President's Report June 2008

Past Functions

(1) March - Warwick Fyfe

On Sunday 16 March, Warwick Fyfe delivered an immensely entertaining illustrated talk on his study tour in Europe last November as the 2007 Bayreuth Scholar.

While some Bayreuth scholars return from their travels and are never heard of again, most provide a short written account to Opera Foundation Australia of their itinerary abroad. Warwick's report of around 90 pages, with many photographs, is an open diary of his study tour which tells the tale of his travels -the musicians and friends he met, the places he went, the rehearsals and concerts he attended, the art galleries he visited, his auditions, his pilgrimages.

Warwick's talk covered many of the highlights (and with some unfortunate experiences with food, the low lights) of his travels, with his wife Ruth Frances in charge of the overheads and photographs, and was the best 'thank you' a Scholar has ever given the Society.

We've posted Warwick's report on our website and the Editor has extracted a 'teaser' printed below to entice you to read his report, and although there may still be an annoying problem with words with umlauts (apparently I have the 'wrong character set') it's well worth downloading and reading. At over 250Mb with photos, it proved something of a monster, and in keeping with our new 'small footprint' age, only the text is online. Walking in Warwick's footsteps through each room of a gallery you've visited and seeing the works through his eyes is one of its many delights.

Warwick has agreed to give a talk on 15 March 2009 on his musical 'coming to Wagner.'

(2) April - Glenn Winslade

On Sunday April 20, Glenn Winslade gave a talk on his experiences from a singer's perspective at Bayreuth, where he sang the title role in Tannhauser in 2002 and 2003.

Glenn's talk provided insights into the highs and lows of life for a new singer at Bayreuth, told with much warmth and humour. These ranged from his audition for Wolfgang Wagner and his engagement (Glenn's agent wouldn't believe that he'd been given the role); the extraordinary behaviour of his landlord at Bayreuth; the attitude of some of the 'old hands' in the Festspiele theatre who expected him to fail and only at the end offered him advice, for example on areas of the theatre where the acoustic was less perfect; his friendship with John Wegner, who sang the role of Biteroff; the dangers created by Philippe Arlaud's alluring butcher's grass meadow set in Act 1; the way the sets changed the acoustic for the singers; the difficulty of keeping one's voice warm during the hour-long intervals so beloved of the beer and wurst brigade; and much more.

He also spoke about the modern tendency for performances of Wagner and Richard Strauss to be very loud, and supported the view that Tannhauser is almost unsingable, with such hurdles as the string of ten top As in Act 2. This was a glimpse into a world often hidden from its devotees.

Glenn also spoke of the on-stage accident in which he had been involved, and how it had led to his untimely retirement. An idea of what we have lost is gained from a review of Opera Australia's 2002 production of Lohengrin in Melbourne, which appeared in The Age on 29 April that year. John Slavin, whose reviews are not renowned for their generosity of spirit, wrote 'Winslade grows in confidence as the opera proceeds. By the crucial bedroom scene of act two when Elsa breaks the contract and betrays him, he is magnificent. He is that rare thing, a genuine heldentenor who can soar above the stunning volume that conductor Gabor Otvos draws from Orchestra Australia. Winslade tends to shout the opening phrase of each monologue in order to stamp his authority on it, but his singing of the crucial recitative 'In Fernem Land', which reveals his identity, is lyrical and memorable.'

(3) May - AGM

On Sunday May 18, we held our 2008 AGM at the Paddington Uniting Church.

Audited accounts

The formal part of the meeting included the presentation of our audited accounts for the 2007 calendar year, which were adopted by the meeting. These have been lodged with the regulator, and a copy has been posted on our website for members to read. Because of the need to publish the accounts in full, it's not possible to include them in this Newsletter, and I'd urge you to have a look at them on the website. If you can't access the web, please phone me or another member of the committee and we'll print out a copy and post it to you.

The auditors have made two qualifications. First, they have noted that 'it is not practicable for the Society to maintain an effective system of internal control over cash receipts until initial entry into the accounting records.' This is a qualification which often appears in the audited accounts of societies such as ours, where cash isn't formally received into an electronic recording and receipting system, such as a till. The committee believes that the risk of theft is sufficiently mitigated by the use of a register where those attending record their names, and the balancing of this register against the cash receipts.

The second qualification is that, because they did not audit the accounts for the 2006 calendar year, the auditors are 'unable to determine whether the balances as at 30 June 2006 have been fairly stated'. This is a one-off qualification which will not be repeated when they audit our 2008 accounts.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the firm of Walter Turnbull, its Executive Director Mr Mark Driessen, and particularly Mr Christopher Ritchie, for their generosity and patience in successfully guiding us through this audit experience, and for their considerable work on our behalf. I'd also like to again acknowledge our thanks to Ms Julie Carroll, who approached Walter Turnbull on our behalf and secured their services pro bono .

Meeting entrance fees increased to $15

The motion to increase the attendance fee at our meetings was amended (from $12) and passed. From our next meeting on July 20, the entrance fee will be $15 for members. Members at the AGM also directed the committee to consider increase annual membership fees, and a motion will be put to the 2009 AGM with a proposal.

Bayreuth ticket application handling unchanged

The motion to change the way we handle members' applications for Bayreuth Tickets was lost. The proposal was that priority be given to applicants in one year who had applied unsuccessfully in the previous year(s), in effect creating a 'waiting list' which would ensure that provided you applied every year you were guaranteed a ticket, although because of the ballot you had no control over the year in which you would get tickets. This would have aligned our process with the public allocation system used in Bayreuth, and ensured that members who had never been would eventually get tickets.

I was somewhat unsettled by the overwhelming defeat of this proposal. I've been to Bayreuth three times - twice with tickets obtained through the Society - and the memories of those visits are still vividly with me. I'm concerned that we may create a two-tiered Society - those who have not been to Bayreuth, and those who have. While there are other avenues for obtaining tickets, such as joining the Friends of Bayreuth, or applying annually through the public ticket allocations (which I understand takes around 10 years), members of the Society who have never been to Bayreuth should not feel that the ticket allocation system disadvantages them. After our applications for Bayreuth 2009 close, I will submit a questionnaire to the committee and, with its approval, we will survey members on their attitudes to a range of options. If there is a consensus on changing the process, we'll put motions to the AGM in 2009, which if passed will affect the application process for Bayreuth 2010 onwards.

Welcome Julie Carroll to the Committee

Your 2007 committee was re-elected for 2008, with the addition of Ms Julie Carroll, and I'd like to welcome her onto the committee.


The highlight of the AGM is always the recital by voice students from the Conservatorium of Music accompanied by Sharolyn Kimmorley, and this year's recital was just superb. The Paddington Uniting Church has a much bigger acoustic than the recital room at the Goethe-Institut, and from the first (and wonderfully appropriate) notes of 'Dich, teure Halle, grüss ich wieder' through comedy and tragedy to some beautifully phrased lieder we were treated to a range of music from a very talented quintet of performers - Catherine Bouchier, Regina Daniel, Louise Watts, Jonathan Alley and Adam Player. Some photos of the singers posing with members at the after-recital function have been posted on the Society's website.

Dr Christine Rothauser

Dr Christine Rothauser has sent us a report from the International Wagner Congress held in Geneva in May this year. The Congress (or to use its correct title, the 'Richard Wagner Verband International e.V.') is the over-arching body representing some 136 national and regional Wagner Societies with around 37,000 members. Christine writes:

'This year the congress has at last turned a new page in its long history. The International Association was created in 1994 and while it has grown over the years, none of its International members had the right to vote on any of the issues. It meant that the board of management was elected without our consent and we were powerless to change the constitution.

'This year the German associations that held all the power, were faced with a protest and after the two speeches delivered by Dr Christine Rothauser and Dr Oster from Strasbourg, a motion was voted unanimously to amend the constitution, to give to the International Associations the right to vote and hopefully have only one accounting system for the two associations.

'Prof Eva Marston from Hannover has replaced Josef Lienhart as president. An International Commission has been elected, consisting of three members whose task is to amend the constitution. Their president is Frau Ingrid Budde representing Germany, Dr Christine Rothauser from Adelaide and Dr Fotis Papathanassiou from Athens.'

Dr Rothauser is a formidable champion of those issues in which she passionately believes, and we congratulate her in opening up the Verband to a more international voice, and in being recognised by her peers in this way.

2008 Bayreuth Scholar

Alison Cole, the General Manager of Opera Foundation Australia, has advised that the winner of the 2008 Bayreuth Scholarship is Cameron MacKenzie. Apart from the fact that Cameron's application was rather well-endowed with good references, we don't know much about him at this stage, because Opera Foundation's web-site hasn't been updated with the new scholar's details. Instead, Google has revealed a number of Cameron MacKenzies in Melbourne, one of whom is a young man with a passingly-flattering photo, who trained in voice at the Victorian College of the Arts as a counter-tenor and may now be the Artistic Director for the Lyric Opera of Melbourne. I'll try to make contact with the real Cameron through Opera Foundation when I'm in Melbourne for the concert performances of Der fliegende Hollander at the end of August, and see whether he would be able to give a talk to our Society next year, if he's in Sydney at some stage.

Live and delayed opera broadcast from Bayreuth

First it was the Chauvel Cinema in Paddington (and other cities outside Sydney), broadcasting delayed telecasts of live performances from the New York Metropolitan Opera, including one of the Met's ill-fated attempts to bring Deborah Voigt and Ben Heppner together. Then the Greater Union Cinema in Bondi Junction began showing delayed opera telecasts from La Scala, Milan, which will include on 30 and 31 August and 3 September a performance of Patrice Chereau's production of Tristan und Isolde with Ian Storey and Waltraud Meier, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. Now Hoyts is broadcasting four performances from the current San Francisco Opera season.

As the phenomenon has spread, opera-lovers have coaxed theatre managers in smaller cities and centres to show these broadcasts. One of our members, Heinz Ebert, was successful in persuading his local cinema in Gosford to show the delayed telecasts from the New York Met.

But in what we believe is a first, Bayreuth is offering a direct live high definition broadcast via the Internet of the opening performance at this year's Bayreuth festival of Katharina Wagner's production of Die Meistersinger on July 27 2008 at 4pm (German) time. The cost is 49 Euro, which will entitle you to watch it live and to watch it a second time before 2 August, all in the comfort of your own home. The link is where everything you need to know is clearly explained (in English.)

Last year's premier performances of this production were not greeted with universal enthusiasm, so this is a brave move, and hopefully signals the start of live telecasts from Bayreuth and from other festivals and opera houses.

The Neidhardt Ring

Hopes that Elke Neidhardt's incredible Ring production from Adelaide in 2004 would be revived in 2011 have suffered a serious set-back, with news that the new federal government will not join a partnership with the South Australian state government to provide the $15 million required.

The ABC carried a news item on 11 April 2008, saying that 'A former arts minister says the South Australian Government has not pushed hard enough to win funding to again stage Wagner's Ring Cycle in SA. "¦. As a member of the former Liberal state government, Diana Laidlaw was behind the push to bring the opera to Adelaide in 1998 and 2004. 'We have excelled with the Ring Cycle and made a name for ourselves,' she said. 'I think the State Government has been slack in not pressing the former federal government and the current Government to be partners with the state in a further performance of the Ring Cycle.' The head of the State Opera Company, Stephen Phillips, says it would be unprecedented for private donors to fund the performance. 'The Los Angeles Opera is doing a new production of the Ring in a couple of years' time and a private donor did put in US$6 million towards that project, but it's a very different culture in the United States,' he said.'

When the South Australian state government announced in the middle of last year that it would put up half of the required funding if the federal government matched it, many saw this as a half-hearted gesture by the South Australian state government, which could then blame the its federal companions when the project failed, and this view seems to have been proven correct.

A different spin on this news came from Black Sheep Advertising. On it's website, under the heading 'We've swapped a dragon for a panda' the writer noted that the two Chinese pandas promised for Adelaide Zoo had not fallen victim to the Rudd razor gang's budget cuts. Federal funding will be given to the Zoo, so that it can build a special panda enclosure ($5 million) and then rent the animals for 10 years from the Chinese government at a cost of $10 million.

The day before this $15 million largesse was announced, the writer tells us, the Federal Government's Minister for the Arts, Peter Garrett, had announced that funding for the planned Adelaide Ring revival in 2011 had been cut.

The writer concludes 'Now Wagner's dragon will be seen no more in Adelaide. In its place will sit two fuzzy, lazy quadrupeds with little or no magic about them. Apparently there are about 250 Pandas in zoos around the world. There are only a small handful of cities that staged 'The Ring'. Mr Rudd, I don't think it was our wishes you were pandering to. And, once again, South Australia loses another international attraction. I guess we'll just have to bear it.'

Along with the dreadful puns. What more is there to say. Now all that remains is the quiet fire-sale of the props and costumes, and the magic of 2004 will be gone forever.

Roger Cruickshank 6 July 2008