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Boom town time in Montreal

The first rocket blasts a streak of red across the night sky, then shatters into a spray of gold, green and white sparks that cascade through the darkness and fade to black. Boom!

Another rocket soars heavenward and explodes into showers of brilliant white light. But this time, the rocket's report is drowned in a swell of cheers that rises from the crowd gathered to witness what are billed as the world's most spectacular fireworks displays.

This is the Benson & Hedges Inc. International Fireworks Competition. It is staged annually at Montreal's La Ronde amusement park, on Sainte-Helene Island in the St. Lawrence River, in the heart of charming Old Montreal. The fireworks are launched from platforms in the park's lake, and bright overhead displays are reflected in shimmering water.

In this, its seventh year, the competition takes place May 25-June 19, with "pyromusical" fireworks displays every Wednesday and Saturday night. Each display starts at 10 p.m., lasts about 30 minutes and uses hundreds of Roman candles, rockets, big shells and especially invented pyrotechnical devices.

Displays are compliments of seven of the world's best fireworks companies, invited to compete for trophies presented during the grand finale on June 19.

What's most unusual and splendid about these fireworks displays is that they are accompanied by music from start to finish.

The choreography of light and sound is fabulous: As music shifts from double to triple time, trios instead of duets of rockets are released. Music and rockets spiral simultaneously. Musical curlicues and squiggles are matched by whirling showers of light.

Technical sophistication is required to control and coordinate the light and sound of pyrotechnics. Displays utilize computer technology to sequence the timed ignition of explosives.

Several invited companies are family businesses that can be traced back hundreds of years. France's Ruggieri Co., lighting up the skies at the competition's opening night, can be traced to 1793. This year's Ruggieri presentation is based upon the popular musical Phantom of the Opera.

Other companies this year include Spain's dramatic Pirotecnica Zaragozona, a company founded in 1860, and Italy's romantic Pirotecnica Soldi , with great Italian musical inspiration.

For tickets, U.S. and Canadian residents can call (800) 361-4595. For information on other Montreal attractions, contact Montreal Infotourism, 1555 Peel St., Room 600, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1X6, Canada. Call (800) 363-7777.

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