When Edward takes Vivian to the opera in Pretty Woman, he tells her “people's reactions to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic; they either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don't, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.”
He obviously didn’t know about Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour and its captivating performance of Giacomo Puccini’s most famous work, La Boheme, which is hard to dislike.
For the seventh year the company has set up a multimillion dollar floating stage on the harbour at Fleet Steps at Mrs Macquaries Point, with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge as the backdrop.
It’s also the impressive site of a restaurant pop-up: the fine-diner Platinum Club, which is serving (among other things) a pre-performance three-course dinner with matching wines for $245.
It’s a substantial outlay, even in a city known for charging some decent coin for dinner. (For example, Momofuku Seiōbo offers a multi-course menu with paired wine for $290; Automata’s five-course dinner with wine is $160; a three course dinner with wine at Bennelong will set you back $145, and that’s without wine; and the tasting menu at Sepia is $390, wine inclusive.)
So what does $245 get you at Platinum Club?
Dinner includes matched wines from Hunter Valley’s Tyrrell’s premium range, and begins with sourdough served with a rich nut butter mascarpone. For entrée guests can choose from either grilled scallops and boudin noir (blood sausage) with smoked celeriac, or a goat’s chevre with honey and a salad with chive vinaigrette.
For mains it’s free-range duck cooked two ways, or barramundi provençale served with ratatouille, Niçoise potatoes with sauce gribiche (a mayonnaise-style cold egg sauce). To finish there’s a dessert of chocolate gateau with red fruits or a selection of French cheeses, plus tea or coffee.
“It's classic stuff but we’ve lightened it up a bit,” says Fresh Catering’s culinary director Geoff Haviland, who is in charge of menus across the five dining venues at the harbour opera.
While the Platinum Club’s food might not match the world-class view – and considering it doesn’t have a true kitchen on-site – the quality is high. Touches such as white tablecloths and competent service definitely elevate the experience.
In addition to Platinum Club’s three-course dinner there’s an option for a buffet-style dinner ($130 inclusive of wines), as well as a number of less-expensive restaurants and bars across the sprawling complex.
Each year the food is themed around the opera being performed, so everything here for 2018 is distinctly French. There’s the casual Qantas Garden Bar and the cafe-style Northern Cantina serving dishes such as pissaladière (a classic French-style pizza that originated in Nice); nicoise salad; French onion soup; sweet and savoury crepes; and plenty of cheese. There’s also roving oyster bars serving Pambula oysters with a French vinaigrette.
The real masterpiece, though, is the stage. Designer Dan Potra has created a Parisian winter wonderland. Shimmering ice surrounds the cobblestone streets, graphic images and streetscapes are projected on a huge “window” above, and the cast moves around gangways over the water to give a sense of the bustling city. There’s falling snow, fireworks, cars on fire and even a clown floating in a basket suspended by brightly coloured balloons.
The opera takes place in Paris’s bohemian Latin Quarter, but the action has been moved forward by about a century from Puccini’s original; it’s now set in the student uprisings of the 1960s. This makes for excellent costumes, with pastel fur coats, cowboy hats and stylish swing dresses.
Puccini’s story line of a love affair between a poor poet and an equally poor seamstress is a little silly at times, but there are some funny beaver puns and a fair bit of physical comedy. If the story sounds familiar, it's because it was the inspiration for Baz Luhrmann’s award-winning film Moulin Rouge and the musical Rent.
Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour’s La Bohème is on until April 22. For tickets visit.