It’s a good thing there’s a twilight showing of Aura, the dazzling new sound-and-light show in the historic Notre-Dame Basilica. How else could I admire so many of Montreal’s luminous wonders in a single Friday evening?
During Aura’s introductory walk-through, dozens of projectors enhance the Gothic Revival high altar, choir stalls and soaring vault festooned with angels and stars. Christ’s radiant heart is striking enough in an oil painting, but when it starts glowing and then beating — complete with audio effects — my own pulse ticks up a notch.
This ticking turns into more of a whir soon after I take a seat in the pews. Spotlights direct my attention toward works of art, and then, as the orchestral music swells, the vault suddenly morphs into a giant glass dome mottled with falling leaves and dancing snowflakes. The storms of spring dramatically conclude the seasonal second act, with rising waters appearing to inundate the Basilica and then shatter the glass ceiling projected high above. My head feels like it’s on a swivel when dozens of laser beams shoot from the back of the nave and the 10-metre-tall Casavant Frères organ unleashes its 7,000 pipes.
My senses are still buzzing as I step out onto the cobblestones of the Place d’Armes, where the triumphant Maisonneuve Monument and the Pantheon-esque Bank of Montreal Museum are also bathed in floodlights.
But after seeing what projection-mapped images, lasers and sensor-equipped screen arrays can do — more on the latter in a moment — I’m now in search of cutting-edge radiance. Two centuries after tens of thousands of gas lamps transformed Paris into the City of Light, it seems Montreal’s historic buildings, restaurants, spas, public gardens and works of art are updating, and perhaps commandeering, that nickname.
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