January / June / December 2002
Welcome back to 2002 and a happy New Year to you all.
Our Christmas party was a great success with over 6o members enjoying a busy afternoon, despite a lost bottle opener! Terence Watson compiled a series of film extracts with Wagner connections ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Members were asked to identify the film, Director and the music - not as easy a task as you might think. We all tried hard but the winner was Mike day by a significant margin. We congratulate Mike and thank Terence for providing a real challenge and much entertainment. All members brought a plate and we enjoyed a most delicious and varied afternoon tea.
Our raffle winners were, Britt Hartnett (a complete CD Ring Cycle), Roger Cruickshank (Christmas cake), Colin Jones (Lohengrin CDs) and Barbara McNulty (Wagner compilation 2 CD set). Our very grateful thanks go to Jochen Strossberg from Universal Music who generously donated the CDs and Barbara Brady who again made and donated a Swan decorated Christmas cake.
Our sympathy goes to Annie Marshall and her family who lost their home at Helensburg in the Christmas fires. Our sympathy also goes out to any others of our members who suffered loss or whose houses or property might have been damaged during these fires.
The first meeting this year will be on the 17 February when Antony Ernst will discuss two early Wagnerian works, Die Feen (The Fairies) and Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love) and I look forward to seeing you then.
This year started on a very positive note with a most interesting talk by Anthony Ernst on the first two of the completed Wagner works, Die Feen and Das Liebesverbot. Anthony always brings a new look to each of his talks and this was no exception. It was informative and interesting and everyone I spoke to felt they should investigate these neglected operas further. In preparing my pre-performance talks for the tour to Berlin in March I checked to see if I could find recent performances and was delighted to find that Die Feen had been done in Sardinia in 1998 and that there had been three performances of Das Liebesverbot in Germany in February this year.
In mid March I took 39 Wagner lovers to Berlin to hear the ten mature Wagnerian works performed in chronological order at the Staatsoper unter den Linden. All the operas were directed by Harry Kupfer and conducted by Daniel Barenboim and it was a most challenging and enjoyable fifteen days.
Berlin was still very cold when we arrived and on our tours of East and West Berlin we had to brave snow showers each time we left the bus. Fortunately, after a few days the sun returned and as the weather warmed up the trees started to get their leaves and the city suddenly softened and blossomed.
We had a talk on each opera on the morning of its performance and then a discussion on the one we had seen the night before. The group were all extremely interested in what we had seen and the discussion was very lively particularly when the production was as provocative as the Lohengrin. The only thing I will tell you is that we had the pleasure of hearing Stuart Skelton sing Erik in Dutchman which he did very well and then to our delight he was called in to sing Lohengrin and we had an opportunity to meet him after the performance. However I will leave John Casey to tell you all about our experiences at the Birthday Lunch in May.
It was somewhat of a surprise to find that there was a huge Australian representation in Berlin for the Festival. According to Leo Schofield there were at least 98 of us and on our last night, after Parsifal, Leo arranged a venue where we all met for a drink. It was very crowded and very noisy but great fun.
Before going to Berlin I spent a week in Dresden and had the opportunity to visit the Wagner Museum at Graupa, a small village near Pillnitz about 14km South East of Dresden. The Museum is housed in an old farmhouse where Wagner and Minna spent their holidays in the summer of 1846 and it is here that Wagner wrote the music for Lohengrin. The museum is small but most interesting and the Curator, who showed us around, was extremely knowledgeable. If ever you are in Dresden it is well worth a visit.
Also in Dresden we were fortunate to see an interesting performance of Tristan at the beautiful Semper Operhaus, produced by Marco Arturo Marelli. The Tristan of Ronald Hamilton was a little disappointing but Gabriele Schnaut was a wonderful Isolde and the rest of the cast were good. It was conducted by Mark Albrecht who did a very good job and who stepped in at the last minute as they had lost two other conductors in almost as many days!
We also saw three wonderful Strauss works, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos and Die Frau ohne Schatten and am convinced that the forthcoming Ring Cycles next year will be worth the trip. I have seen a lot of opera in Dresden and it is always of a very high standard and visually attractive so I am looking forward to next March/ April.
Just before I left, Dennis Mather and I met with Dr Roland Goll, the Director of the Goethe Institut, to talk about ways in which we could co-operate in a program to precede the 2004 Adelaide Ring and we will keep you informed of our plans.
I am pleased to tell you that the Committee has agreed to donate $10,000 towards the Adelaide Ring and we will sponsor Stuart Skelton who is to sing Siegmund and, because of this, members of the society are eligible for priority seating at the Cycle of their choice. In this issue of the Newsletter you will find an application form for tickets to Adelaide. No money is required at this time but in order to receive priority booking our application must be in Adelaide by early July.
I shall think of you all in May when you meet for the Birthday Lunch as I shall be in America on my way home after the Sydney Symphony Tour but I look forward to seeing you in July at the AGM when Francis Greep, last year's Bayreuth Scholar, will arrange a recital for us.
For many of us, this Newsletter and Barbara McNulty's President's Reports have long been synonymous. Only now, writing my first report as president, do I realise how much of Barbara's personality was infused in her reports, making them much more than a hard act to follow.
Those of you who were lucky enough to attend our AGM in July will remember the warmth and affection of the spontaneous ovation we gave Barbara when she stepped down as president. This expressed more than words could our gratitude for her tireless work on our behalf over many years on the committee, which Barbara continues in the role of secretary and as vice president "ex officio".
Most of you, I suspect, think of AGMs as events you're lucky to avoid, but ours in July was very different. Our Society makes regular donations to support young talented Australians studying overseas, such as our support of the Bayreuth Scholarship, and we sponsor artists in local productions. Prior to the AGM, we had the chance to hear, in the glorious and intimate setting of the Paddington Uniting Church, the depth of talent we have helped in a small way to foster, when Lisa Harper-Brown and Stuart Skelton gave a recital, with Francis Greep and Michael Black. It was a delight to hear and see such bright, young talent, and the committee will be looking over the next few months at other ways we may be able to help singers and musicians starting out in their careers.
Our September function was I fear our longest meeting on record, with the showing of the Kupfer/Barenboim/Bayreuth video of Gotterdammerung. By the end a little after 6.30pm, only 15 brave souls remained of the original band of 50 who had started out with Siegfried on his Rhine journey hours before. In future we will try to use videos and DVDs with subtitles (even though this may occasionally infuriate members like me who have real problems with the lack of care in current translations of Wagner's texts) and we may consider different ways of showing these productions.
Our October function was an illustrated talk by Anthony Ernst on Rienzi, the last of the three works never performed in Bayreuth, which is reviewed elsewhere in this Newsletter. Stuart Skelton had sung the title role in a production at the Staatstheater Stuttgart earlier this year, and included Rienzi's prayer " Allmächt'ger Vater, blick herab!" in our recital.
There are two more functions this year. In November Elke Neidhard, director of the 2004 Adelaide Ring, will answer questions about the Ring and opera production generally. Elke doesn't shirk from controversy, and her productions of Tannhauser and Parsifal still provoke heated discussion between jaded palettes (like mine) which crave new interpretations and sensations, and those of a more traditional hue.
In December, we have our end-of-year party, including a piano recital and reminiscences by Elizabeth Long. First prize in our raffle is a set of DVDs of the Chereau/Boulez Ring generously donated by Barbara McNulty.
Dr John Casey's talk on the Berlin Kupfer/Barenboim Wagner Festival, which he gave at our annual luncheon in honour of Wagner's birthday in May this year, was reprinted in the September Newsletter. Mr Robert S Fisher, editor of Leitmotive, the journal of the Wagner Society of Northern California, has written warmly endorsing John's comments on the staging of Wagner, enclosing past issues of Leitmotive with similar commentary. Congratulations, John!
I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Die Freischütz in September with Mr Richard King, a former president of the Society and an honorary life member. Richard may be moving from the South Coast to Tasmania soon, and in cleaning out his linen cupboard, he came across a most remarkable item - a costume from Bayreuth! Herr Reinhard Heinrich, who was costume designer for the production of Die Meistersinger given by the Federal German government to Australia to celebrate the bi-centenary in 1988, brought with him a sailor's costume - trousers, jacket and sailor's cap - from the 1978 Kupfer production of the Flying Dutchman, for which Hr Heinrich was also costume designer. We are having the item appraised with a view to selling it by auction.
2003 will be Edo de Waart's last year as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and, unexpectedly perhaps, Simone Young's last year as Music Director with Opera Australia. Both are passionate supporters of Wagner's works and will leave their organisations and Sydney concert-goers enriched. While we may mourn their departures, we must wait and see whether their successors will continue to champion Wagner's works.
There have been two further developments in the matter of the misappropriation of Society funds, which was reported to the NSW Police Service last year. In July, the officer in charge of the investigation wrote and advised that, despite evidence gained, he had decided to use his discretion not to further investigate the matter, as in his view a prosecution would not be in the public interest. Based on medical advice and other matters set out in his letter, the Committee has agreed with this Police advice. I would like to record my thanks to the Police officers involved in this difficult investigation, to the current and former members of the Society who gave statements and assisted the Police, and to Mr Anthony Gregg, who acted "pro bono" on the Society's behalf.
In August, Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia sent a report listing the Society among the creditors in a bankrupt estate, in the amount of $35,000. They advised that no dividend was expected to be paid, and that an investigation of the bankrupt's affairs had found nothing to benefit creditors.
These two letters have brought this sad affair to a close, and the Committee will now focus on the Society's future, a sentiment strongly endorsed at the AGM.
Finally, may I wish each of you a very happy and safe New Year, and the very best for 2003.