It’s hard to know how to describe this baffling concert other than a slapdash mix of awkward and sublime. I enjoyed myself in the end, but this wildly uneven production was a very odd fit for such a prestigious venue.
Whatever the fans of a certain space saga may say, I think of Howard Shore’s The Lord of the Rings score as the greatest film score ever, and I was very privileged to see Mr Shore himself conduct The Lord of the Rings Symphony at the Sydney Opera House many years ago. This musical celebration didn’t have an official stamp on it, but I was still excited to get my ticket back in October 2021… and then for whatever reason it got delayed by a full year and moved to May 2023. After a long wait, the show was decidedly a very mixed bag.
It feels weird to describe an event taking place at a stately venue like Hamer Hall as amateurish, yet that was consistently the vibe I was getting. At this point I’m so used to slick and seemingly effortless productions that the deficiencies and awkward moments stuck out like a sore thumb. I had no beef with the musicians or singers, it was more with the way the show was haphazardly slapped together, weirdly disjointed and without much flow other than a vaguely chronological run through the three films of the first trilogy.
Since the producers had no rights to the official Lord of the Rings film excerpts or artwork, the visuals on the big screen, often superimposed over real-time footage of the orchestra, consisted of illustrations, generic nature footage and cheap-looking computer generated artwork. The strangest visuals by far were the video speeches by the late great Christopher Lee. You could never complain about having to listen to Lee’s dulcet baritone, but the ethics of using a deceased person in this manner felt questionable to say the least.
Howard Shore’s magnificent score is still spellbinding as ever, and there were many times when I felt truly mesmerised by its majesty and emotion. Unfortunately the absence of a full-size orchestra was telling, especially after my recent MSO Hans Zimmer concert. I didn’t count heads, but it wasn’t anywhere near the size of a true symphonic orchestra you need to bring Shore’s score to life, so in places the sound felt thinned out and lacking in richness and fullness. A few times, a piece would just end abruptly after a build-up, leaving the audience unsure whether to clap or not.
Some musical choices felt very random: at the start of the show, we were urged to stand up for the national anthem of Mordor… which is a thing apparently. To my ears, it sounded way too cheerful and I’m pretty certain that it would not have pleased the Dark Lord Sauron, who’d probably send the composer to the rack. Near the end of the first act, there was a trio of musicians playing pipes and drums in full traditional Scottish attire. I quite like bagpipes, but what on earth they’ve got to do with The Lord of the Rings is anyone’s guess. To give them their due, they seemed to be a huge hit with the audience and I guess you could kinda imagine that they wouldn’t sound out of place at some rowdy party in Middle-earth.
The evening was hosted by William Kircher, a jovial Kiwi actor who played the dwarf Bifur in The Hobbit trilogy and had a few anecdotes from his filming experiences to share in between the songs. He clearly relished the task, but I wished he toned down his onstage persona just a little bit; I know it’s an epic fantasy and all but he took the over-the-top drama maybe a tad too far. Still, by the end of the show I was won over by his sheer enthusiasm and good cheer.
The true MVPs of the night were the three female vocalists performing solo vocal parts of the score, as well as the original songs written for the movies. I could have done without the auntie-at-a-wedding dancing next to the Scottish pipers from one of the ladies, whose very short dress had me seriously concerned for her decency, but all in all they did an amazing job. The heartfelt rendition of Into the West, originally sung by Annie Lennox at the end of The Return of the King, was especially beautiful and moving.
Other songs included Enya’s May It Be from The Fellowship of the Ring, and an unfamiliar but gorgeous song that must have come from either The Hobbit trilogy or the new series. Emiliana Torrini’s underrated Gollum’s Song was sadly passed over, and in general they could have played more of The Two Towers score. How can you put up a Lord of the Rings concert and not play the Rohan theme??
Though I’ve just spent most of the post picking the flaws apart, I can’t deny that I had fun at the show after I got over the initial “what the hell am I watching” reaction. The performers visibly enjoyed themselves and the evening had a clunky, nerdy kind of charm to it. Next time though I might scrutinise an event like this a bit closer before shelling out over a hundred dollars.