There’s a hum in the Hunter this weekend. On Friday night it’s still low, a whisper on the wind, but by Saturday afternoon people are practically shouting from the rooftops. It’s time for the 17th Annual Good Weekend Opera in the Vineyards. And from what we overhear at the vineyards, restaurants and hotels around the valley, people have come back every year.
Sure, this declaration is usually made by the wife, closely followed by a sarcastic quip from the husband, but all I see walking into Wyndham Estate on a sunny Saturday afternoon are happy, smiling faces.
And what’s not to be happy about? We’ve got VIP passes to Dinner before the show so yay for us, but the people sprawled on picnic rugs, with cheese plates and wine glasses in hand, look pretty happy too. Forget hot dogs and French fries, this is the Opera after all. Il Cacciatore Restaurant (read about it here) is serving Atlantic salmon salad, Boy O Boy has braised beef cheeks on the menu and Exquisite Patisserie’s tables are laden with boxes of bite-sized lemon meringue tarts and chocolate torte. Hampers from Hunter Valley Cheese Company are a hit too.
For us, inside the Wyndham Estate’s beautiful wooden dining room, we’re treated to Crystal Bay prawns and plump gnocchi, shredded Nulkaba duck terrine, chestnut-stuffed chicken wrapped in Iberico jamon and Jurassic-sized White Pyrenees lamb cutlets.
Paired with some of Wyndham Estates’ best wines, in particular a 2007 Black Cluster Shiraz we’re all fighting over, the meal is marvelous. Wine Maker Ben Bryant is optimistic about this year’s vintage so watch Wyndham’s space.
Out in the vineyards there are no curtains to rise and fall, so we’re left in the hands of comedian Jean Kittson and she’s here to have a bit of fun. With an opening address as suggestive as her dress (what a split!), she has the crowd in hysterics over comparisons between wine and sex. Apparently both need to breathe but you can put a cork in one of them… This is relevant to Opera because Puccini was the master of melodrama. Mistresses and murders, lust and love, his works are marked by passion and promiscuity. For these reasons, this medley of Puccini’s finest pieces couldn’t be called a “serenade”. Sure, when the singers burst into a rendition of “That’s Amore” for the encore, it’s charming and sweet, but for the arias and duets, quartets and solos, the sopranos and tenors give it their all.
Ameila Farrugia, Sharon Prero, Carlo Barricelli and Aldo Di Toro are Australia’s bright stars of the Opera world and they take our breath away. Strangely enough they never seem out of breath, quite a feat considering some of the notes they hold. The quartet receive standing ovations at the end of both Acts. The Sydney Lyric Orchestra provides accompaniment, joined by the occasional Kookaburra cackle.
By the end of the night, we’ve heard 22 very special pieces, hand picked from Puccini classics such as La Boheme, Turandot, Madame Butterfly and Tosca.
People are still on a post-Operatic high while we’re all filing back to the buses, ears ringing slightly and cheeks rosy from the cold (or perhaps the wine).
The mass exodus runs smoothly thanks to rows and rows of buses. Newcastle, Pokolbin, hotels all around the valley – the range of services is impressive and in a matter of minutes we’re headed back to Cypress Lakes with what must be half of the hotel’s guests. No one’s sleepy except possibly us, the youngest on board.
We’re also probably the last awake the next morning, when the excitement seems to have continued through to breakfast. Or perhaps people have spotted croissants absolutely stuffed with almond cream, muffins overflowing their patty cases, pancakes, bowls of bircher muesli, strawberries, melon, pecans and walnuts, not to mention bacon, eggs, hash browns, even bread and butter pudding.
A big breakfast is a must when you’re teeing off at the 72 par 18-hole championship course attached to the resort. I have to admit we don’t spend any time on the course – we are tempted to buy up sun visors and take a golf buggy for a spin – but the rolling greens do provide a pleasant outlook from the terrace hot tub. Instead we walk off breakfast with a bush bash up to the high gates of The Golden Door Spa, one of NSW’s ultra-exclusive, all-inclusive, leave your caffeine and alcohol at the door, hotel spas.
Cypress Lakes on the other hand, has more than 200 one, two, three and four bedroom villas tucked into the bush, with private terraces and balconies perfect for an afternoon drink.
We’ve spent our time with a glass of wine on the terrace, bush walking on the grounds and even a session in the “Gym Villa” on site. Opera, fine dining, wine, workout: all in a weekend away.
Lisa was the guest of HVWCT and its members.
Images supplied by Lisa Perkovic
Good Weekend Opera in the Vineyards
700 Dalwood Rd, Dalwood 02 4938 3444
Cypress Lakes Resort
Cnr McDonalds and Thompsons Rd, Pokolbin 02 4993 1555