He may be known for his dramatic performances and flamboyance on stage, but Andre Rieu risked everything when he let his creativity go so far that it ended up clearing out his life savings.
The father-of-two was inspired to create a full-scale replica of the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna after performing there with his Johann Strauss Orchestra in 2008. It would become the largest touring stage set in the world and the star loved it so much, he even had a second made for his tour around Australia at the time.
Now, in an exclusive chat with Starts at 60, the world-famous violinist, 69, has revealed how he really felt when he discovered the $63 million (£34 million) sets had left him completely bankrupt.
The identical replicas of the palace included fountains, an ice rink, a ballroom of dancers and even a state carriage coated in real gold. However, while the attention to detail brought in huge crowds and won him more worldwide fame, the overall cost left the superstar penniless.
Asked if it was a stressful time for him, Rieu said: “I would lie if I denied this; of course, it was a very exciting time but I always kept the feeling, that everything would turn out fine. And finally, it did!”
He added: “It still gives me shivers when I realise we were touring with the biggest concert stage ever built. But come on, wasn’t it great to take a nearly genuine Viennese castle all around the world?”
He spared no expense when it came to his musicians either, as Rieu previously told The Guardian he spends thousands on each of the female musicians’ dresses, refusing to choose cheaper costumes as he doesn’t want his show to be an ‘act’.
He told the news outlet at the time: “These are not theatrical costumes and they cost £3,000 (AU$5,500) a piece. Even the champagne is real champagne. My wife says: ‘Are you stupid?’ because I don’t even like champagne. She asks me: ‘Why can you not use sugar water?’ But then we would be pretending and when the pretence starts, it becomes just a show.”
Now, asked by Starts at 60 if the set and expense was worth the risk, Rieu said: “Yes, it was; I am thrilled and honoured by the fact that so many people in all the continents of the world seem to enjoy the music we’re playing.
“Almost 40 years ago, I started giving tiny concerts with my first ensemble, the Maastricht Salon Orchestra (five members, including me) in elderly homes for, let’s say, 30 or 40 old men and women. Meanwhile, thousands of enthusiastic men and women come to see and hear my 60-member Johann Strauss Orchestra; it is the largest private orchestra in the world!”
Rieu previously described how he was forced to have tense meetings with his bank manager after spending such a huge sum of money on his stage sets, and while they had to look at ways to get the money back, he was eventually allowed to continue performing – with the fame of his extravagant set bringing in such huge audiences, he soon made the money back again.
He told the Telegraph at the time: “My castle was the best set ever built for an artist. Of course, recreating a castle was completely stupid, so it was my worst financial decision but also my best, because it bought the best publicity.”
Asked now if he has a performance that has stuck in his mind as a favourite moment, he told Starts at 60: “Almost every concert is a great adventure. However, I’ll never forget my first meeting with Sir Anthony Hopkins, the world renowned actor who appeared to be a great admirer of my music and who had written a waltz ages ago.
“Before becoming an actor, he dreamed of a career as a composer; I was absolutely gobsmacked when I heard his composition. Its world premiere, in the presence of its composer of course, was in Vienna; that moment, I will treasure the rest of my life!”
Andre Rieu is touring round Australia throughout November this year. You can see his full schedule and buy tickets on his official website here.