Review By Hamish Stening
With the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall unavailable for the next two years, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) are performing at a number of venues (and to audiences) that have either never seen the SSO before or have not seen them for a very long time. One such venue is the new Sydney Coliseum Theatre in Rooty Hill. On Saturday night the SSO and guest conductor Peter Inkinen travelled out to The Coliseum to perform the Prelude to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, The Swan of Tuonela from Sibelius’ Lemminkäinen Suite, and Stravinky’s legendary Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring).
The Coliseum is a beautiful theatre. Both inside and out all designs and finishes are exquisite, and every one of the 2000 seats has perfect sight lines. For producers and performers, the theatre features a full orchestra pit, and 9-metre proscenium arch, and an 80-line fly system, and for patrons, as part of the West HQ complex, the theatre is adjacent to 15 restaurants and bars (including Chu by China Doll) and has 2000 free parking spots. It really is the ultimate venue for theatre and concerts, but unfortunately it is not for orchestras.
Acoustically, the venue is very dry. While this is desirable for theatre and amplified concerts, it is less serviceable to orchestral instruments. To overcome this, the SSO built a series of wooden arches to block the sound from getting lost in the fly, and while the arches were aesthetically pleasing and made the winds and brass sound beautiful (I would argue better than in the Opera House), the strings, who were positioned in front of the first arch, received no such assistance.
The audience are positioned very close to the stage in The Coliseum, and so the SSO’s strings sounded powerful, clear, and up-front throughout the evening, but without any sort of reverb even the greatest string playing ultimately lacks richness and fullness.
And this really is some of the greatest string playing. As always, concertmaster Andrew Haveron and his violins were world class. The SSO deserves its reputation as one of the world’s finest orchestras and they did not disappoint here. Inkinen extracted all of the power and grandeur form the orchestra necessary for Wagner without ever compromising beauty or subtlety, and Alexandre Oguey’s singing swan (arguably the most famous cor anglaise solo ever written) was as rich and evocative as any I have ever heard. The Rite, the finale of the concert, was so powerful and wonderfully jarring for members of the audience to audibly gasp at its famous “ceasefire”.
It is brilliant to see the SSO venture out of the city and bring its quality to more of Sydney. They have made a conscious decision in the last couple of years to make their playing (and indeed classical music in general) more accessible, and with this concert they definitely did that. Not only did they bring their playing physically closer to Sydney’s west, but they designed a very clever, universally appealing program. The concert was short (an hour and fifteen minutes with a twenty-minute intermission), famous, and modern enough to attract, delight, and sustain the attention of all – from the most inexperienced classical-music virgin to the most seasoned symphony patron, everyone could enjoy this concert.
Yes, I personally would like to see the SSO utilise microphones and digital audio engineering to address the acoustic limitations of the space, but the orchestra should be commended here both on their intentions and their quality. I strongly recommend readers journey out to The Coliseum to see the SSO in some of their other upcoming concerts there later this year.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.