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Sydney 2000 Was Fake Too


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Great Olympic musical deceptions of our time

The Sunday Age

August 24, 2008

SYDNEY has its Opera House - but has it got a real orchestra? Within days of NSW Premier Morris Iemma making unwise cracks about Melbourne being left off the World Monopoly board, The Sunday Age can reveal that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra mimed key parts of its performance at the opening of the Sydney Games in 2000.

And it gets better - it was, in fact, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra whose brilliant playing was heard by millions around the world at the Sydney Olympic opening ceremony.

The MSO's superior sounds (pre-recorded just for the ceremony) were played as the orchestra went through the motions - the showbiz short cut of using "backing tapes", usually done to carry ageing or incompetent performers. Remember Milli Vanilli?

So, when everyone was tut-tutting about seven-year-old singer Yang Peiyi being replaced by the "prettier" Lin Miaoke for the Beijing Games opening two weeks ago, there must have been much squirming at the SSO's Pitt Street headquarters.

For eight years it has been one of the best-kept secrets in Sin City.

When The Sunday Age contacted SSO conductor George "The Big G" Ellis last week, he was not overjoyed.

"I am unable to comment because I have signed a confidentiality agreement," Ellis said after an uncomfortable pause.

It is believed that all the orchestra's musicians also had to sign confidentiality agreements, but the miming was common knowledge among Melbourne musicians whose work had been recorded to help out their Sydney counterparts.

SOCOG officials had ordered pre-recorded backing tapes for the entire ceremony to ensure nothing could go wrong on Sydney's big night.

This included Nikki Webster's solo, Under Southern Skies and Human Nature and Julie Anthony singing the national anthem.

"You simply can't embarrass yourself on the world stage - you must do whatever you can to make it perfect," the source said.

Nikki Webster's piece was recorded in July, almost three months before the ceremony.

At the same time, south of the border, the MSO, conducted by Paul Grabowsky, was recording much of the program. This included one of the centrepieces of the night, the Tin Symphony, a seven-minute extravaganza described by the American television networks as a celebration of Australia's larrikinism.

The piece was inspired by windmills and water tanks and drew rapturous applause in the packed stadium.

It is not uncommon for major events to have their "live" music beefed up with backing tapes, according to music industry sources.

SOCOG officials' cautious "belt-and-braces" approach was vindicated when the prematch entertainment at the NRL 2002 grand final fell into a heap after a power failure forced rocker Billy Idol to abort his performance.

But for one elite orchestra to mime another? That's a different story. One with added piquancy because the unashamedly Sydney-centric former prime minister Paul Keating ("If you're not in Sydney, you're camping out") dreamed up the idea of trying to make the Sydney Symphony the nation's flagship orchestra in 1995 - much to the chagrin of the MSO.

Interstate rivalry boosted the fortunes of classical music. Jeff Kennett, then premier of Victoria, replied by substantially boosting funding for the MSO, and the race was on. For a while, the serious money backing Sydney led some to believe it would leave the MSO behind. But, by 2000, the SOCOG brains trust had its doubts.

Only last week, Premier Iemma boasted of Sydney's inclusion on the new World Monopoly board: "Eat your heart out - Melbourne nowhere to be found. How pleasing it is that Sydney scored the red square right next to New York and London." Now, it's more like red faces than red squares.

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Nelly Furtado mimed 'Forca' at the Euro in 2004.

Gloria Estefan, Stevie Wonder and Celine Dion mimed at Atlanta.

Sarah Brightman has admitted to not singing live in Barcelona or Beijing.

Really - who cares. Sh*t - I saw Janet Jackson live back in the day on her Velvet Rope tour and she mimed half her show. I dont think Britney has sung a live note in her career. It happens. Noone wants what happened to John Farnham at the Melbourne 2006 Closing Ceremony to happen to them. He forgot the words to his biggest hit 'You're The Voice', just shrugged, mumbled and laughed - finally picking up the song again at the chorus. Hilarious - but very dodgy.

It does not detract a damn thing from the show IMO.

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I don't get why people are so hung up on lip-synced performances. I'm surprised that a lot also believed initially that such performances were done live (only to feel 'offended' upon knowing they weren't). Hel-lo!

Because they believed only the Chinese are capable of such despicable acts? :P

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