April 8, 2013


With 80 opera singers, 45 live musicians and Sydney Harbour with its magnificent backdrop of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and illuminated city buildings, Opera Australia’s Carmen is currently enthralling audiences each evening.  Seated outdoors in the specially constructed tiered grandstand, built on the shores of Sydney Harbour, alongside the Royal Botanic Gardens at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, this experience is like no other visit to the opera.

This is the third time I have seen Bizet’s Carmen, but this outdoor performance on the purpose built stage on Sydney Harbour, resembling a blood stained bullfighting ring, is certainly the most exciting.  The set features a neon lit outline of a bull as well as the giant 9 metre high red letters, spelling out CARMEN.  Two cranes lift props on and off the stage during the performance, but a highlight of the evening is watching enthralled as one of the cranes lowers the resplendent Toreador, Escamillo, onto the steeply raked stage from a great height.

Carmen is sung in French, with English subtitles projected onto the wall under the stage.

Two casts alternate at the performances, with Rinat Shaham and Milijana Nikolic starring as Carmen.

The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Brian Castles-Onion, sits under the stage in an orchestra pit which houses 45 musicians at each performance.

The colourful costumes and other special production surprises add to the wow factor that the audience will experience.  Even those who are not opera devotees should enjoy this performance.

I was worried during the evening that one of cast members would fall off the stage into the water, as they seemed to get so close to the edge, but this never happened.

This exciting, not to be missed production of Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Carmen will finish its all too short season on Sunday, 14 April 2013.   Sandra Tiltman



April 8, 2013

Pentecost Jump 1-VAN106

Located in the South Pacific Ocean and just 3.5 hours flying time from Sydney is the Republic of Vanuatu, an island nation formerly known as the New Hebrides. Captain James Cook named the islands during his second voyage of discovery and Europeans began settling there in the 18th century.  Vanuatu’s two largest towns are Port Vila on the island of Efate, which is also Vanuatu’s capital and Luganville on Espiritu Santo. 

Pentecost Jump 2Unlike anything you have seen before, bungy jumping is something that the locals on Pentecost Island do with a difference.   Nagol, meaning “land diving”, involves local men and boys jumping from a man made tower with a vine secured around their legs.  The aim is to touch the ground with their shoulders.  This annual ritual needs to be seen to be believed and can be witnessed between April and June each year on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Nagol goes back nearly 15 centuries, long before the world’s first commercial bungy operation opened in 1988.  Each April, when the first yam crop is ready for harvest, the people on Pentecost Island begin building towers from branches, vines and tree trunks.  It takes five weeks to construct a suitable 20-30 metre tower.

Local men carefully select a vine, knowing that a few centimetres can make all the difference.  After tying the vine to their legs, they dive headfirst from the tower platform at 72km per hour, aiming to land with their head curled under so that just their shoulders touch the ground.  It is believed that this feat will make the ground fertile for the following year.

Land diving is reserved for the locals but it’s worth travelling to Pentecost Island to join with the entire village as they gather to sing and dance while watching the tribal daredevils tempt fate.  This awe-inspiring ceremony is something that you will never forget and well worth a visit.

Pentecost Island also offers visitors pristine beaches, reefs, untouched forests, mountains and jungles as well as exotic wildlife.

Sandra Tiltman