Melbourne's incredible hattrick

Monday, August 1, 2011
Melbourne's incredible hat trick
A scene from Love Never Dies © Jeff Busby

Three outstanding international attractions have made Melbourne Australia's top destination for a long weekend away this winter.

As if Tutankhamun's gold was not a big enough scoop in itself, this winter Melbourne is also staging the sequel to Phantom of Opera, Love Never Dies, and an exhibition of exquisite jewel-like paintings of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, rarely seen outside Europe.

Buy tickets to Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs here

The National Gallery of Victoria's blockbuster show Vienna: Art & Design marks the gallery's 150th birthday celebrations, but presence of the other two massively popular attractions is an unprecedented coup. Melbourne is riding high as Australia's arts and entertainments capital.

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, until November 6
Step back 3300 years into the mesmerising age of the pharaohs. Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs brings 50 treasures from the boy king's tomb — the first time these priceless artefacts have left Egypt since the 1970s.

Included are a solid gold dagger, diadem and sandals, all found on Tut's mummy, and a coffinette with his famous features of polished gold and lapis lazuli, reminiscent of his famous death mask.

The death mask itself has never left Egypt since the 1970s — and never will again, apparently — but more about the mysterious reasons why later.

The exhibition is a family affair. Of the 130 treasures on show, many come from the tombs of his relatives — his father, Ankenhaten, also known as the great heretic; his grandparents, King Amenhotep II and Queen Tye, and his great grandparents, Yuya and Thuya, who, like Catherine Middleton and her parents were commoners who married into the royal family.

There's even a stone bust of the famous beauty Nefertiti, his step-mother, and a forensically reconstructed lifelike bust of Tut himself.

The exhibition's creative director Mark Lach said his favourite exhibit is the wooden bust of Tut as a boy. "It's so human and personal. He looks at you and through you. It brings 3000 years of time back to life."

This exquisite sculpture is the first exhibit visitors see, lit up as it is in the centre of its own room, it does fleetingly look as if the boy pharaoh is there to greet you.

Melbourne will be the ninth city to see Tut's treasures, which have already attracted nine million visitors in the US and London.

Worldwide, it has raised $252 million from ticket sales, most of which will go back to Egypt, where there are plans to build a $500 million uber museum to house the nation's antiquities.

"Melbourne was an afterthought," says Mark. "It wasn't on the original exhibition schedule." It seems the city is a favourite of Egypt's Minister of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass.

And why wasn't the death mask included? It seems that on its last world tour, it was slightly damaged. No one knows by whom, or at least they're not saying.

And sadly, according to Zahi Hawass, this is the last time King Tut's treasures will leave Egypt.

"That's what he says," says Mark. "But the minister is known to like a sequel, so who knows?"

For more information, visit Melbourne Museum or Ticketek Australia.

Love Never Dies
Talking about sequels … Andrew Lloyd-Webber, the great maestro of the musical, was in town at the Regent Theatre recently launching his multi-million production of Love Never Dies, part II of Phantom of the Opera, the most successful entertainment of all time.

In terms of revenue, Phantom is way ahead of the combined world tours of the Rolling Stones; even ahead of Star Wars, Titanic and , so far, Avatar. It has taken $2.5 billion plus.

Not entirely happy with London's Love Never Dies, Lloyd-Webber has gathered a brand new production team — all Australian — for the Melbourne production … and is "absolutely thrilled with the results".

So thrilled, he walked on stage after the opening night and said he was seriously considering taking out Australian citizenship.

This sequel takes up the phantom's story 10 years on, when the phantom has left his lair under the Paris Opera in order to haunt the fairgrounds of Coney Island, spectacularly brought to life in a brilliant series of sets and costumes by designer Gabriela Tylesova.

Baron Lloyd-Webber of Sydmonton, as he is now known, is modest considering his successes — Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, Les Miserables, Evita, Miss Saigon etc. These have made him phenomenally wealthy.

With a fortune of $1.5 billion, he has overtaken Paul McCartney as Britain's richest composer.

With so much money and success, why is he still hungry? "I think it is just that I love the collaborative element [of a production]," he said after the show. "You depend on each other in a project like this. One ingredient could be wrong and a great piece of work will disappear."

Thanks to his talented Melbourne team, Lloyd-Webber is feeling artistically fulfilled. The team, which in the maestro's words, "have absolutely got it", includes director Simon Phillips, designer Gabriela Tylesova and choreographer Graeme Murphy. Together, these three have crafted a ravishing spectacle, backed by an inspired all-Aussie cast of singers.

Is it another Phantom? Go see it and find out for yourself.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit loveneverdies.com.au.

Vienna: Art & Design: Klimt, Schiele, Hoffman, June 18 to October 9
A spectacle is exactly what the National Gallery of Victoria's blockbuster Vienna: Art & Design has on it walls. Some 240 works by the greatest Viennese artists, designers and architects of the 19th and 20th centuries.

In other words, "the birth of modern design, when Vienna led the world in forging a new style", says NGV director Dr Gerard Vaughan. Others have said the exhibition marks the birth of modernism — the turning point that saw the old order collapse and the world we recognise today emerge.

Many of the iconic paintings by Klimt and Schiele are "unlikely to leave Vienna again", says Dr Agnes Husslein-Arco, director of Viennese museum which lent them.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the National Gallery of Victoria.

Buy tickets to Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs here

Also on your visit to Melbourne … why not?

1. Stay at the five-star Sofitel Melbourne on Collins, one of Love Never Dies partner hotels with several See the Show and Stay deals. It's only a three-minute stroll from the lobby to the Regent Theatre.

2. Enjoy afternoon tea at The Hotel Windsor with French champagne, sandwiches, cream/jam and scones and an assortment of cakes. The hotel is only five minutes' walk from the Sofitel hotel and Regent Theatre.

3. Enjoy the best of Venetian cuisine at the informal Merchant restaurant at the InterContinental Hotel, also on Collins St. The whitebait with cumin mayonnaise is crisp and succulent and roasted red peppers areas sweet as any you'll find in Veneto.

4. Take a stroll around Melbourne CBD's famous lanes, especially The Block Arcade and The Royal Arcade, for bespoke boutiques and dynamic cafes, which serve some of the city's best coffee, breakfasts and brunches. You can also take afternoon tea at the Hopetoun Tea Rooms, where the cake displays in the window will be enough to walk you through the door.

5. Take a tram, number 96, to St Kilda (from the Paris end of Bourke Street) and take a refreshing walk by the beach. If you get up early enough, you could catch sight of resident fairy penguins.

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