Westwood puts the rock in baroque for Handel reinvention

JOHNNY ROTTEN and the Sex Pistols would not appear to have anything in common with performers of German baroque opera.

But both have been dressed by the British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, who has provided the costumes and inspiration for a radical retelling of Handel's 18th-century opera Semele.

Semele Walk will be one of the headline shows at next year's Sydney Festival, says the director, Lieven Bertels.

''It's a really great blend of fashion, design, a little bit of punk and baroque music,'' he says. ''I also think it's very Sydney.''

The opera will open with a fashion show - models sashaying down a long white carpet in Sydney Town Hall dressed in Marie Antoinette crinolines, gold-sequinned platform boots and kabuki make-up created by Dame Vivienne.

However, Bertels's most daring innovation is to cast aside the popular and free Festival First Night in favour of a series of events in Hyde Park, Darling Harbour and The Domain.

The details of Day One: An Opening in Three Acts remain under wraps until October 23, but the Dutch-born director says Festival First Night reached its summit this year and he wanted to ''shake it up a little''.

''I jokingly said once that everything that happens twice in this city is called a tradition,'' he says.

''I don't know if I'm entitled to this view but you seem to invent history as you go here because you're a young nation.''

Semele Walk, which runs from January 11 to 15, is fun and not too serious, Bertels says.

''I want to create an opening for this kind of music theatre. We haven't seen that in the Sydney Festival for a number of years.

''But I wouldn't say opera, because it sounds really old.''

Semele Walk premiered at the KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen (Herrenhausen Festival) in Hanover, Germany, last year, and next year's Sydney Festival will be its second outing.

Bertels says it was not easy to convince Westwood, who gained notoriety in the 1970s selling ripped T-shirts, chains and bondage gear at her clothes shop Sex, to stage the opera again.

''She's been in the business for a long time and doesn't have to do this to get attention.''

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