Dancing in the aisles to André RieuBy John Evans
There was dancing in the aisles last week when multi-million-selling waltz king André Rieu brought his orchestra to the O2 in London. It was the Dutch violinist’s second stop on his UK tour, rescheduled following the nerve problems he suffered late last year.
The 20,000-strong audience was treated to Rieu’s trademark mix of Viennese waltzes and opera arias, the maestro himself playing and conducting, and providing a light-hearted commentary between numbers that prompted gales of laughter and applause throughout the evening.
Although the O2 could easily have accommodated it, there was no sign of the huge mock Viennese palace and 200-strong dancers Rieu toured the world with last year. In its place, at the back of the O2 stage, was a large video screen depicting images of Vienna and the Austrian countryside, flanked by two screens showing close-ups of the ecstatic audience. These added to the general jollity when, as audience members spotted themselves on screen, they’d wave frantically, prompting applause and laughter from all around.
The fun didn’t stop there. Rieu likes his players to enjoy themselves so there was lots of pantomime face-pulling and winking among the ranks displayed on the screens. Biggest culprits here were the brass players who at one point put down their instruments and passed around a dark green bottle filled with what all we liked to believe was a powerful Austrian brew. Rieu wrapped up the gag with a suitably vexed and headmasterly expression. He used the same technique to put down late-comers after the interval, demanding to know ‘is there only one toilet?’
The maestro’s between-works patter was well judged. Among the flattering references to ‘my great London audience’, was a welcome sprinkling of self-deprecation such as a story about sitting in his small car many years ago with his wife. ‘Things happened…’ was all he would say. Our minds were left to wonder exactly what as the orchestra began playing Ballade for Adeline, made famous by Richard Clayderman. Rieu’s timing was good, too. Few conductors can deploy a raised eyebrow as witheringly and as comically.
Throughout the evening he was joined on stage by a succession of house-soloists including the Three Tenors (with your eyes half-closed they look eerily close to the real thing) and, highlight of the evening, South African soprano Kimmy Scota singing Vilja-Lied from Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow.
Finally, the audience got their chance to shine when Rieu summoned up his signature work, On the Beautiful Blue Danube. In a moment the O2 was filled with 10,000 waltzing couples. They’re probably still dancing their way through Docklands.