells the story of the burning of Notre-Dame. A music drama that whisks the audience to this time and place is special and is owed to all designers, performers, Valentine and Dyer. Seamless transitions of musical moments and text flowed effortlessly, the text and program are to no fault. A monument that was the epicentre of choral works and musical evolution moved both the audience and the performers. A must see for all who cherish beauty and hope. 

Image Supplied


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