President's Reports 2009

January / April / August / December 2009


January 2009 
Dear Members

Katharina Wagner's Meistersinger

For the first 4 meetings in 2009, we will be showing material relevant to Katharina Wagner's current production of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg at Bayreuth.

On Sunday 15 February starting at 12.30pm, prior to Peter Basset's talk, we'll be showing a documentary entitled 'Katharina Wagner's Baptism of Fire, The Road to her Debut as Director in Bayreuth', which was kindly loaned by Barbara Brady. The film documents the genesis of her new production of the Meistersinger in Bayreuth in 2007, and gives a unique insight into the inner workings of the Bayreuth festival. (The documentary lasts 82 minutes.)

Then before each of the next three meetings, we will show an act from the production:
- Sunday 15 March Act 1 starting at 12:30pm (timings from the DVD total 85m 47s)
- Monday 23 March Act 2 starting at 5:50pm (timings total 61m 40s)
- Sunday 24 May Act 3 starting at 11:45am (timings total 128m 55s, including credits etc)

Future Functions

The first meeting of 2009 will be held at the Goethe-Institut on Sunday 15 February. At 12:30pm we will show Act 1 of Meistersinger, followed at 2pm by Peter Bassett, who will give a talk on Beethoven and Wagner. Peter gave a fascinating illustrated talk last year on that 'other' Sachs opera, Albert Lortzing's comic opera Hans Sachs, and its influences on Wagner's Die Meistersinger, and I'm sure he'll be fascinated to see the documentary on Katharina Wagner's production.

On Sunday 15 March at 12:30pm, we will show Act 1 of Meistersinger, followed at 2pm by a talk by Warwick Fyfe on his coming to Wagner as a singer. Warwick's talk last year on his experiences as the 2007 Bayreuth Scholar was for many the highlight of our 2008 programme, revealing the depth of this wonderful singer's love of art and music.

On Monday 23 March at 5:50pm, we will show Act 2 of Meistersinger, followed at 7pm by an illustrated talk by Professor Health Lees entitled 'Wagner, the Dutchman, and the Sea', which has been prepared by Professor Lees as an introduction to the Adelaide production of the Hollander in November.

This will be our first evening function at the Goethe-Institut. Professor Lees is visiting Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, and is flying up from Melbourne for one night to deliver this talk. Afterwards, we will take Professor Lees to dinner at a local restaurant (to be advised) and anyone who would like to join this meal should contact Roger Cruickshank on (02) 9357 7631.

On Sunday 24 May at 11:45am, we will show Act 3 of the Meistersinger, followed by our Annual General Meeting, a recital by singers whom we have helped with language scholarships and assisted with overseas travel costs, and then an afternoon tea to celebrate Richard Wagner's Birthday (which this year falls on Friday, 22 May).

Last year the AGM approved an increase in the attendance fee for our functions from $10 to $15, which came into effect in July. Our hope was that the increase would not impact on the number of members attending functions, but that it would reduce the losses we had been making. We were not ambitious enough to hope for a profit from our functions, or that we might break even. For whatever reason, our attendances in the second half of 2008 reduced, with the result that our losses from functions have continued.

For this reason, the committee proposes to put a package of measures to the AGM which will be designed to continue with functions which are more cost- neutral, and to continue to support the artists and productions with scholarships, grants and donations. For this reason, we are not at this stage scheduling monthly meetings through to the end of 2009.

Ring Cycle in Melbourne 2012

'The Age' newspaper of 9 December 2008 reported that 'Lonely Planet' publishing co-founder Maureen Wheeler is exploring the possibility of staging Wagner's Ring Cycle in Melbourne in 2012, and is ready to put $12 million towards the project. The article said 'It is believed the artistic administrator and dramaturg with the Ring Cycle staged in Adelaide in 2004, Peter Bassett, is exploring the options for Melbourne. But he said yesterday that he would not be able to discuss details until early 2009.'

Ms Wheeler's extraordinary act of generosity gives us hope that the emptiness left after Elke Neidhardt's acclaimed 2004 Adelaide Ring will at last be filled. The Age article links conductor Lionel Friend's name with the project, and quotes the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's chief executive as confirming that the orchestra was interested in the project. The MSO's performing home, Hamer Hall, is likely to be closed for renovations for all of 2012, and the article mentions the Royal Exhibition Buildings as a possible alternate venue.

I understand that consideration was given to re-scaling and re-stagging the Neidhardt Ring, but that this was not feasible because of the poor state of some of the sets, and the high cost of transporting them and adapting them for a new venue.

Without using an existing opera company or access to a conventional opera house, Ms Wheeler and her team have the opportunity to create something unique with their festival performances, and I'm sure we all wish them well in bringing this great endeavour to fruition.

Peter Bassett will be talking to our Society on Sunday 15 February. Unless a public announcement has been made before that date, I understand that Peter won't be in a position to give us details of the proposal which he is putting together.

The Flying Dutchman in Adelaide in November 2009

On Saturday 7, Tuesday 10, Thursday 12 and Saturday 14 November, the State Opera of South Australia, with Nicholas Braithwaite conducting the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, will stage a new production of The Flying Dutchman, directed by Chris Drummond. The cast includes John Wegner (Dutchman), Margaret Medlyn (Senta), Stuart Skelton (Erik), Daniel Sumegi (Daland), Katharine Tier (Mary) and Angus Wood (Steersman). The work will be performed as three acts, and with two twenty minute intervals, will last approximately three hours.

Renaissance Tours (Tel: (02) 9299 5801, Toll Free: 1300 727 095) is offering a weekend package for the performance on Saturday 14 November, which can be extended to include an excursion to Kangaroo Island.

Opera Australia

The tragic death last year of Opera Australia's musical director, Richard Hickox, while recording in the United Kingdom, has not ended the bitter controversy which surfaced in the last months of his life regarding his direction for the company and its artistic leadership and management.

We all have our views on the company's direction, its repertoire, its treatment of Simone Young, its ensemble performers, its season in Melbourne, on the Opera Theatre itself with its problematic orchestra pit and mediocre acoustic - in fact on almost every aspect of the opera company!

Even though many of my views are not positive, I temper them with one over- riding thought - that life in Australia without Opera Australia would simply be unthinkable. For that reason alone, we need to carefully consider who benefits from the ongoing and trenchant criticism of the company, and what end its critics have in mind.

A recent article by Joyce Morgan in the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the company has appointed a five-person selection panel, including chairman Ziggy Switkowski and board member David Malouf, 'to consider the criticisms made of the company in recent months and to consult a range of industry professionals.' In the interests of the artistic future of this country, I wish them every success.

Death of Deborah Riedel

I'm sure we were all saddened with the news of the death of Deborah Riedel. Her role debit as Sieglinde in the Neidhardt Ring, for which she was the recipient of a Helpmann Award, was recorded by Melba Records and is a testament to the glory of her voice.

I last heard her in March 2008, in the role of Sieglinde in a concert performance of Act 1 of Die Walkure with the Queensland Orchestra conducted by Johannes Fritzsch, with Christian Elsner as Siegmund and Philip Kang as Hunding. None of the power and beauty of her voice had been tarnished.

Roger Cruickshank
2 February 2009


April 2009
Dear Members

Welcome to our Autumn Newsletter for 2009.

Our December 2008 Newsletter came to you in February 2009, and in craving your indulgence for the delay I quoted the title of part three of Clive James' thoroughly unreliable memoir 'May Week was in June.' Now you're receiving the March Newsletter in early May, not as a result of naughtiness but because we wanted to make sure that we had all the details right before lurching into print.

Past Functions

Our first meeting of 2009 was held on Sunday 15 February, when Peter Bassett gave a fascinating talk with many examples on 'Beethoven and Wagner', describing the stylistic and thematic legacy which Wagner inherited, and including the way in which Wagner sought to position himself as Beethoven's musical heir.

Peter had stopped over in Sydney on his way back to Queensland from a meeting in Melbourne, where (according to the press) he was 'exploring the options' for a Ring Cycle in Melbourne in 2012, as reported in our last issue. Peter may remember his Sydney stopover for the surreal adventure he had on his way to dinner with some members of the Society after his talk. Dennis Mather and John Studdert (recently returned from a holiday in South Africa) collected Peter from his hotel in William Street, to drive him to a restaurant in Potts Point. Not long after they'd left the hotel, the car's front passenger door was wrenched open and Peter was grabbed on the arm by someone who tried to pull him out of the car. His seat belt, and perhaps a lack of real determination by his assailants, saved him. Peter must have been shaken and stirred by the experience, but he laughed it off over dinner. His would-be assailants were two drunken English back-packers, who wanted a lift up the hill to the Cross and had good-naturedly decided that their transport needs were greater than Peter's.

On Sunday 15 March Warwick Fyfe gave a talk on his 'coming to Wagner'. Assisted by his wife, Ruth Frances, who had prepared the accompanying audio-visual presentation, Warwick blasted through an illustrated and often- hilarious history of his family, his childhood in Canberra, his first musical adventures on the amateur stage, and so forth. It's impossible to do justice to such an engaging autobiographical tour-de-force, at the end of which we were all rendered a little speechless.

On Monday 23 March at 7pm, Professor Health Lees gave a talk entitled 'Wagner, the Dutchman, and the Sea', which has been prepared as an introduction to the Adelaide production of Der fliegende Hollander in November. Illustrated from the piano and with recorded musical selections, Professor Lees first delighted the audience with compositions by the young Wagner, the overture to Guido Theodor Apel's historical drama Columbus (WWV37) which, perhaps like the voyage itself, seemed to have trouble getting started, and the Rule Britannia overture (WWV42, 1837) which had an even greater difficulty coming to an end. He then examined the music of the Hollander as it depicts the rolling of the seas and storms, comparing it to the treatment of the same material by other composers.

This meeting was our first evening function at the Goethe-Institut. Professor Lees was making a lightening visit from his half-year home in Auckland to Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, and was only available on that night to deliver his talk in Sydney during his few days in Australia.

Afterwards, we took Professor Lees to dinner at the same restaurant as Peter Bassett, but without any of the drama which attended Peter's journey. Professor Lees is writing a book about Beethoven. From the glimpses Heath provided us during the meal, the book will take much of the accepted folk-lore and romantic imagery which has built up around Beethoven, including aspects of his deafness, and bring it back to reality.

Katharina Wagner's 'Meistersinger' on DVD

Prior to our first three meetings this year, we have shown material relating to Katharina Wagner's current production of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg at Bayreuth.

On Sunday 15 February, prior to Peter Basset's talk, we showed a documentary by Dagmar Krauss entitled 'Katharina Wagners Feuertaufe (Baptism of Fire), The Road to her Debut as Director in Bayreuth', which was kindly loaned by Barbara Brady. The film documents the genesis of Ms Wagner's new production of the Meistersinger in Bayreuth in 2007, and gives a unique insight into the inner workings of the Bayreuth festival. The showing of this film generated so much interest in its depiction of the workings behind the performances that it will be screened again, probably prior to the July meeting.

Reaction to the performance of the work itself has been very different. On Sunday 15 March, prior to Warwick Fyfe's talk, we showed Act 1 of the full production, and on Monday 23 March, prior to the talk by Professor Heath Lees, we showed Act 2. Act 3 will be shown before the Annual General Meeting (see details below). The DVD was made in 2008 during a performance at that year's Bayreuth Festival and broadcast live over the internet to subscribers. In keeping with Bayreuth's current practice, there are no sub-titles, which has caused some annoyance to our audience.

Annual General Meeting

On Sunday 24 May at 11:45am, we will show Act 3 of the Meistersinger, starting at the early time of 11:45am (as the DVD tracks total 128m 55s, including credits.) Then at 2pm we will hold our Annual General Meeting, followed at around 2.40pm by a recital by young singers, organised for us by Sharolyn Kimmorley, and then at around 3.10pm an afternoon tea to celebrate Richard Wagner's Birthday (which this year falls on Friday 22 May). At our 2008 Annual General Meeting, the committee was asked to recommend an increase in membership fees, which have remained unchanged for more than 10 years. There is never a good time to raise fees, and the current slump is certainly not a good time, but the committee has decided to recommend the following changes to the current fees to members at the 2009 AGM.

From 1 January 2010, we recommend that the annual fees be:

Single members $60 (currently $50), single pensioner member $35 (currently $30)
Shared members $90 (currently $75), shared pensioner members $55 (currently $50)
Student members $25 (currently $20)

Amendment to Constitution

Our Society has deductible gift recipient status, and is listed on the Register of Cultural Organisations maintained by the (federal) Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. The Department has recently contacted participants in the Register regarding legal and tax-related requirements for organisations to retain their eligibility for tax deductible donations, and this requires us to amend our constitution.

The Department has provided 'model clauses' (printed below) for a public fund such as ours which meet these requirements, and we will recommend to the AGM that our current constitution (which is based on the 'model rules' issued for associations incorporated in New South Wales) be amended to include these 'model clauses' as published by the Department (tailored to our Society, where required).

Model clauses
Clauses relating to a public fund

  • The Association will establish and maintain a public fund.

  • Donations will be deposited into the public fund listed on the Register of

    Cultural Organisations. These monies will be kept separate from other funds of the Association and will only be used to further the principal purpose of the Association. Investment of monies in this fund will be made in accordance with guidelines for public funds as specified by the Australian Taxation Office.

  • The fund will be administered by a management committee or a subcommittee of the management committee, the majority of whom, because of their tenure of some public office or their professional standing, have an underlying community responsibility, as distinct from obligations solely in regard to the cultural objectives of [name of organisation].

  • No monies/assets in this fund will be distributed to members or office bearers of the Association, except as reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses incurred on behalf of the fund or proper remuneration for administrative services.

  • The Department responsible for the administration of the Register of Cultural Organisations will be notified of any proposed amendments or alterations to provisions for the public fund, to assess the effect of any amendments on the public fund's continuing Deductible Gift Recipient status.

• Receipts for gifts to the public fund must state:
o the name of the public fund and that the receipt is for a gift made to

the public fund;
o the Australian Business Number of the company;
o the fact that the receipt is for a gift; and
o any other matter required to be included on the receipt pursuant to the

requirements of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997.

Winding-up clause

• If upon the winding-up or dissolution of the public fund listed on the Register of Cultural Organisations, there remains after satisfaction of all its debts and liabilities, any property or funds, the property or funds shall not be paid to or distributed among its members, but shall be given or transferred to some other fund, authority or institution having objects similar to the objects of this public fund, and whose rules shall prohibit the distribution of its or their income among its or their members, such fund, authority or institution to be eligible for tax deductibility of donations under Subdivision 30-B, section 30-100, of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 and listed on the Register of Cultural Organisations maintained under the Act.

Newsletter delivery

We've had a number of requests from members who would prefer to receive the Newsletter electronically, and Terence Watson (our Editor) and John Studdert (our Webmaster) are discussing technical issues with the publisher of our 'paper' Newsletter, BEE Printmail. Once a delivery option has been agreed and tested, we'll start a pilot during which you can receive both, after which you will be able to choose to receive your Newsletter electronically or by post.

Membership renewals

Thank you to those members who have renewed your membership for 2009, and a special thank you to those who have made donations. Individual letters acknowledging your renewal, and receipts for tax-deductible donations, will be mailed over the next few weeks, and all members will receive a letter before the Annual General Meeting. We don't issue formal receipts or membership cards, so this acknowledgement letter is your renewal record. Recently, Dennis Mather and John Studdert have been following up members by email and phone, and this has resulted in a very high level of member renewals.

Last year we introduced the option of renewing your membership by transferring money directly from your bank account to the Society, and this year more than 30 members have renewed this way. Posting a cheque remains the more popular renewal method, as we don't have the facilities to accept credit card payments.

One of the teething troubles with the direct transfer method is that your bank doesn't provide us with your name. Unless you type your name or membership number into a field in your bank's internet banking software, we have no idea who has sent us a payment.

Email addresses

Email is for many members the communication method of choice, and it's vital for us to have your current email address if you want to receive reminders about Society functions, or in the future to receive the Newsletter electronically. See the separate box for more information on email addresses and electronic newsletters.

Ring Cycle in Melbourne 2012

There has been no more hard news about the Ring Cycle in Melbourne in 2012, which has been made possible through the generosity of 'Lonely Planet' publishing co-founder Maureen Wheeler.

During his visit to Sydney in February, Peter Bassett remained diplomatically tight-lipped on planning so far, despite the botched kidnap attempt. Without any facts on which to base a good story, rumours abound, and here are some of them. It is suggested that the production will be 'in the round', in a venue not previously noted for its operatic or classical concerts, relying on video projections rather than fixed (and expensive) sets. What is encouraging is that the rumours are all about 'when' the production takes place, rather than 'if'.

If Melbourne can stage a successful festival cycle, is it just a matter of time before an entrepreneur or benefactor of the arts in Sydney makes a similarly spectacular and generous gift, and creates what many think is impossible, the opportunity for a complete Sydney Ring?

Opera Australia

Corrie Perkin, the Australian newspaper's national arts writer, reported on 5 March 2009 that Opera Australia's search for a successor as music director to Richard Hickox, who died suddenly in November 2008, 'starts in earnest tomorrow'. In an article headlined 'OA conducts search for director to succeed Richard Hickox', Perkin listed a number of rumoured contenders. These included Oleg Caetani, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's chief conductor; Asher Fisch, former music director of the Israeli Opera, who conducted the Adelaide Ring in 2004; Richard Armstrong, who at the time was conducting Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Sydney; Houston Grand Opera's Patrick Summers; Frenchman Emmanuel Joel-Hornak; Paul Daniel, former music director of English National Opera and now principal conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra; and the Halle Orchestra's Mark Elder, who has had a long association with the Opera Australia. Australians mentioned for the role included Antony Walker, currently music director of Pittsburg Opera; and Alexander Briger, a regular in European concert halls, who is the nephew of Sir Charles Mackerras, our Society's patron.

Death of Margreta Elkins

And on sad note, a number of glowing tributes in local and European papers marked the passing of Margreta Elkins, who died in Brisbane on 1 April 2009, aged 78. After an extraordinary career spanning two decades in Europe, she returned to Australia in 1976 so that her daughter could be educated here. Her story, and those of two other Queenslanders Marilyn Richardson and Lisa Gasteen, is told in Joan Priest's book 'Flight of Divas'. Despite describing herself as a 'Wagner freak' - she is said to have described Sieglinde as her favourite role - she turned down an offer to sing at Bayreuth, and offers from the New Your Met and Glyndebourne.

Flying Dutchman in Adelaide in November 2009

Although the State Opera of South Australia's website says otherwise, normally unreliable sources tell me that performances of the Flying Dutchman in November (not to be confused with that Company's forthcoming production of Jake Heggie's new opera, Moby-Dick) will have a single interval, and not in one of the usual places.

We are used to having no interval in the Dutchman, or having 3 Acts with 2 intervals, which gives the non-alco-pop generation the chance to mini-binge and finger the merchandise, but one interval bunged somewhere different sounds more perverse than is entirely necessary.

I assume that pointless rumours like this are started by marketing departments which understand Oscar Wilde's dictum, that it is better to be talked about than not to be talked about, and I'm happy to oblige.

Walter Turnbull, Auditors

For the second year, the firm of Walter Turnbull is completing an audit of our accounts pro bono. I'd like to thank its Executive Director Mr Mark Driessen, and Mr Christopher Ritchie, for their support of the Society and for the extremely high level of professionalism they bring to this task.

An advertisement for Walter Turnbull's services appears in this Newsletter, and I commend them to you all. The quid pro quo for pro bono work is brand awareness, and the possibility that we may help introduce some business to them.

Roger Cruickshank
27 April 2009


September 2009
Dear Members


  • Annual General Meeting

On Sunday 24 May 2009, following the screening of Act 3 of Katharina Wagner's current Bayreuth production of Die Meistersinger, we held our AGM. In an action-packed 25 minutes or so, we approved the audited accounts, amended the Rules, re-elected the Committee and had time for a robust discussion before raising the membership fees from the 2010 calendar year. I can hardly wait for next year!

From 1 January 2010, the annual membership fees for new and renewing members will be: single members $60, single pensioner member $35, shared memberships $90, shared pensioner memberships $55, with student members $25.

After the AGM, we had recital by Alexandra Hutton (soprano) and Adam Player (baritone) accompanied by Sharolyn Kimmorley. This included In Dem Schatten (Wolf) and Standchen (Schubert) sung by Lexi, and Fruhlingsmorgen (Mahler) and Heiterkeit und Frohlichkeit from Lortzing's comic opera Der Wildschutz sung by Adam, who clearly enjoys comic and character roles.

After the recital, we had a superb afternoon tea, for which I must again thank Renate and Herman Junker, who put so much effort into providing us with outstanding refreshments. Our AGM is held on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of Wagner's birth (which this year was on Friday 22 May), and in past years we have wished the Meister 'Alles Gute zum Geburtstag' (Happy Birthday) in song during our party. However this year the practice ended, much to the relief I suspect of members who found the tradition more than a little anachronistic.

  • July Recital

On Sunday 19 July 2009, following the re-screening of the DVD Katharina Wagner's Feuertaufe (Baptism of Fire) we were treated to a concert arranged by Stephen Whale, one of our student members and a pianist from the Sydney Conservatorium, with two fellow students Tom Johnson (piano) and Jared Lillehagen (baritone). Stephen Whale had been award a scholarship to enable him to study piano in the United States, where he will be for the next 2 years. Highlights for me included Jared Lillehagen singing Wolfram's aria O du mein holder Abendstern (Ode to the Evening Star) from Tannhauser, and Tom Johnson playing Liszt's transcription of Mild und Liese from Tristan und Isolde.

Lyndon Terracini

The appointment of Lyndon Terracini as Opera Australia's new artistic director was announced at the end of June. Mr Terracini takes up his four-year contract in October.

Corrie Perkin, national arts writer for The Australian, wrote on July 01, 2009 'A new chapter in Opera Australia's eventful 53-year history started yesterday when Lyndon Terracini was appointed the company's new artistic director. Terracini, artistic director of the Brisbane Festival until October, received warm applause when he was introduced to OA staff in Sydney. The 59-year- old former opera singer said he was moved by the company's response. 'I feel privileged and, it's not too strong to say, extremely honoured to be asked to do this job,' Terracini said later.

'His four-year contract follows an intense search for a new creative head, triggered by the death of British conductor Richard Hickox last November. Hickox's death prompted the board to review its management structure and reintroduce the role of artistic director to work with chief executive Adrian Collette and a new conductor. The appointment of a conductor is still several months away.

'Terracini has a long list of goals, such as taking opera to more people, commissioning new Australian work, nurturing young composers, using digital technology on and offstage, and -- rather ambitiously -- staging Wagner's Ring cycle. 'It's one the great peaks you have to climb as an opera company, and one of the great challenges,' Terracini said of the marathon opera. 'I think it's time for the company to take on that great challenge, and it's absolutely ready to do it.'

In an interview some years ago, Terracini said of his political views 'I think it's because of my Salvation Army upbringing. My great grand uncle wrote the Italian constitution and founded the Italian Communist Party... although they were about as far left as the Democrats. I've always had a strong connection to social conscience.'

I'm sure we all wish him well, especially with his goal of staging the Ring in Sydney.

Bayreuth 2010

The application form for Bayreuth 2010 is available online and in this Newsletter. A new production of Lohengrin replaces Tristan und Isolde, with the current Meistersinger, Parsifal and Ring productions continuing. The programme for which we will book tickets is dependent in the dates chosen by the New York Wagner Society, but at this stage is likely to be:

Friday 20 August 2010 Das Rheingold Saturday 21 August Die Walkure Sunday 22 August (Free Day) Monday 23 August Siegfried

Tuesday 24 August (Free Day)
Wednesday 25 August Gotterdammerung
Thursday 26 August Parsifal
Friday 27 August Lohengrin
Saturday 18 August Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg

[See also below for details of new productions at Bayreuth and their directors. Ed]

Bayreuth 2009

This year there was an internet broadcast of a closed performance of Christoph Marthaler's production of Tristan und Isolde on Sunday 9 August. Learning from last year's broadcast of Katharina Wagner's production of Meistersinger, the cost this year was 14, 90 Euro, around a third of the 2008 cost. I hope that there will be a DVD of the broadcast this year as well, so that those who find the Flash® format unhelpful can still enjoy the performance.

As those who went to Bayreuth this year will report at our next meeting on Sunday 20 September, Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier have made very few changes to the traditional format at Bayreuth. One small but obvious change has been to replace the Festival Handbook with individual programmes for each work. Another was to introduce performances designed for children, the first being a cut-down performance of the Flying Dutchman lasting one hour. All 10 performances were sold out.

The New York Times of June 19, 2009, reported that the German government has pledged about US$700,000 to renovate Wagner's Bayreuth home, now a museum, Wahnfried. The money will come from an economic stimulus package for improving infrastructure. 'Sven Friedrich, the director of the Richard Wagner Museum, told The A.P. that the renovation would include new exhibitions on the composer's life and the role of the Wagner family during the Nazi era.'

Rheintochter dreaming

The current Opera Australia production of Aida has a permanent body of water (the Nile) located across the front of the stage. It's around 5 or 6 inches deep, and a foot wide, and characters dip their limbs languidly, splash, paddle, and even swim in it. Simple, but very effective. I kept wondering whether the same simple idea could be used for another river"¦.

Membership renewals

Thank you again to those members who have renewed your membership for 2009. I apologise that because we no longer send membership cards and receipts for renewals, some of you are uncertain whether or not you've renewed your membership for 2009. For the avoidance of doubt, we're publishing a list of all those who have renewed up to 31 August 2009 in this issue, and in future we'll publish the names of renewing members in the next issue after their renewal, along with the new members and donations.

Ring Cycle in Melbourne 2012

As I mentioned in our last issue, there has been no more hard news about the Ring Cycle in Melbourne in 2012, which has been made possible through the generosity of 'Lonely Planet' publishing co-founder Maureen Wheeler. The adage that no news in good news, if true, would mean that we can expect an announcement about the cycle soon, and that's what I'm hoping for.

If Mr Terracini is able to add the Ring operas to the repertoire of Opera Australia, we may see, as in the film Deliverance, duelling Ring Cycles in Sydney and Melbourne.

Flying Dutchman in Adelaide in November

There are still seats available for performances of the Flying Dutchman in Adelaide on 7, 10, 12 and 14 November. The cast is John Wegner (Dutchman), Margaret Medlyn (Senta), Stuart Skelton (Erik) and Daniel Sumegi (Daland), and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite with a new production directed by Chris Drummond, with set and lighting designs by Geoff Cobham. The State Opera of South Australia's website says that the running time is around 3 hours, with one twenty minute interval. This is the Wagner event of 2009 in Australia which you should not miss.

Discount for Society Members

Wakefield Press is the publisher of three Wagner books edited by Peter Bassett - Parsifal, Tristan and Isolde and Nibelung's Ring. These normally retail at $34.95 each, but for members of our Society, Wakefield Press is offering the full set of three volumes for $60.00 (postage and handling inclusive).

Many of you will have collected these volumes separately over the years, but for anyone who doesn't have them this is an exceptional opportunity and a very realistic price. If you're interested, email the Society at info@wagner- (info at wagner hyphen nsw dot org dot au) and we'll send you a flyer / order form.

Roger Cruickshank
7 September 2009


December 2009

Dear Members

Congratulations to Miriam Gordon-Stewart

Our warmest congratulations go to Miriam Gordon-Stewart, who has been cast in the role of Helmwige in Bayreuth this year. We last saw Miriam in August 2006, when she arranged a discussion with Deborah Polaski as a special member function. I’m not sure when the last Australian soprano sang in Bayreuth, and I’d appreciate hearing from anyone who knows. For details of her recent European performances and repertoire, check her website

2009 Functions

On Sunday 20 September 2009, a number of members who had attended the 2009 Bayreuth Festival gave a fascinating presentation covering more than just the performances. Because there were no new productions in Bayreuth in 2009, the group decided not to cover the same ground as speakers from the 2008 festival, but to talk about events and interests around the Festival itself.

For example, Maree Leech began by discussing what someone might read before attending his or her first Bayreuth visit, recommending for “Bayreuth Virgins” works as diverse as Robin Holloway’s article entitled “The Bayreuth Experience” in the Spectator of 27 August 2008 (still available online), Ernest Newman’s Wagner Nights and Bryan Magee’s Aspects of Wagner; Loraine Longfoot spoke about concerts she had attended at other Bayreuth venues, including a piano recital by Stefan Mickisch; Michael Chesterman talked about touring the countryside around Bayreuth; Jim Leigh covered material which has been expanded into an article on Stefan Herwegh’s production of Parsifal published elsewhere in this Newsletter; and others discussed the performances and their likes and dislikes.

Our thanks to all who participated in the meeting, and gave such an informative and in many cases personal account of their Bayreuth experiences.

On Sunday 18 October, members of the Sydney University Opera Company gave a singularly outstanding concert.

  • ♫  Louis Garrick and Jack Symonds played an arrangement of the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Tannhäuser for piano duet;

  • ♫  Emma Moore (soprano) accompanied by Louis Garrick (piano) sang Berg’s Seven Early Songs; and

  • ♫  Jack Symonds and Chad Vindin played seven scenes from Parsifal arranged by Humperdinck for piano du

I only knew the Berg songs from a CD with Jane Eaglan, and hearing them fresh and live was a revelation, with Louis Garrick’s lucid and supporting accompaniment. Emma has recently won the 2009 2MBS-FM Young Performers Award, and sings her first opera role in March as Miss Jessel in the Sydney University Opera Company’s production of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw at the Cleveland Street Theatre,199 Cleveland Street, Strawberry Hills on March 2, 4, 5 and 6. Tickets are $30, and you can find details on the Company’s website,, including how to book. These are extraordinarily talented young people in search of an audience, and I’d urge you to make the effort to see this performance.

The Parsifal transcriptions were a brilliant tour-de-force by Jack Symonds and Chad Vindin (who have been playing piano duets together since they were 6 years old.). The full work, with narration by Elke Neidhardt, had been part of the 2008 Utzon Concert Series at the Opera House, with two of the four hands belonging to Simone Young. Dr John Casey was not alone in his view that the Symonds/ Vindin performance was the better of the two, perhaps because their playing was more immediate, youthful and vigorous, and less musicological. It wasn’t an attempt to make the piano sound like an orchestra, or to copy the tempi of a live performance, but a piano performance in its own right with its own tempi and dynamics.

Later in 2010, the Sydney University Opera Company will present the world premiere of a new opera Notes from Underground, written by Jack Symonds and based on the Dostoyevsky novel. We’ll let you know when more details are available.

On Sunday 8 November, Antony Ernst spoke about curses in Wagner, in a talk entitled ‘From Malediction to Valediction - curses and dramatic resolution in Wagner.’ Antony began by describing the kinds of curses Wagner uses, and then catalogued the litany of curses throughout Wagner’s work. Antony’s attention to detail and his intimate knowledge of these works was breathtakingly displayed.

Antony leaves the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in early March to return to Sydney and take up the position of CEO of the Sydney Youth Orchestras. It’s always a pleasure to welcome a prodigal son home, and we hope to see and hear more of him.

Lisa Gasteen

In an interview with Helen Trinca published in The Weekend Australian of November 21-22 2009, Lisa Gasteen revealed that she may never sing again. The article says that Lisa, 52, has “agonizing neck spasms that began after she pinched a nerve while picking cumquats 18 months ago...” While the neuro-muscular spasms may subside, she has cancelled forward bookings to 2012. To her legion of fans, this is awful news. My most vivid recollection is of her Isolde at a concert performance in Brisbane in 2005, with Richard Mills and the Australian Youth orchestra, which remains the most impressive Isolde I have heard live. Not everything Ms Gasteen has sung has pleased everyone, but it will be a tragedy if another great Australian voice is prematurely silenced.

Der fliegende Holländer in Adelaide

In November, there were 4 performances of Der fliegende Holländer (the Wagner opera, not Andre Rieu) in Adelaide. There’s a review elsewhere in this Newsletter, so I won’t duplicate that material. I attended 3 of the performances, unimpressed by the continuous days of 39 degrees of dry, windy heat which accompanied them.

My first observation came when I sat down again in that Dear Hall, reflecting on the bleeding obvious. Here, in this hall, we have been able to enjoy a feast of Wagner over the past decade. First, in 1998, through the genius of Bill Gillespie, the Pierre Strosser / Jeffrey Tate Ring; in 2001, the Elke Neidhardt / Jeffrey Tate Parsifal; in 2004, the Elke Neidhardt / Asher Fisch Ring; and now in 2009 the Chris Drummond / Nicholas Braithewaite fliegende Holländer. (Please don’t ask “who?”)

What has the rest of Australia done in that period? Opera Australia has yet to stage the Ring, or Parsifal. Lyndon Terracini, who took up his four-year contract as Opera Australia’s artistic director in October last year, has promised Sydney a Ring and Maureen Wheeler, co- founder of the “Lonely Planet” publishing phenomenon, is willing to put up a rumoured $12 million to see one staged in Melbourne. But neither city has an obvious venue to fulfil these promises. While in Adelaide, slightly teary-eyed, I am sitting in the one venue in Australia which has all done this, twice, and more besides, waiting for the curtain to rise.

My second observation is more frivolous. There are those who believe that Wagner was ahead of his time in many fields. For example, his profound understanding of human psychology predates Freud, and his understanding of the space-time continuum shown in the transition music in Parsifal Acts 1 and 3, predates Einstein and relativity. In this production, we are reminded of Wagner’s prescient knowledge of the very new crime of “internet grooming”. Mary supplies Senta with the picture of the Holländer, and teaches her his Ballad so that, even before she first sees her spectral lover, Senta has been groomed for her role as willing redeemer, even unto death. In this production the giant video picture of John Wegner’s Holländer is “alive” as his head turns, eyes following Senta as she walks across the stage singing his Ballad. He is able to inspect Mary’s handiwork in grooming another potential saviour before even setting foot on land. Oddly, the Holländer only understands how well Mary has chosen in the last few bars of the opera, while we humble viewers have known since the middle of Act 2.

My final observation follows on from the first. In 2013 we will celebrate the bicentennials of the births of Verdi and Wagner. The world will be awash with Ring cycles, but what will Australia be awash with? I have no doubt that Stephen Phillips and the State Opera of South Australia are already planning a commemorative production, but what will Opera Australia provide? In the absence of a Ring, perhaps it will be world ash trays and rinse cycles?

Roger Cruickshank