My Island Home is a snapshot of modern Australian cultural excellence – a celebration of a confident nation rejoicing and showcasing the wealth of talented performers that call the earth’s largest island “home”.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House for the APEC Australia 2007 Gala Cultural Performance. Sydney is a truly global city with two defining icons – the world heritage listed Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Tonight’s performance provides a snapshot of modern Australia and features over 200 young performers and famous artists showcasing the very best of contemporary Australian performing arts.

The Hon John Howard MP
Prime Minister of Australia

So, what did our international guests enjoy during the APEC Australia 2007 Gala Cultural Programme?

The evening got off to a bang with conductor Andrew Greene leading the Australian Opera & Ballet Orchestra in the main title theme from the film The Man From Snowy River. Yes, that’s right — The Man From Snowy River. Isn’t it astonishing that we had to travel back to 1982 to find a film worthy of playing the main theme from?

To give you some perspective, the equivalent would be the US getting the New York Symphony Orchestra to play the theme from Gandhi or ET to display their cultural might in 2007. But wait — it does get better.

This was soon followed by, as promised, You’re the Voice (1986) performed by soloist Robert Adam and an array of kids from Gondwana Voices and the Sydney Childrens Choir. The John Farnham retrospective was swiftly followed up by the Somewhere Medley.

What, may you ask, is the ‘Somewhere Medley’?

Well, let me tell you…

Picture, if you will, six singers (Sophie Carter, Amelia Cormack, Ben Lewis, Alexander Lewis, James Millar and Christina O’Neill) centre stage in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. The lights come up on young Sophie, Amelia, Ben, Alex, James and Christina who earnestly look into the crowd. Picture if you will, the world leaders — Vladimir Putin, George Bush, Hu Jintao, Shinzo Abe, Gloria Arroyo looking back. The sextet then slowly start singing Somewhere Out There:

Somewhere out there, Beneath the pale blue night, Someone’s thinking of me, And loving me tonight. Somewhere out there, Someone’s saying a prayer, Then we’ll find one another, In that big somewhere out there.

After polite applause they then get a little more serious and tackle that ever-faithful anthem of earnestness Over the Rainbow:

Somewhere over the rainbow, Way up high, There’s a land that I heard of, Once in a lullaby.

The song trails off as the performers transport the world leaders to Oz… yes that’s right Toto, to Oz! The audience by this point must be wishing that if they click their heels they are transported somewhere … please god … anywhere!

Which makes the power of the next song so relevant and cruelly ironic – none other than Somewhere from West Side Story:

There’s a place for us, Somewhere a place for us, Peace and quiet and open air, Wait for us, Somewhere.

Let me take a short interval here by saying that this programme would have to be one of the most embarrasing elements of the entire APEC Forum. The programme must have been altered, changed and re-jigged until the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had officially approved it and I don’t think that any blame could possibly be passed onto the exceptional artists involved.

And the world leaders and delegates and international media are told by the Prime Minister that this event is ‘showcasing the very best of contemporary Australian performing arts’. You may as well have given the politicians and world leaders a lagerphone and a gum leaf. Here you go Skip!

The arts industry should be furious. Let me concede at this point that it is oh-so-thankful that Artistic Director Stuart Maunder put in a bit of Bangarra Dance, Taikoz, Australian Ballet and Opera Australia to soften the blows — otherwise the entire affair could have gone down in history as the worst concert ever staged in the Sydney Opera House.

Nicholas Pickard blogs at Sydney Arts Journo.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey