Just before Christmas we went along to see the most wealthy and successful classical musician currently working, Andre Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra. Rieu does not come cheap – our tickets came to £91 each once you factored in booking fee – but he does put on a spectacle.
His USP is his digital backdrops, his sopranos dressed as Disney princesses, and his own slightly cheesy Master of Ceremonies schtick. The musical programme is made of crowd-pleasers: not simply the Strauss waltzes he is known for (the Blue Danube, for which we were handed tiny keyring lights to wave), but also such well-known pieces as the Hallelujah Chorus, the Pearl Fishers duet (for tenor trio and choir here, a bit odd), that aria from Madame Butterfly, 76 Trombones, the theme song from Exodus, and some Christmas pieces – The Holy City, O Holy Night, White Christmas …
There was a guest bell ringer, who had a speed playing contest with the xylophonist. There was a trilling soprano who sang Christine’s Think of Me from The Phantom of the Opera. There was a lot of mock drinking. There was fake snow dumped on to the floor-sitting audience. There were balloons. There was Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, ending proceedings.
Rieu has energy, and, in a trio for Amazing Grace with his violin, and flute and bagpipes, he proves he can actually play a decent solo. He also has friendly patter with which he engages his adoring audience. Those waltzes get people up dancing, whether they are ageing couples, mums and daughters, or grannies and tots.
He puts on a good show, but like all good things, especially sugary or cheesy ones, he is best enjoyed in moderation. This was a tightly programmed and shrewdly scripted piece of entertainment of which Rieu is the mullet-haired ringmaster. And the audience went away humming the tunes with smiles on their faces.