Everything about the business of selling André Léon Marie Nicholas Rieu to an already massively awakened “senior” Australian public is distinguished by an indefatigable ability to commercially exploit his “king of the waltz” persona with unprecedented success.

Perhaps not since the famous 1976 ‘Hot August Night’ tour by Neil Diamond has there been anything as ubiquitous and anticipated as Andrew Rieu’s triumphal Australian waltz! Not merely content with putting upwards of 400,000 highly lucrative bums on seats at his 11 concerts; the 59-year-old Rieu in little more than two years has become a retail phenomenon. His local sales of innumerable DVD and CD titles should push well beyond 2 million by Christmas. The on-going rehashing of his already considerable back catalogue to produce ever more titles would do Tamla Motown proud; and in the record business that’s been the gold standard.

His spectacular live show which he claims costs $5.6 million per concert to mount in Australia thanks mainly to the life-like replica Viennese Schoenbrunn Palace; is an enormous scale of presentation unlike anything previously toured here (and there’s two identical sets dove-tailing between cities). In recent days the media has been busily trotting out all the dizzying details of a 500 strong touring party that as well as the requisite orchestra, soloists and choir, is further swollen by ballroom dancers, ice skaters, horse-drawn carriages and footmen, and production and personal staff to keep the whole show on the road, safe and well fed. There’s even a personal guard for his multi-million dollar 1,732 Stradivarius; and it seems the only thing unaccounted for is Mrs Rieu — but she hates flying!

Even if the MCG were available at this time of year, the practicality of a weather proof Telstra Dome come Saturday night is exactly what Rieu requires to successfully finish off the first leg before an aggregate Victorian audience of 90,000. Tonight and Friday become virtual full-dress rehearsals to iron out all the production kinks before the cameras start rolling at Saturday’s third concert. As for the rest of his tour any prospect of singing or listening in the rain is of little consequence to his legions of fans; most of whom probably thought Doris Day was pretty cool in her prime. Given they’ve happily dipped into their shrinking savings to buy tickets that would ordinarily seem an extravagance; how much is too much for what many of them see as a once in a lifetime experience? But then he will return again in 2009.

With top priced public tickets costing $299 (the cheapest $99), putting to one side thousands of the very best seats tied into premium packages including filling hundreds of corporate boxes; even if you figured the median average at $200 — you’re talking about a potential gross of some $80 million and counting. Not only can you shell out for all-in wine and dine packages, but the top tier pre-dinner and concert followed by an after party “meet and greet” with Andre in attendance in Melbourne could set two of you back $2,500. While rubbing shoulders with 2GB’s Alan Jones and Rieu in Sydney without the fine dining but obligatory post concert cocktails is a much more modest $550 per head.

Saturday night’s filmed concert serves two lucrative purposes. Firstly it becomes the means to provide what is bound to be easily the largest-ever Australian one-off Pay-Per-View subscription TV audience. At $24.95 per household the bean counters at the Main Event channel carried by Foxtel, Austar and Optus will be ditching renditions of ‘I’m Your Man’ in deference to their over-hyped Anthony Mundine fistive farces, and bursting into a chorus of “hallelujah” (and we’re not talking Leonard Cohen)!

Better still Rieu gets to rush-release (December 5 in Australia) the concert footage as a certain Christmas number one best selling DVD. Given it’s easily his most dominant music retail medium by a factor of five to one, most of those attending the tour from Perth to Brisbane will want that DVD as a must-have memento. Of course the rest of the global Rieu fan club will also be adding it to their own shopping list, which means Rolf Harris and John Williamson, can look forward to additional publishing royalties later in 2009 courtesy of Rieu’s kitsch Australian musical homage that’s certain to be included.

That’s the thing about Rieu’s populist grasp for being unconcerned with what the demurring world of musical purists think of his whimsical and exaggeratedly energetic way he goes about delivering the works of the great classical and operatic composers. So delivering a local medley of the likes of Waltzing Matilda, Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport and Bananas in Pyjamas is no more a cliché to Rieu than playing The Star Spangled Banner at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, or Danny Boy in Dublin.

But if his fans will undoubtedly feel richer for the experience of Rieu down under; for all his references to his bank manager thinking he’s mad for bringing half of Vienna with him; that manager will need a much bigger vault. Typical of the Rieu corporate mentality; when mega drawing rock artists deign to tour here — there’s always the middle-man local promoter taking his percentage of the cream off the top. In Rieu’s dairy only the venue operator is getting a lick. No longer subject to a promoter’s accounting foibles or “surprises” experienced earlier in his career; if Rieu isn’t happy with just how adversely he affects our balance of payments in this quarter — he has only himself to blame.

Peter Fray

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