President's Reports 2012

March / June / September / December 2012

March 2012

Welcome to the first newsletter for 2012.

We have a very exciting series of events lined up for this year. Details are set out later in this newsletter. The next meeting, on 25 March, promises to be a real highlight, featuring Maureen Wheeler, the major sponsor of the 2013 Melbourne Ring Cycle, and Richard Mills, who will be its conductor. Then, only a few days later, on Wednesday, 28 March, an evening fundraiser will take place at the Goethe Institute, featuring the erudite and entertaining Heath Lees, who will be talking about the women in Wagner's life and works.

However on the external front, the news is somewhat mixed. I will start with the Melbourne Ring and then report on the Bayreuth ticket situation. As you all no doubt know, Opera Australia (OA) will be mounting three cycles at the State Theatre in November and December next year. It is a co-production with Houston Opera, and Neil Armfield is the director. There will be a stellar cast, including Juha Uusitalo as Wotan and Susan Bullock as Brunnhilde, and one of our members Deborah Humble as Erda and Waltraute. The venue is in many ways an excellent one, with a very large stage, but unfortunately not a very great seating capacity: it will accommodate approximately 1800 people. And here lies the problem.

It seems likely that tickets will be in short supply, particularly in the premium and A Reserve categories. Some time ago OA instituted a 'Ring Leaders' programme, whereby donations of $1,500, $3,000, $6,000 and $12,000 gave donors the opportunity to purchase tickets in the category of their choice and (in relation to the larger donations) to the cycle of their choice. The number of tickets procurable in this manner increased, obviously, with the size of the donation. The tickets themselves are by no means cheap: premium reserve tickets for a full cycle are $2,000 each, and A reserve are $1,600. This is in addition to the donations. Nevertheless, OA has advised us that the response has been overwhelming and they are now only accepting donations of $12,000 or more, as they are concerned that they will not be able to honour their obligation to provide seats, particularly in the premium and A reserve categories. This is wonderful news for OA, but less so for Wagner devotees, who might find themselves struggling to obtain tickets, particularly in premium and A reserve. Membership of a Wagner Society does not, I am afraid, give priority in the obtaining of tickets. Priority is afforded, in descending order, to artist sponsors, Ring leaders (according to the amount of their donation), OA patrons, OA subscribers, and finally to the general public.

However, there might be an opportunity for some of our members to obtain tickets, at least in A reserve, by the following means. I have been negotiating with OA about prospective benefits to our members if we, as a Society, were to sponsor an artist in the Ring. Our artist of choice would be Deborah Humble, who will be singing both Erda and Waltraute, and will therefore be performing in all four operas. To sponsor her would cost $30,000. This would carry an entitlement to purchase 30 tickets to the Melbourne Ring, at least in A reserve seats, and with first option after Ring leaders to premium reserve seats. It is anticipated that 10 seats would be made available for each cycle.

The problem is that we, the NSW Society, do not have the funds to do this. It would only be possible if our members were to make substantial donations for that purpose, so that we received virtually the whole of the $30,000. I am therefore writing separately to all Society members, seeking to know whether enough of you would be interested in participating in this donation to make it into a feasible proposition. In exchange, you would have the certainty of being able to purchase at least A-reserve tickets for what promises to be an extraordinary event.

The other piece of news relates to tickets to the Bayreuth Festival. As you will know, the NSW Wagner Society, in common with all Wagner Societies in the world, has for decades been receiving special allocations of Bayreuth tickets. We were therefore very surprised to learn earlier this year that this will now cease. There has long been criticism, particularly from within Germany, that too many seats are set aside for preferential groups, leaving an insufficient number for the general public, and leading to a waiting list of 8 or more years. Following an audit by the German authorities last year, it was decided that this practice should cease. We were informed of this decision by a letter dated 14 December from Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katherina Wagner, which we received at the beginning of this year. On 6 January 2012, I wrote to the Bayreuth and German authorities, on behalf of all Australian and New Zealand Wagner Societies. In the letter I referred to the contribution made by the Wagner Societies generally in focusing attention and maximising interest in the music of Richard Wagner, and the importance to our members of being able to attend the Bayreuth Festival. The letter is reproduced in full on our website. The response, dated 24 January 2012, from the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Bayreuth Festival confirmed the decision not to reserve a fixed share of tickets for Wagner Societies, but went on to say that 'members of Wagner Societies shall be given limited priority on the existing waiting lists, which results in a shorter overall waiting period.'

So it is not all bad news. The general waiting list will be significantly shorter than previously, particularly for members of Wagner Societies. As the President of the West Australian Richard Wagner Society said in a recent letter to me:

'The omens have been readily discernible for many years now and the present action can hardly be taken as shocking or unexpected. I have for several years now, personally urged our members to avail themselves of the opportunity to go to Bayreuth as the door was closing.'

In addition, the Friends of Bayreuth will continue to give us a limited allocation of tickets, consisting of two tickets to all operas, and two tickets to some of them.

Finally on this subject, we recently received a letter from the Richard Wagner Scholarship Foundation, which is the sole beneficiary under the new scheme. Its previous allocation of 750 tickets each year has now been increased to 1,000, which will go to the scholars of that year, together with their supporters. So the emphasis from now on will be on supporting young and emerging talent: something that we can hardly criticise, given that it forms a significant part of our own charter.

All relevant correspondence on this issue can be accessed through our website, using the Members Only access process, which requires a password: Please note that the Members Only section of the Society's website also contains PDF versions of the last few years of Newsletters; the collection will be progressively built into a complete set of Newsletters.

Jane Mathews


June 2012
Welcome to the second newsletter for 2012.

I think that we can all agree that the Society has had an extremely successful year over the last 12 months.

This is represented in an increased number of members, and in the excellence and diversity of our events over the year, thanks to our extremely active Events Sub-committee. And obviously, these factors are strongly inter- related.

First, our membership: at last count, we had 292 current members, 70 of whom have joined in the last 12 months. But the actual figure is much higher, because over 90 of these are shared memberships, which means that there are, in all, about 385 individual members of the Society.

As to events, I am not going to say much about the Society's events over the past year, because many of you have attended at least some of them. Amongst the many high points have been presentations relating to the Melbourne Ring, from Lyndon Terracini in October last year, and from Maureen Wheeler and Richard Mills in March this year. We have also had some wonderful musical offerings, not to mention Heath Lees' fascinating talk on Wagner's Women earlier this year.

The next 12 months also promises to provide some truly exciting events. Our program for the rest of this year has already been published, and will feature such luminaries of the opera world as John Wegner and John Pickering. And in August the Society's patron, Simone Young, will be coming to talk to us.

All of this has been organised by our Events Sub-committee, to whom we all owe a huge debt of gratitude. They are: Leona Geeves, Tony Jones, Colleen Chesterman and Katie French. Katie is not standing for re-election to the committee, and I would like to record my own and the Society's sincere thanks for all that she has done in the past 12 month, as an active member of the Committee, and particularly of the Events sub-committee.

2013, of course, will be a standout year for all Wagnerians, being the bicentenary of the Master's birth. We are organising some major events to celebrate the occasion. Current proposals feature the following events:

  • A Wagnerian concert, probably to be held in March 2013, featuring the Sydney Youth Orchestra and Lisa Gasteen;
  • The Sydney Chamber Opera will be putting on a new chamber opera, which will in effect be an adaptation of parts of Act 11 of Parsifal; this promises to be absolutely fascinating;
  • The Society will be sponsoring 2 MBS FM in playing all ten of Wagner's mature operas; and
  • On the actual birthday, on Wednesday 22 May, we will be organising a full- scale celebratory dinner in the evening, at a venue which is yet to be determined. We would welcome suggestions as to an appropriate venue for the occasion.

All of this, of course, costs money. We have a reasonable amount in our donations fund, but we will need quite a lot more in order to achieve our objectives over the next year or so. I would request that any of you who have any ideas as to how we can raise funds for these projects, please get in touch with me or with one of the other committee members. We would greatly appreciate your suggestions.

The high point of 2013 will undoubtedly be the three Ring Cycles in Melbourne in November/December, which promises to be a truly extraordinary event. Indeed, the May edition of "Opera Now"Â contains an assessment of the 5 best Rings on offer in 2013: a year which will be positively bulging with Ring Cycles around the world. The five are: Berlin's co- production with La Scala, Milan; Frankfurt; Seattle; Paris......and MELBOURNE. No mention of Bayreuth!!

Speaking of the Melbourne Ring, there was so much enthusiasm amongst our members to support the Ring and to obtain good seats, that we raised a total of $42,000 in donations for Opera Australia. This means that your Society is now not only the proud sponsor of Deborah Humble, who will be singing both Erda and Waltraute, but also of a Wagner tuba.....which will have to be specially made for the occasion. We are hoping that Debbie Humble will be able to come to Sydney and entertain us during rehearsal time, but I'm not so sure about the Wagner tuba!

There are many thanks I would like to make. First, to the extremely active committee, which has worked so hard over the past year. The amount of energy which has been generated is truly amazing. You would be staggered at the number of emails which swing between committee members. We are losing two of our members today. I have already mentioned Katie French. The other one is our long-standing vice-president, Julian Block, who has put so much into the Society over such a long period. We owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.

The other office-bearers have been incredible, as have the committee members. I must particularly mention the other vice-president, Terence Watson, who has done such an impressive job of editing and putting out our newsletter on a regular basis. And I am still in awe of the time and energy that Roger Cruickshank has put into the Society over the years. I had absolutely no idea, when I took over as President last year, of the amount of work that was involved. Believe me, it takes a great deal of your time. And I have had the benefit of a much expanded committee to assist me. How Roger did it I still do not know. And he continues to put a huge amount or work and wisdom into the Society's affairs. I don't like to think of where the Society would be now without Roger Cruickshank.

The one negative event in the past 12 months was the sudden and totally unexpected decision by the authorities at Bayreuth to cease their previous practice of allocating Festival tickets to Wagner Societies. A number of protest letters were written to the authorities by various Wagner Societies around the world. We wrote one on behalf of all Australian and New Zealand societies, and a strong letter was written on behalf of all North American societies. So far this has been to no avail, but we have not given up yet. There is a very small number of tickets available from the Friends, but this is completely inadequate to meet even a fraction of the demand from our members. So watch this space, but I have to say that it is a matter of very significant concern.

My final expression of gratitude in this report is to Renata and Herman Junker, who have generously provided the refreshments after each of our meetings. These are of an extremely high order and they wonderfully set off the stimulating presentations our Events Sub-committee has been organising.

Jane Mathews AO


September 2012
It has been an exciting time for us Wagner lovers. First, our patron, Simone Young somehow managed to fit us into an incredibly busy schedule, and was the star of our last function, on 12 August. An unprecedented number attended the event - over 140 - including a quite a few non-members, some of whom joined the Society on the spot. The first part of the meeting consisted of an interview between Francis Merson and Maestra Young (I refuse to call her "Maestro," so henceforth she will be "Simone"). Francis is the editor of Limelight Magazine, and he asked a number of interesting questions about Simone's background and her future plans. Simone, who was amazingly relaxed, given her other commitments, gave very full responses about her musical experiences, and spoke in an extremely frank and sometimes self- deprecating manner. We were treated to a number of anecdotes from her life, delivered with great humour. Some of them are described in detail later in this newsletter. As to her future plans, she is committed to remain in Hamburg until the end of the 2015 season, at which time she proposes to do freelance work. By then both her daughters will have finished school, so that her husband, Greg, will be free to travel with her.

During the last part of the session Simone took questions from the floor, and was extremely generous with her answers. She gave a fascinating exposition of how she suggested a newcomer should approach the Ring. In the process, she pointed out - something I had never thought of before - that the opera Siegfried is a series of duets. And she was, as always, absolutely correct: when one thinks about it, there is not a single scene in the entire opera which has more than two participants.

I had (foolishly) thought that I knew a reasonable amount about Simone's past, but I was stupefied at some of her achievements, not to mention the illustrious musicians she has worked with closely over the years. She remains, incidentally, the only woman ever to have conducted a full Ring Cycle, and by now she has conducted quite a few!

All in all, it was an exceptional afternoon.

And the treats least, they did so for the many Sydneysiders who went to Brisbane where Simone conducted her Hamburg orchestra in two concert performances of Das Rheingold, with a Mahler 2nd symphony ("the Resurrection") thrown in for good measure. Simone conducted the orchestra (comprising well over 100 players) in thrilling performances which brought the entire audience to its feet at the end. The soloists are described later in this Newsletter, but I have to mention the Wotan, Falk Struckmann, who in my opinion is amongst the greatest Wotans singing today. The cast was the same as many of us saw in Hamburg, except for the Fricka and the Alberich, both of whom have moved onto other roles. Our own Deborah Humble was a superb Erda. Members will remember that our Society is sponsoring Deborah in the Melbourne Ring, where she will be singing both Erda and Waltraute, and will therefore be singing in all four operas.

STOP PRESS 1: On 12 August a capacity audience of Members and guests met our Patron, Simone Young AO. A large group went north to hear the Hamburg Opera Orchestra and cast of Das Rheingold in two sensational performances.

STOP PRESS 2: Sydney Symphony announces two concert performances of Der fliegende Hollander, starring Eric Owens (Alberich in the current Metropolitan Opera Ring Cycle) with conductor-designate David Robertson, Amber Wagner, John Daszak and Sally-Anne Russell among others. Between the two Rheingolds there was a full-day Rheingold Symposium at the Brisbane Conservatorium, comprising many very interesting presentations. Simone gave a fascinating talk in which, amongst other things, she compared the operatic forces available in Hamburg, a medium-sized German provincial town, with those available to Opera Australia. OA has 68 full-time orchestral players and 40 choristers, while Hamburg has 128 and 70 respectively. Hamburg, with its repertory system, performs about 33 operas each year. New productions then remain in the repertoire, and can be revived at any time in the future. The difference, of course, lies in the available funding for the arts. Would that we could approach the German model! Katie French has written a full report later in this Newsletter.

Bayreuth Tickets for 2013

We are continuing in our endeavours to persuade the Bayreuth Festival authorities to resume allocating tickets to Wagner Societies. Indeed, our Treasurer, Dennis Mather, and I went to Bayreuth for the day when we were in Munich for the Ring Cycle. We had lunch with Frau Besser-Eichler, the head of the Friends of Bayreuth. She is very sympathetic to the Wagner Societies, but is unfortunately only one voice amongst several. We cannot afford to be optimistic about the outcome. We certainly know that there will be no such allocations for the 2013 festival. However we will continue to receive a small allocation from the Friends of Bayreuth. Accordingly, there are two principal ways in which members can apply for 2013 festival tickets. First, members can apply for tickets directly from the Bayreuth box office, either by post or through the internet (postal and internet addresses are set out below). Applications must be received by 20 October 2012. Secondly, members can apply for tickets from the Society's allocation from the Friends of Bayreuth, in the same way as they have in the past.

Wagner 2013 Bicentenary Donation Appeal

2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Richard Wagner and will be a significant international musical occasion. The Wagner Society hopes to pledge major support for the 2013 Wagner Bicentenary Celebrations. To achieve this, we have set up a 'Wagner 2013 Fund' and we need your support to help make this possible.

Making a donation to the 'Wagner 2013 Fund' will ensure the Society's contributions to the celebrations will be world class. We are considering a number of possible exciting projects. One of them involves supporting a major international artist participating in Opera Australia's Ring performances in November and December 2013. We will also continue to promote the life and works of Richard Wagner through performances and events in Sydney. STOP

Donations are fully tax-deductible and can be made by cheque or money order by direct debit; details of the Society's bank account and postal address are given below.

Jane Mathews AO


December 2012
It has been a very full year for the Society, featuring many fascinating events. A major highlight was the afternoon with our patron, Simone Young, who spoke so openly and frankly about her life with music, and particularly with Wagner. And I am sure than everybody who attended our Christmas concert and party at the Mosman Art Gallery will agree that it was a triumph. Both Lisa Harper-Brown and Warwick Fyfe were in superb voice and accompanied splendidly by Louise Scott. The venue, with its large spaces and resonant acoustics, suited the occasion perfectly.

The Bayreuth saga continues. You will remember that we were told in January this year that, as a result of a decision of the Festival Administrative Board, no further tickets would be allocated to Wagner Societies in the future. There was a strong response from many societies around the world, including the Australian societies. Later in the year we were told that the Board was to meet again on 9 October, and that they were going to re-visit this decision. Accordingly, at the end of September we wrote another, very conciliatory letter, pleading for a return to the previous system. The New York Wagner Society wrote a similar letter. Not long afterwards, the New York Society received a letter, dated 10 October, from the Chairman of the Board, in the following terms: "I am happy to announce that the Administrative Board has decided yesterday, to correct earlier decisions regarding the tickets for your associations. More details you will get in the very near future." To my knowledge, there has been no further communication. My enquiries tell me that in spite of the positive terms of the letter, there was in fact a degree of dissension within the Board on this issue. So we will wait and see what happens. In the meantime, we received the same ticket application forms as in previous years, so we have applied for the usual number of tickets for the 2013 festival, namely 12 tickets from the box office and two from the Society of Friends. Members will be informed as soon as we learn of any further developments.

Your Society is getting a new image! Thanks to committee-member, Michael Day, a collaboration was arranged between the Society and design students at the University of Technology Sydney. As part of one of their projects, they have designed us a new logo. It is yet to be approved by the Committee, but - assuming that it is - all our communications from now on will be in the new format. It is a completely different look, clean and modern. We hope that you, our members, will enjoy this new design.

Next year, the big bi-centenary year, promises to be a huge year for all of us. In addition to a number of particularly exciting events at our regular Sunday meetings, we are involved in some fascinating initiatives. One of these is the Ring Symposium, to be conducted by Anthony Ernst on the weekend of 9 and 10 February. More details of this symposium are given elsewhere in this newsletter. It promises to be a truly informative and stimulating event. I know from personal experience that Anthony has an enormous depth of knowledge and understanding about all aspects of the Ring, and also has the communication skills to readily impart his knowledge to his audience. And I have just been told that Lyndon Terracini, the artistic director of Opera Australia, has agreed to open the symposium for us on the Saturday morning.

Another fascinating initiative is the Society's commissioning of a brand new opera called "Climbing Towards Midnight", composed by Sydney musician Jack Symonds. As Jack describes it, this has "the dna" of Wagner's music within it. It will be performed by the Sydney Chamber Opera in April next year at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. The opera is to be based on Act 11 of Parsifal, and explores the relationship between Parsifal and Kundry. Those of you who have seen any of the Sydney Chamber Opera's outstanding productions over the last two years will be looking forward to this event with huge anticipation. It is a real pleasure and privilege for us to be supporting these incredibly talented young musicians.

As many of you know, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will be putting on a concert performance of The Flying Dutchman on 20 and 22 July next year. The previous Sunday (14th July) we will be holding a special seminar entitled "Riding the Waves - a voyage through Wagner's flying Dutchman". This will be an all day event to be held at the Goethe Institute. We hope to have Maestro David Robertson, the new chief conductor of the SSO to speak to us, as well as Eric Owens, who will be singing the title role. Many members will remember Eric Owens as a wonderful Alberich in the Metropolitan Opera's new Ring Cycle. Dr David Larkin, musicologist from the Sydney Conservatorium will be taking part, as will Dr David Schwartz, who will speak on historic interpretations of the Dutchman and Senta. Other notable speakers will be participating, as you will learn closer to the event.

Amongst numerous other initiatives are: our sponsorship of Fine Music 102.5, which will lead to the broadcast of all ten mature Wagner operas during the year; our support of the Sydney Youth Orchestra, which will be putting on a concert in August featuring Wagner's music; our grants to the Sydney Eisteddfod, leading to awards for the best singer of a Wagner song or aria, and the best singer of a German language song or aria; and our financial assistance towards a conference to take place between the second and third Melbourne Ring Cycles. So we are all looking forward to next year with huge anticipation.

I look forward to seeing you at these fascinating events.

Jane Mathews

The Hon Jane Mathews AO
President Wagner Society in New South Wales