The stage is dark, and Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall is dim. The waiting audience is ready to travel back to 1961, to time of beehives and fashionable elegance, and all that is Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Image courtesy of Robert Catto

Conductor, Marc Taddei, raises his wand, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and vocal ensemble Cantillation launch into Henri Mancini’s flawless musical score and our trip in time begins.

The harmonica seeps through the opening bars of Moon River and the onstage screen shows a divine Audrey Hepburn, strolling down a New York street, coffee and croissant in hand, stopping at her beloved Tiffany’s. The melancholy in Mancini’s Academy and Grammy Award winning number hits the heart. Tears gently fall. A feeling of nostalgia or divine perfection? Maybe a bit of both, but already we are enchanted.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s tells the famous story of Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn), a well-dressed party girl who mingles with the social elite. Her many companions are wealthy men who pay to enjoy her company, and ‘visits to the powder room.’ It is clear there is an arrangement; but also clear that Holly chooses the terms.

We see the struggling writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard) meet Holly in her barely furnished apartment at the start of the film, watching her ramble on while rushing to get ready for her weekly ‘trip’ to Sing Sing prison where she delivers the ‘weather report’ from a mob boss to his lawyer. For cash, of course.

Paul is not one to judge. He’s an artist being supported financially by a married woman who he refers to as his ‘decorator.’ When Holly peers through his bedroom window and sees his ‘decorator’ leave a large amount of cash on the night stand of a sleeping bare-chested Paul, it’s clear to her they have something in common.   

We see the eclectic company Holly keeps when she hosts a party. She knows who’s who and the ranking of the richest men in the room. A chilled lounge sound filters through and as the party progresses, the music shifts gear and every horn within The Sydney Symphony gets to let loose along with the hip-wiggling party guests. There’s the best fashion, jewellery, alcohol and a cigarette fog. And just like any epic party, it leads to tears, regrets, small fires and the wail of sirens.

Holly Golightly is a complex young woman, running from her past and trying to discover who she really is. She’s frightened of belonging to anything or anyone.

Tiffany’s isn’t about what she can buy but about how she one day wants to see herself.

‘I don’t want to own anything until I find a place where me and things go together. I’m not sure where that is but I know what it is like. It’s like Tiffany’s.’

Mancini composed the many layers and personas within Holly Golightly’s world.

Audrey Hepburn, in her handwritten note to Mancini said,

‘Everything we cannot say with words or show with action you have expressed for us. You have done this with so much imagination, fun and beauty. You are the hippest of cats – and the most sensitive of composers!’

The film ends, and an unexpected montage of black and white set stills appear. The first of Henri Mancini.

The Sydney Symphony play the closing version of, Moon River but this time with the angelic voices of, Cantillation.  The warmth of every note fills this iconic space, and we’re back to where we started.  Me. Crying again. It’s just so, so perfect in every way.

What a unique and powerful way to see a classic.