Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Notre Dame Sydney show reviews classical music February 2024


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra are well known for their collaborations with artists of other disciplines. With the chaos of the past few years, many showbiz projects around the world were put on the shelf for a better day. One of the postponed works was a collaboration between ABO’s Artistic Director Paul Dyer (concept and music) and award winning playwright Alana Valentine (script and direction) on a play set to music, “Notre-Dame”.

The story follows a young Australian engineer travelling to Paris to work on the restoration of the world heritage building Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral. On arrival, she befriends a man who guides her around the building, telling of its structural details, parts of the immense history and its effect on the people who have interacted with “Our Lady” since its alleged founding around the year 1270. The engineer has only just arrived to start work when the fire (of 2019) breaks out in the roof. She is caught up in the rescue of artifacts and stands amongst the speechless crowds on the streets.

Notre-Dame cathedral and the spot on which it stands (on the island Île de la Cité in the centre of Paris) holds a deeper history than we could ever fully understand. Sitting on the crossroads of two major planetary Ley lines, it was apparently a Temple of Isis before the new building was constructed. As is often standard in layout for cathedrals, a bird’s eye view of the building is in the shape of a cross. From the ground you see a heavy, dominating flat wall, three arched doors, an immense round stained glass rose window and two towers as what we see as the “front” entrance. At the other end is a cone shaped roof with incredible arched stone buttresses. On a visit to Paris about 20 years ago, I remember staring up at those buttresses thinking it’s surely impossible for a bunch of 12th century builders, with horse and cart, bucket of mortar, trowel and scaffolding, to have created such a building. It really is magical.

It’s not the biggest cathedral, but certainly one of the most famous in the world. In 1859, a huge wooden spire was added behind the two towers. This spire was destroyed in the 2019 fire. As our guide in the play says, the building has been ravaged by time, by revolution and by academics (well known of changing architectural features to make them “better”.) It was only the 5th April 2019, some 10 days before the big fire, that the BBC was reporting how much of the building was deteriorating with not enough funding coming from the government to salvage it.

The play keeps the story simple, delving deep into the hours of the fire and the aftermath. Expertly scripted and directed, the music becomes the major character highlighting works played within and around the church through the centuries. The earliest is a chant from the 1200s. There are a couple of works from the 1400’s-1500’s, songs about trying to steal a kiss from a beautiful maiden and a mutual love affair – so delightful. Also featured are splendid interpretations of Lully, Rameau and Marin Marais. The music is almost all optimistic, a superb curation by Dyer, elegant and tasteful from start to finish.

The large orchestra and choir were dressed by Costume Designer Genevieve Graham in variations of black, white and cream garnished with black ribbons. Their performance was impeccable including a notable solo by soprano Bonnie de la Hunty.

Matilda Ridgway and Glenn Hazeldine with Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Notre-Dame Sydney City Recital Hall February 2024
Matilda Ridgway and Glenn Hazeldine with Australian Brandenburg Orchestra in “Notre-Dame” at Sydney’s City Recital Hall February 2024

Our narrator, actress Matilda Ridgway, was clear and concise in her articulation so everyone in the hall, all the way up to the Gods, could understand what was being said. Her easy Aussie accent made the story fun, instantly relatable and intimate. Her Parisian guide, played by Glenn Hazeldine projected with an equal clarity pointing out the architectural features, making us feel as if we were there with them. At one point he sits on one side of the piano stool next to Dyer who turns to enjoy the monologue. Both actors did an outstanding job of relaying the story holding the audience attention throughout.

Visual Designer Sean Bacon and Lighting Designer Trent Suidgeest created the perfect environment for the story telling. Centre stage, high above the orchestra, were 4 video screens shaped like the rose window and three arched doors of the cathedral. The audience used these screens as if glimpsing through windows at the scenes of the story. A lovely mix of still photos with video footage including an 1896 historic film in the parvis of Notre Dame with horses and buggies passing by, plus Lon Chaney’s 1923 film The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Funded by multiple Festivals around Australia, it would be a fitting representative for Australia in overseas festivals as well. The script was sparse, allowing the music to take the lead and would easily be understood by those where English is a second language.

This is an outstanding work, I highly recommend you get down to City Recital Hall to see it before the close on 2nd March. Five stars.


Charles Tessier – Quand le flambeau du monde
Jean-Philippe Rameau – Ouverture from Les Fêtes de Polymnie
Clément Janequin – Au joly jeu
Jean-Philippe Rameau – Musette Gracieuse from Platée
Pérotin – Viderunt omnes
Claudin de Sermisy – Tant que vivray
Jean Baptiste Lully – Passacaille from Armed
Marin Marais – Sonnerie de Saint Geneviève du Mont-de-Paris arr. Alice Change
Jean-Philippe Rameau – Ouverture from Naïs
Jean-Féry Rebel – Le Cahos from Les Elémens
André Campra – Introite from Messe de Requiem
Hildegard von Bingen – O virga ac diadema
Hugh Ronzani – l’aube

Related links

Tickets for “Notre-Dame”. Season ends 2 March 2024:
What’s On at City Recital Hall?
Reconstruction progress on Notre Dame de Paris:
More about writer and director Alana Valentine: