March / June / December 2000
Welcome back after what I hope was a very pleasant festive season. Our year started well with a recital by Andrew Young, a baritone and recent graduate from the Sydney Conservatorium, who is joining Opera Queensland in March as a Young Artist. With his accompanist Fiona McCabe it was a most successful and enjoyable afternoon and we look forward to hearing of their future careers with great interest.
In January Barry and Jane Walters and I were invited to a farewell function for Countess Baudissin, the Director of the Goethe Institut, who has been such a great supporter of our Society. She is going to Prague where she will be responsible for a large area of Eastern Europe from Scandinavia to Warsaw. We wish her well in her new post but we shall miss her and her charm and warm smile. We were fortunate to meet the new Director, Dr Roland Goll, who assured us of his interest in our Society. We welcome him and look forward to working with him in the future.
I have had discussions with Craig Bush from the Art Gallery of NSW and a Seminar on Gotterdammerung is tentatively planned for July at the Art Gallery. As soon as the arrangements are finalised you will be notified. Our last joint venture - Tannhauser - was a great success and the Art Gallery is a wonderful venue.
Also at the Art Gallery are three recitals planned for this year: Ingrid Silveus and Angus Wood in May, Peter Coleman-Wright in July and, hopefully, Siegfried Jerusalem in September. The details of these recitals will be advised as soon as possible.
Please remember that our March meeting will be at the Eugene Goosens Hall at the ABC studio in Ultimo for a Wagner concert - Richard and Siegfried - given by the student orchestra from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music under Maestro Cillario. The concert is free and commences at 3pm but we must be seated by 2.30 as part of the concert will be a direct broadcast.
I would like to thank a past member Michael Edgelow who donated a collection of Wagner performance programs from the 1970s & 80s for our members. His generosity was rewarded as there was much interest and not one of the programs was left at the end of the February meeting.
The Committee has approved an increase in the 2000/2001 annual subscriptions to cover the GST component of costs after 1 July. Renewal forms will be mailed in March.
Two of our members, Clare Hennessy and Betty Maloney, are on the sick list and we wish them both a speedy recovery.
I'm writing this report in the warm glow that followed our lunch to celebrate the birth of the Master, Richard Wagner. Held this year at the Women's Club, it was a very happy and successful day. Our guest speaker was Tim Calnin, the Artistic Administrator of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, who gave us some fascinating insights into the background of the Ring concerts the orchestra has been presenting over the last few years and which will culminate in September when we hear Gotterdammerung. I think we would like to thank the Women's Club, and in particular Audrey Howarth, for all their help.
As many of you know, I have just returned from leading an Opera Australia tour to Germany and Eastern Europe during which we saw some of the best Wagner performances I have ever seen. In Dresden in the beautiful Semper Opera House we saw a Parsifal directed by Joachim Heilmann and sung by: Jukka Rasilainen as Amfortas, Kurt Moll as Gurnemanz, Poul Elming as Parsifal, Hildegard Behrens as Kundry and Ekkehard Wlaschiha as Klingsor. The production was visually pleasing and the music was outstanding - beautifully sung, and the orchestra under the guidance of Semyon Bychkov was excellent. This was without doubt the most satisfying Parsifal I have seen anywhere.
Then in Berlin we saw another Parsifal, this time at the Deutsche Oper. This was a very modern Götz Friedrich production, which used an abstract, lined set and lighting to create the different scenes. Sung by Wolfgang Brendal, Lazlo Polgar, Robert Dean Smith, Doris Soffel and Lenus Carlson. It was a very good performance though the conductor, Christian Theilemann, took the first and third acts rather too slowly, but the second act was somewhat faster and really dramatic.
At the Staatsoper we then saw a wonderful Tristan und Isolde produced by Harry Kupfer and conducted by Daniel Barenboim. The set was a huge fallen angel in a graveyard - no ship - that rotated from time to time. Sung by Siegfried Jerusalem and Deborah Polaski this was a tour de force. Siegfried Jerusalem had rested his voice for some months prior to singing this role and he sang more strongly and securely than I have ever heard him, particularly in the third act when Tristan is angry as he contemplates his situation. He has lost Isolde, forfeited the trust of King Marke and is dying. In his frustration he pours out his despair and rage to Kurwenal, Andreas Schmidt. Deborah Polaski, too, was in great voice, strong, rich and creamy, a perfect foil for this Tristan. Rosemary Lang sang Brangane with a sweetness not often heard. In every way this was an arresting performance and one I shall treasure for many years to come.
Our Annual General Meeting will be on 23rd July; please note the change of date. Several long time members of the Committee will be resigning and this will be an opportunity for members to express appreciation to them for their contributions to the smooth running of our Society. Those retiring are: Olive Coonan, Treasurer, Clare Hennessy, Membership Secretary and Barry
Walters, Secretary. As well, Barbara Brady, our Newsletter editor, has resigned. Thus we shall be looking for new members for the Committee. So if you are able and interested in helping, please fill in a Nomination Form. You will be made very welcome.
Reluctantly, the Committee has resolved to ask the members, at the AGM, to approve an increase in membership fees. This increase is not related to the GST but reflects the level of our donations towards the various Wagner performances that seem to be becoming a little more frequent, and our support for the Bayreuth Scholarship. Our last increase was in the very early nineties, so I do seek your support.
My apologies for the June meeting as I am leaving next week to take a group to Berlin - the Götz Friedrich Tristan und Isolde this time - and then on to Helsinki for the Ring Cycle. However I shall be back for the AGM.
My trip to Bayreuth this year, while greatly anticipated, proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. While in Salzburg we heard all sorts of rumours that Hans Sotin and Waltraud Meier had pulled out of their roles as Gurnemanz and Sieglinde. Newspaper crits of the new Ring were passed from hand to hand and eagerly discussed with the result that we went to Bayreuth not knowing what to expect.
Parsifal was our first opera and Matthias Holle was singing Gurnemanz and, while Christoph Eschenbach conducted the second slowest performance on record, it was well sung and seemed to have a new lease of life. Meistersingerwas good and Lohengrin well sung. Roland Wagenführer was ill and soLohengrin was sung by Robert Dean Smith (who also sang Walther the preceding night!). The production remains very dark in many ways.
Now at last The Ring and Rheingold was most enjoyable. The singing was good and the production by Jurgen Flimm and Erich Wonder, while very contemporary, worked well. The only cause for concern was Giuseppe Sinopoli's conducting, which was uneven and inconsistent. Walkure opened with a wonderful depiction of Hunding's house and I shall treasure for many years the scene between Placido Domingo and Waltraud Meier as Siegmund and Sieglinde. Unfortunately, the third act with the Valkyries was a huge let down. Much flashing light and abseiling down the walls of Valhalla while a small army of women engaged in some form of military drill and queues of walking dead heroes made for a very busy and rather messy stage.
In Siegfried things went from bad to worse and the appearance of a young Hagan as a snivelling schoolboy in Act 2 served no useful purpose. The scene was bleak in the extreme and the dragon, made of black plastic, was not effective. The third act is best forgotten as Gabrielle Schnaut was having great difficulty with her voice.
Gotterdammerung opened well, but the last act was very disappointing as Flimm seemed to have run out of ideas. A series of scrims does not suffice for the immolation or the destruction of the world. A young Parsifal just before the final curtain left us puzzled.
Since my return I have met with Adrian Collette from Opera Australia to talk about a closer relationship. I was glad to assure him of our continuing support for future Wagnerian productions. I asked him about the possibility of a future Opera Australia Ring Cycle and await his response with interest. I have also contacted Craig Bush from the Art Gallery of NSW and we have arranged a seminar on Lohengrin at the Gallery on 4 August 2001.
It is with great sadness that we record the death of Lady Finley. Berry had many friends among our members and will be missed by all who knew her. We extend our sympathy to her family.
Those of you who were at the Annual General Meeting are aware that the Committee is concerned about our financial position and that it has been necessary to increase membership fees for next year. Our Society's primary aim is to support and encourage regular performances of Wagner's great operas.
To be able to maintain our past level of grants, it is essential that we cover the costs of all functions including our monthly meetings. The Committee resolved to seek your cooperation in attending as many meetings as possible as we need a minimum of 40 members to cover the costs of a film afternoon and 50 when we have speakers or singers.
It is expensive to use the Goethe Institut, but I doubt if we could find anywhere that gives us such pleasant surroundings, in a venue that is so convenient, together with high quality audio visual equipment. With this in mind, the Committee has decided to change the format of the Christmas Party slightly by asking each of you to bring a plate to the party. We will supply wine and soft drink as well as Christmas cake and of course we will run our usual raffle with prizes of a Christmas cake, a Wagner watch and a bottle of champagne.
On Friday, 24 November Terence Watson and I were pleased to have the opportunity to farewell the German Consul to Sydney, Dr Roever and his wife who are returning to Bonn. We look forward to developing an equally friendly relationship with his successor.
I look forward to seeing many of you at the Christmas party and extend my best wishes to you all for a happy festive season and a happy, healthy New Year.
21 November 2000