March / June / September / December 2007
Welcome to our first Newsletter for 2007. This has ended up being a much more serious President's Letter than normal - there's hardly any naughtiness in this letter - and I hope this isn't a portent for 2007, which can hardly be a serious year with both State and Federal elections!!
On Sunday February 18, Terence Watson gave presentations on the Ring Cycle productions last year in Toronto and Costa Mesa, and then led a discussion with other members who had attended these performances, including Leona Geeves, and Colleen and Michael Chesterman. Terence also gave a talk entitled The case of Siegfried, which looked at the journey Wagner created for Siegfried both within the stories of Siegfried and Gotterdammerung, and within their music. He discussed whether Wagner achieved his aim of developing "a free, true happy man” (and woman) and the challenges that this poses to a director "in an interpretation of Siegfried that is not predicated on ironic distancing or embarrassed belittling, but allows him to reveal his revolutionary potential." Is Dr Watson trying to end the current directorial preference for a Punk Billy Bunter as Siegfried?
This Sunday, March 18, Robert Gay will give a talk on Wagner and French Grand Opera, which will not be another talk on Rienzi, but will discuss the influences of French Grand Opera on the later works, through even to Parsifal.
On Sunday April 15, Nigel Butterley will deliver his second Faust talk, "Faust and the Feminine", and on Sunday May 20 we will have our AGM, our Wagner birthday celebration, and a recital by students from the Conservatorium of Music, who have received German Language Scholarships from our Society.
Lecture by Professor Health Lees
In late August and early September, Professor Heath Lees will tour Australia giving talks to each of the Wagner Societies about his new book "Mallarme and Wagner: Music and Poetic Language". It is due to be published in June by Ashgate publishers in the UK, and there is already a link to the book on their website at www.ashgate.com
Professor Lees, originally from Scotland, is Professor of Music at the University of Auckland and his talks, given from the piano with a musicologist's skill, are always highlights. His most recent talk was in Adelaide during the Neidhardt Ring.
Subject to finalisation of his tour schedule, Professor Lees will be giving a talk on Sunday September 2 entitled "Wagner and Mallarme: Music as Poetry and Poetry as Music", sub-headed perhaps "Heath Lees opens up the ideas in his new book." Professor Lees has already given talks of this subject in Edinburgh to the Wagner Society of Scotland, and in "broken French" (Professor Lees' words) to the Cercle de Wagner de Toulouse. In his talks, Professor Lees argues that "the French understood Wagner's aims and ideas better than any other nation at the time!"
According to Ashgate, Professor Lees "has published widely on the interface between music and words, especially in the works of Beckett and Joyce. His love of all things French is complemented by a passion for the work of Richard Wagner. He is President of the Wagner Society of New Zealand, which he and his wife founded in 1994, now one of the world's larger Wagner Societies. His fascination for the Symbolists came when he read his first Mallarme poems and felt, he says, as though he were listening to music."
Professor Lees will also bring a contingent of 65 from the New Zealand Wagner Society for the performance of Tannhauser on Saturday October 27, and we hope to organise a function while they are here (although the lure of The Gondoliers may prove too great for some.)
2006 Bayreuth Scholar
Michal Imielski, the 2006 Bayreuth Scholar, has sent Opera Foundation Australia a very full report on his three months overseas, and the performances which he worked on and attended, and this is reprinted in the Newsletter. We hope that Michal can join us at our May meeting and give a brief talk on his time away, including the work with Barry Kosky on a production of Tristan und Isolde which he discusses in his report.
If you haven't already done so, it's time to renew your membership for 2007, and a renewal form is provided on the inside back cover of our latest Newsletter, and on our website at This form includes our bank account details, so if you'd prefer to transfer your money direct into the Society's bank account using your bank's internet banking facilities, you can.
One unexpected benefit of membership renewal this year is that I've learned a little more about my new country, Australia. I've discovered Kenilworth in Queensland, which has a postcode of 4574, which is the same as our GPO Box number here in Sydney. A number of our renewal letters come with a Kenilworth stamp emblazoned on their reverse, which means that the letter has journeyed through time-zone changes all the way to Kenilworth and back. If, like me, you have never heard of Kenilworth, there is a website at http://www.kenilworthguide.org.au/ which can put your mind at rest. It's inland from Noosa and Maroochydore.
Wagner performances here and overseas
Sydney's two Wagner events in 2007 will be the Australian Opera's performances of Tannhauser in October and early November, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's performances of the Siegfried Idyll in December.
As well as leading a tour to the Bangkok Opera's Die Walkure in July, Peter Bassett is also taking a tour titled 'In the Footsteps of Richard Wagner' to Europe in June. Destinations include Paris, Lucerne, Zurich, Munich, three of King Ludwig's castles, Bayreuth, Dresden, Berlin and Hamburg, and the group will attend performances including Lohengrin, The Flying Dutchman and Tristan und Isolde. A number of our members have already booked for this tour, which proved to be very popular and was quickly full. Peter Bassett has let us know that a number of places have become vacant in the last week or so, and these are being offered on a first-come first-served basis. If you're interested, contact Renaissance Tours on 1300 727 095, toll free, for further information.
Bruce Martin to record Wagner CD
Universal Music Australia has embarked on a project to record famous Australian opera singers in Australia with Australian orchestras, which they hope to distribute in Australia and Europe.
In the first recording in this project, Universal is producing a CD with Bruce Martin, which will be the first time that Mr Martin has been recorded in his professional opera career. The recording will be produced in Perth in mid July with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra with Simone Young conducting. Ms Young is returning to Australia specifically for this project.
Universal is looking for financial contributions to enable this recording to take place, and is hoping to raise $30,000 from private donations and from Wagner Society members throughout Australia as part of its overall budget of around $200,000.
If you are interested in helping with this project, you can contact Elisabeth Turner, the Classical Artist and Repertoire Consultant to Universal Music Australia, by phone on (03) 9596 9909 (mobile 0407 328 066) or by
email firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a package of benefits for private sponsorships of more than $1,000, including having your name in the accompanying CD booklet and a free set of Ring CDs.
You can also make a donation to the Society and ask that it be passed on to Universal Music, which will not attract any benefits but will be tax deductible.
While the track list has not been finalised, the tracks being considered include:
Die Walkure - Ride of the Valkyries and "Leb' wohl" (Wotan's Farewell) and Magic Fire Music
Der fliegende Hollander - Prelude and "Die Frist ist um"
Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg - Prelude to Act 3, "Wahn! Wahn! Uberall Wahn!" (Wahnmonolog) and "Was duftet doch der Flieder" (Fliedermonolog)
Tristan und Isolde - Prelude to Act 1 and King Marke's monologue
Gotterdammerung - Hagen's Watch and Siegfried's Funeral March
Tannhauser - "O, du mein holder Abendstern"
This month (March 2007) has seen the launch of a new Wagner Journal in the UK, edited by Barry Millington.
While the launch of a Wagner journal usually doesn't cause much comment on the platform, this first issue contained a translation of a previously unpublished letter by Richard Wagner to a firm of Milanese couturiers which hinted that Herr Wagner might have been a cross-dresser. This salacious possibility gave the Journal's launch all the publicity it required.
On 2 March, both the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age carried on-line the same story by Charlotte Higgins from The Guardian in London. The SMH headlined her report "Wagner's secret passion for frock opera", while The Age punned "Curtain lifts on Wagner's secret pink rhapsody." Even Sydney's free evening MX paper carried a short report under the headline "Letter skirts dress code." It seems that Mr Millington and all the sub-editors involved enjoyed the punning opportunities this story gave rise to.
The Wagner Journal will appear three times a year in March, July and November, and will be published both in print form for 52 pounds a year (approx A$130) and online for 30 pounds (approx A$75). A subscription for both the print and online forms of the Journal will be 57 pounds (approx A$145). Full details of subscriptions etc are available at the journal's website, http://www.thewagnerjournal.co.uk/.
We've now received a total of ten sets of tickets for Bayreuth 2007, and the lucky members who will be going are Colin Jones and Paul Curran, June Donsworth, Julie and Terry Clarke, Monica and Aliro Olave, Pauline Holgerson and MaryAnne and Nick Gillott.
Under our current balloting system for tickets, the member whose name is drawn first from the hat has first choice of seats for each opera and for the Ring; the member whose name is drawn second has the choice of any of the remaining seats; and so on until the last name is drawn, and that member has no choice at all - they get whatever is left. This means that the lucky first usually has the best seats for every performance, and the unlucky last the worst (if any seat at Bayreuth can be called "bad") and everyone has the same companions sitting with them for every performance.
It has been suggested that the Society should allocate tickets so that members have a mixture of seats within the Festspielhaus (except for the Ring, where only one ticket is issued for the four nights) and so that members can sit with different people for each of the non-Ring works, and we'll put this to the AGM in May.
It's not the same without a little naughtiness, is it? I look forward to seeing many of you at one of our functions in 2007.
12 March 2007
Welcome to our second Newsletter for 2007. Sydney is in the depths of winter, and everyone's gaze seems to be turning to the emerging European summer and its exciting festival offerings.
On Sunday, March 18, Robert Gay gave a talk on the influences of French Grand Opera found in Wagner's works after Rienzi. Robert was (up to this time) the only person I'd met who admitted to attending a performance of Rienzi, and I often quoted his comment that it was surprising to listen to so much music only to leave the opera house with just one tune in your head, the "Allmacht'ger Vater". I was therefore surprised that in the audience for his talk were two members of our Society who had also seen performances of Rienzi - Cherry Jackaman and Gaby Bremner-Moore. However, Robert's talk was not about Rienzi, but about the occurrence of defining elements of French Grand Opera, the dominant art form of that period, which are to be found in Wagner's mature works, even in Parsifal.
On Sunday, April 15, Nigel Butterley gave his second Faust talk, entitled "Faust and the Feminine", which concluded his survey on the influence of the Faust story on the music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I confess that I am surprised that the Faust story, principally as told by Goethe, has had such an impact on the great cultural and artistic imaginations of the nineteenth century. Many of the story's themes may seem quaint or even slightly awkward from our perspective, finding ourselves as we do in an age where such supernatural works as Weber's Der Freischutz has been relegated to the status of family Christmas pantomime. But Nigel's talks have left us in no doubt about the breadth and seriousness of that impact and the diversity of the themes and the composers who have been influenced by them. It is difficult to name another prose work which has provided an equivalent inspiration on music over the past 200 years, perhaps reflecting the emergence of cinema as the performance art form of the age.
On Sunday, May 20 we held our AGM. Mary Haswell has retired from the position of Honorary Secretary, and I'd like to thank her again for her work with the committee, and to welcome Alan Whelan, our new secretary. All the other suspects were approved in their existing positions.
We agreed at the AGM to appoint an auditor for the 2007 accounts, and I'd like to thank Julie Carroll, who has used her good offices to secure the services of the firm of accountants Walter Turnbull to complete this work pro bono , and to extend our thanks to Executive Director, Mark Driessen, and his team at Walter Turnbull for their generous support.
We also agreed to modify our process for allocating seats to the Bayreuth Festival, which will start with the Bayreuth 2008 applications. This will allow members to state their preferred seating prices when they apply for tickets, and will ensure that members have a variety of seating locations and different Society members as their companions at each performance.
At the end of 2006, we awarded German Language Scholarships to five students from the Conservatorium of Music, to enable them to study German at the Goethe-Institut, Sydney - Catherine Bouchier, Helen Sherman, Andrew Finden, Adam Player and Matthew Thomas. The quid pro quo is that if they're available, the scholarship winners give us a recital following the AGM. Matthew was with Opera Australia in Melbourne, and Adam was unwell, so Catherine, Helen and Andrew gave a recital, accompanied by Sharolyn Kimmorley.
Catherine Bouchier has been awarded a scholarship from Opera Foundation Australia, to participate in the American Institute of Studies Summer Intensive Opera programme in Graz (Austria) in July. Catherine's German language scholarship this year means that she will be able to participate in the programme at a higher level because of her existing language skills.
The Opera and Arts Support Group Inc is holding a fundraising concert to support Amy Radford and Stuart Haycock, graduates of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, who are continuing their opera study at the Royal Academy of Music, London. Amy was awarded German Language Scholarships by our Society through the Goethe-Institut in 2005 and 2006, and took part in the recital at our 2006 AGM.
To help raise money for both Amy and Stuart, there will be a concert at the Paddington Uniting Church, 395 Oxford Street, Paddington, on Sunday 8 July 2007, at 2.00 pm for 2.30 pm, with associate artist Sharolyn Kimmorley. Tickets are $35, which includes drinks on arrival and drinks and sandwiches following the concert, and you can book through Opera and Arts Support Group members Robert on 9327 6069 (H) or Paul on 9386 5305 (B) 9357 2570 (H). Tickets also on sale at the door.
Here's an update on Jessica Pratt, which is taken from a number of emails Jessica sent from Rome, where she is currently based, and is studying with Renata Scotto. This year she has sung the role of Anitra in Greig's Peer Gynt, with Ashenazy conducting at the l'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, one performance of which was broadcast live on RAI 3 for which Jess received two good reviews, and in April she sang the role of Aminta in Mozart's Il Re Pastore.
In June she will sing Sofia in Rossini's Il Signor Bruschino in Rome with l'Accademia Nazionale, Daniele Abbado directing, and is currently traveling between Rome and Milan, attending courses with As.Li.Co. (Associazione Lirica e Concertistica Italiana) with whom she will sing the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor in Como, Brescia, Cremona and Pavia in October and November.
Things have been going well for Jess. She went to the semi finals of Operalia (t he world opera competition founded in 1993 by Placido Domingo) and also to Germany with Neue Stimmen (an international singing competition which aims to discover young opera singing talent), which has lead to some work both in America and in Germany.
Jess had some trouble with her back and ended up in hospital in Riga for two weeks over Christmas and New Year. She was told that she might not walk again, and that an operation may be required (including a stay of 6 months in Riga), Thankfully her dad went over from Sydney and took her out of hospital and back to Italy where Ms Scotto had organised a doctor who has looked after many singers, and now that she is singing again he goes to all her performances. Jess's dad was able to stay with her until she was independent again, and she has made a full recovery and is now very much back at work.
If you're interested in following Jessica's fortunes overseas, she keeps her Myspace page up-to-date with details of concerts and performances - just go to www.myspace.com/jessicaprattsoprano . Watch the sound level on your computer - when you reach the site you definitely will hear "Der Holle Rache" from Die Zauberflote.
2007 Bayreuth Scholar
I'm delighted to report that the 2007 Bayreuth Scholar is one of our members - Warwick Fyfe! Warwick has been a member for many years, and is a devoted Wagnerian who has been able to sing a number of major roles with Opera Australia, most notable the role of the Hollander in 2004. This year Warwick is Wolfram von Eschenbach in OA's revival of Tannhauser. Warwick plans to take up his scholarship in November.
As I noted in my president's report at the AGM (published elsewhere), Richard Berkeley-Steele will be singing the role of Tannhauser in Opera Australia's revival of Elke Neidhardt's 1998 production, later this year.
The Opera Australia website now lists "two exciting talents sharing the title role: Australian Glenn Winslade and, making his Australian debut, Richard Berkeley-Steele". The cast list for each performance shows both Glenn Winslade and Richard Berkeley-Steele as Tannhauser, with Glenn Winslade marked "Dates TBA".
Richard Hickox CBE, who conducts the performances and is Opera Australia's musical director, is also musical director of the St Endellion summer festival, which this year is performing Tannhauser, its first Wagner opera, with Richard Berkeley-Steele in the title role, and Susan Bullock. In his Director's Letter, Hickox writes "Tannhauser is the obvious choice among Wagner's operas, as it is the one that was left unfinished. Because Wagner was adding and subtracting material right up to the end, we can make a number of authentic cuts to the Paris version and bring the performance down to the length of a typical St Endellion concert." Let's hope that Mr Hickox's surgical desires don't extend to his Opera Australia performances! Off-stage, Ms Neidhardt's 1998 production was enlivened by a dispute with the conductor, Philippe Auguin, and this year I was hoping that all the drama would be on-stage.
On Sunday 12 August, as part of this year's Proms in London, the four-year Proms Ring cycle reaches its climax with a concert performance of Gotterdammerung, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Singers and Chorus under San Fran cisco Opera's Donald Runnicles. It features Christine Brewer as Brunnhilde, Stig Andersen as Siegfried and Sir John Tomlinson as Hagen, in a concert staging by Paul Curran, who is also a member of our Society. Those of you who are going to the third cycle at Bayreuth this year will have the opportunity to meet Paul, who obtained tickets in last year's ballot. Paul has offered to give an informal talk to members of our Society when they are in Bayreuth, on his experience of current opera production in Europe. [Please see below a note on Paul's production at the Mariinsky Opera Company's of Tosca - Editor]
Bruce Martin's Wagner CD
In the March Newsletter, I mentioned that Bruce Martin was recording a selection of Wagner items with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under Simone Young. Recording was scheduled to start on 10 July, but Elisabeth Turner, the Classical Artist and Repertoire Consultant to Universal Music Australia, has advised by email that "sadly Bruce Martin has had a freak accident and cracked 3 ribs in his back. The recording is therefore postponed. We don't know as yet when it can be made, it depends on Simone Young's availability. It will possibly only happen in July of next year." Elizabeth will be in touch again when they have a definite date. If necessary, you can contact Elizabeth by email at email@example.com.
Normally the 2008 Bayreuth application form would be included in our September Newsletter. This has meant in the past that members who are away in September lodge late applications, so that they're not part of the process but rely on being the beneficiaries of another's misfortune after the initial ballot. This year we're giving all members the chance to apply early to avoid disappointment.
I would encourage members to take advantage of the Newsletter to air your views, review Wagner performances, books or recordings, ask questions, share tips and hints on accommodation or places to visit in Wagnerian cities, or just to take the Editor to task!
Warmest regards Roger Cruickshank
13 June 2007
Welcome to our third Newsletter for 2007. Those lucky members who have journeyed to the European summer festivals are returning home, like the Pilgrims from Rome in Tannhauser, with tales of the lowlights and highlights of the performances they saw, and Sydney is once again rousing itself from the depths of another winter.
On Sunday 21 July I gave a talk on Tannhauser, touching on the role of Wolfram as the glue who binds the two legends which are Wagner's sources for his story. If space permits, some of my notes and great chunks from Mein Leben will appear elsewhere in this issue, and I hope they will give some interesting background for the Tannhauser performances in Sydney later this year.
Sunday, 2 September, Professor Heath Lees will give a talk on Wagner and MallarmÃ Â©. Professor Lees has embarked on a tour of Australian Wagner Societies, giving talks in conjunction with the publication of his new book on this subject, and more details are included elsewhere in this Issue. Sydney is Professor Lees' last stop, and he will escape back to the relative calm of New Zealand just as the APEC curtain descends on our city. Our September meeting is earlier than usual to tie in with Professor Lees' travel plans.
On Sunday 21 October members who attended the 2007 Bayreuth Festival will report back on their experience.
On Sunday 11 November, again earlier than usual, Antony Ernst will give a talk on Tristan, the only opera on which he hasn't spoken to our Society. Antony is currently Artistic Administrator for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, and is coming to Sydney to give a talk the following day to the Northside Opera Study Group, and we are delighted that he has been able to take the time to talk to us.
On Sunday December 9, we will end 2007 with our traditional Christmas Party. Please remember to bring a plate. At this stage we're still hunting for a suitable DVD to show before the party. Last year's was a documentary on Waltraut Meier, which was more serious than some previous offerings, but was very well received, and this year we're open to suggestions of a serious or frivolous nature.
Engelbert Humperdinck met Wagner in Naples, and was invited to go to Bayreuth where during 1880-81 he assisted in the first production of Parsifal , and was repetiteur at every Bayreuth festival until 1894. To Wagner's amusement he won the Meyerbeer Prize in 1881. According to an on-line biography, in 1914 Humperdinck applied for the post of Director of the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music, but with the outbreak of the Great War such an appointment became unthinkable, and the position went instead to one of Hercule Poirot's countrymen.
This potted biography provides the background for a piano (four hands) arrangement by Engelbert Humperdinck of Parsifal, with narration in German and English, which was performed by Simone Young and Alexander Soddy (her assistant at the Hamburg State Opera) on 12 August at Villa Music in Bellawongarah, Kangaroo Valley. Although we hoped to organise transport so that a tour party of members could attend, this proved to be a far more complex undertaking than originally expected, and the tour did not eventuate.
On 20 August, Jessica Pratt, who was back in Sydney for her sister's wedding, gave a concert with friends at Trinity Grammar School. This included her father singing " Nessun Dorma ", so that we could see where her talent came from. Jess is singing at the Vienna State Opera in January next year.
In my last President's Report, I said that the Opera Australia website showed both Glenn Winslade and Richard Berkeley-Steele in the role of Tannhauser , with Glenn Winslade's entry marked "Dates TBA". Despite the statement that "two exciting talents" were sharing the title role, "Australian Glenn Winslade and, making his Australian debut, Richard Berkeley-Steele", it now appears that "TBA" meant "To Be Axed", because Glenn Winslade's name no longer appears on the cast list for any of the performances. Instead, the Tannhauser for all performances is currently listed as Richard Berkeley-Steele, who sang the role on 8 and 10 August at the St Endellion summer festival in Cornwall, under the baton of the festival's musical director, Richard Hickox CBE.
The website now shows that the role of Wolfram von Eschinbach (sic) will be sung by Jonathan Summers to 27 October, and thereafter (on 30 October and 2 November?) by Warwick Fyfe. Previously, the website showed that the role would be sung by Warwick at all performances. Those who like me have looked forward to hearing Warwick in this role will need to change their performance bookings quickly. I also said in my last President's Report that this year I was hoping that all the drama would be on-stage. It would appear from the cast changes on the website that, as in 1998, this won't be the case.
Warwick Fyfe is the 2007 Bayreuth Scholar. I spoke to him recently about his travel plans. He leaves for Europe after the last performance of Tannhauser, where he will spend some time in Hamburg, with a side-trip to Berlin, see a performance of Rienzi in Leipzig, attend Tristan rehearsals in Munich, castle- watch in Fussen, and visit the Richard Strauss Institut in Garmish Partenkirchen. (Warwick is covering the role of Mandryka in Arabella in Opera Australia's 2008 season.) Warwick first went to Bayreuth in 1993, and again in 2000 when he was awarded a Bayreuth Bursary.
Contrary to the rumours, Opera Australia's 2008 season does not include another revival of a Wagner opera, although supporters of Nietzsche will be delighted at the prospect of a new production of Carmen plus a revival of the Pearl Fishers in the same year! Apparently you can never have too many handbags or too many Bizet operas.
Paul Curran, who is currently in Bayreuth with nine other members of our Society enjoying the third cycle of the Dorst Ring and more, has a new website - www.paulcurran.info - which is well worth a look. The July 2007 issue of Opera magazine had an eight-page biography of Paul written by Andrew Clark, which gives some insight into his ideas as an opera producer, including his refreshing simple view that his role is to tell the story. From January 2009 Paul will also have a new job as Artistic Director of the Norwegian Opera (Den Norske Opera). Paul was described by the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten as "an enthusiastic and sought-after rising international star", and if you've followed his career over the past few years, you'll agree that they got that right.
Paul told Aftenposten that he's thrilled by the construction of Oslo 's new Opera House, due to open in April 2008, and is reported as saying " Oslo is getting the most extraordinary new Opera House in the whole world," he said. "I really mean that." We'll organize a public stoning for disloyalty to the Orange Segments when next he visits Sydney.
Lisa Gasteen's part-Wagner CD
Bruce Martin's recording of an all-Wagner CD with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under Simone Young was postponed after Mr Martin had a freak accident and cracked three ribs. Clare and Margaret Hennessy report that, since the orchestra, conductor and recording technicians were all scheduled and ready, Lisa Gasteen stepped in at the last moment and instead a CD has been recorded with her, including some Wagner and Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs. We understand that the recording with Bruce Martin has been rescheduled for 2008.
Our idea of inviting applications for Bayreuth in 2008 earlier than usual has been extremely successful, with applications already received from 16 members. Applications close on Sunday, 30 September 2007, and the application form is reprinted in this Issue.
What to do with your Wagner collection
For various reasons, a number of members have been in touch over the past few months, to discuss the fate of their Wagner collections. Most members have collected newspaper and magazine articles, programmes, records, tapes, CDs, books, videos and DVDs over many years, and are thinking about what to do with their collections when they no longer have the space to house them.
The Society doesn't have a library, so we can't handle gifts of material you may no longer want to keep. Clare and Margaret Hennessy chose to recycle a significant part of their record collection through radio 2MBSFM, which has a regular fund-raising sale which is open to the public. Before doing this, they kindly brought their collection of Wagner records to our July function, so that members could have "first choice". Some members who have significant collections of books have spoken to the Conservatorium of Music, to see whether they can be donated to their library. Others have found specialist dealers in rare and second-hand books through which to dispose of their collections. Because this is something which we all consider from time to time,
I'd be interested in hearing from members who have already downsized their collections, so that we can give others some good ideas.
And thereby hangs a tale. Some time ago I lent my copy of George Marek's biography Cosima Wagner, and it never returned. (Lending is a great way to reduce any collection!) I wanted to re-read it, so I hunted around on the Internet, and found hardback copies in various conditions for between $3 and $125. I decided to buy a more expensive copy, allegedly in very good condition, but the Internet failed me and the transaction did not complete. Shortly afterwards, I happened to have breakfast with a friend in Glebe Point Road, and browsing in Da Capo Books (somehow it's always an expensive delight) I found two copies of Marek's book in excellent condition for A$18 and A$20. I splashed out and bought the $20 copy. There's a message here about spending more time out and about and less time on the Internet, but I intend to ignore it. If you haven't read the book, Da Capo might still have its $18 copy, waiting for you to add it to your collection. Warmest regards,
26 August 2007
Welcome to our fourth and final Newsletter for 2007. This issue has some very interesting reviews and commentaries from members who have returned from overseas Wagner events, including Bayreuth, and I'd like to thank all of them for sharing their insights with us, some of which have had to be held over until the first Newsletter of 2008.
Functions in 2007
Heath Lees and Mallarme
On Sunday, 2 September, Professor Heath Lees gave a fascinating talk on Wagner and Mallarme, in conjunction with the launch of his new book Mallarme and Wagner: Music and Poetic Language. His talk outlined the influence of Wagner's ideas, on music and text, on Mallarme's poetry from the early 1860s onwards. Sitting at the piano where necessary to illustrate his talk, Professor Lees showed within Mallarme's poems the musical elements that had been woven into the text. Heath introduced us to a non-musical medium where text and music worked together. For many of us, exposed to text and music through singing alone, it was the first time that we'd thought about them combining in poetry. Through his skills as a musician and presenter, Professor Lees had his audience spellbound.
On Sunday 21 October, members who attended the 2007 Bayreuth Festival reported back on their experiences. The group included Monica and Aliro Olave, June Donsworth, Julie and Terry Clark (whose reviews are printed elsewhere in the Newsletter), and Dennis Mather, who also showed photographs of the productions.
The general interpretation of Tankred Dorst's current Ring production is that it shows that we and the Ring characters share the same space, but for some reason we cannot see each other (unless we are part of the audience in the Festspielhaus). This makes some sense for the Gods at least - which of us can say that we have ever seen a God, except perhaps when we looked into the mirror on a good day - but it seems more unlikely that we're sharing the same space as the Vassals or the giants without knowing it. This interpretation is sometimes described as "parallel universes" which I think gives Herr Dorst's single idea an undeserved grandness and pseudo-scientific stature.
Aliro Olave had a unique theory on the meaning of Herr Dorst's production - that it was like a rehearsal in which people unrelated to the actual performance came and went, took readings from pieces of stage equipment, or just stood about watching. This seems to be a much simpler interpretation covering all the elements of the production.
The group was full of praise for the unexpected revival of Philippe Arlaud's production of Tannhauser, which was John Howarded (resurrected like Lazarus with a triple bypass) to fill the gap left by the non-performance of Tristan for another year. Arlaud is reported by the SAWF News Organisation
as admitting in a recent interview that he no longer stood by his production. "It belongs more to the 20th than the 21st century. I no longer totally agree with my aesthetics," he said. "In fact, I find my Tannhauser pretty crap now" ( http://news.sawf.org/Entertainment/40558.aspx ).
The group was certainly not full of praise for Katharina Wagner's new production of Meistersinger, and Terry Clark's review in this Newsletter is a good indication of their reaction. Given Katharina's claim on the directorship of the festival when Wolfgang Wagner steps down, hers was both an artistic and political statement that some, most notably Barry Millington writing in Vol 1 No 3 of The Wagner Journal, saw as the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Bayreuth. While acknowledging major flaws, he writes that this production is "one of the most exhilarating and courageous ever mounted on the Green Hill, at a stroke putting down a marker for a new era sympathetic to radical ideas at the Festspielhaus." We shall see.
Interestingly, the audience for the final performance of Schlingensief's Parsifal seems to have been evenly split between clappers and booers, which shows a level of acceptance that those attending earlier festivals, where the booing was almost universal, might not have expected. Perhaps the same grudging acceptance awaits Katharina Wagner's new Meistersinger?
Antony Ernst and Tristan
On Sunday 11 November, at the Paddington Uniting Church, Antony Ernst gave a talk on Tristan , the only one of Wagner's operas on which he hadn't spoken at one of our functions. His talk was subtitled "Wagner, the Appian Way, and the General Theory of Relativity. The Appian Way is this case refers to the ground-breaking work of Swiss stage designer and theorist Adolphe Appia (1862-1928), and not to the Via Appia, the Roman road linking Rome with Brindisi.
Antony spoke about the way time passes in Tristan. Act 1, for example, begins with dawn on the horizon, and ends around mid-day (clock time of some four-and-a-half hours); time as it passes on stage (mimetic time) is only one-and-a-half hours; but the duration of events recounted in the story (diegetic time) is much longer, going back to the conflicts between Cornwall and Ireland and the wounding of Tristan at Morald's hand months or even years before. In Act 2, clock time lasts some six to eight hours from night-fall to dawn; mimetic time is around an hour and forty minutes; but diegetic time ceases to exist. Antony said that there were only three events in the opera: the taking of the poison (love potion) in Act 1, the wounding of Tristan in Act 2, and his death in Act 3. The contributed to the work's apparent lack of action.
Antony mused that one reason for this might be that the mass of the Tristan is usually so great that time and space both warp around him in some magical way, as Einstein predicted in his general theory. In a similar vein, Antony wondered whether anyone could endure King Mark's monologue without peeking at their watch at least once.
As always, Antony 's ideas were fresh and thought-provoking and represented a new way of looking at Tristan and operas generally for many of us.
Because of its wonderful acoustic and ease of access for members who find the Goethe-Institut's staircase challenging, we may return to the Paddington Uniting Church for some of our functions during 2008, for example for the recital by students from the Conservatorium at the AGM in May. Final arrangements will be advised in the March 2008 Newsletter.
Christmas Party in December
On Sunday December 9, we will end our 2007 cycle of functions with our traditional Christmas Party at the Goethe Institut. Barbara Brady has graciously promised to provide another of her sensational Christmas Cakes, which will be first prize in our raffle. Please bring a plate and we will provide the drinks. We will begin with a documentary on the life of Birgit Nilsson at 2pm and the party will follow.
There were 32 applicants for sets of tickets for Bayreuth in 2008, and we have been allocated 8 sets by the Festival Box Office. During our function on 11 November, a ballot was held and Anni Yuul, a member of the Danish Wagner Society who was visiting Sydney at the time, drew applicants' names out of a wide-brimmed straw hat, graciously lent by Colin Jones for the occasion.
Based on that ballot, the tickets received so far have been allocated as follows: Vic and Katie French (2 sets of tickets), Maxwell Grubb (1 set), Julie Carroll (1 set), Kenneth Reed (1 set), Diane Wang and Peter George (2 sets), and Brian Freestone and Charles Brady (the 1 remaining set.) If further tickets are received or become available, another set will be offered to Brian and Charles, and then to applicants in the following order: Robert Thurling, Charles Manning, Ross Whitelaw, Anne Jones, Gary Wilson, Meredith Stokes and David Bremer, and others.
It's likely that more than 20 applicants will miss out in 2008. Under our current rules, no preference is given to those them if they apply again next year. Each year all applicants start together from scratch. Mrs Mary Fogelberg and Ms Suzanne Williams have drafted a resolution to be put to our next AGM in May 2008, which aims to change this position:
"That from 2008 onwards, first preference in the annual ballot for tickets be given to members who have been unsuccessful in previous years' ballots."
This is an important change that should be discussed widely prior to the AGM.
I hope that I don't betray any hint of bias when I say that, in my view, Opera Australia's revival of Elke Neidhardt's 1998 Tannhauser was the artistic highlight of Sydney - if not Australia - for 2007. Despite the politics of casting and some awkward elements in the production, it was sublime, ecstatic, miraculous and overall, not at all bad. My personal comments are included below in the Newsletter.
Functions in 2008
Our first function in 2008 will be at the Goethe Institut on Sunday 17 February. At this stage, because they have other commitments around this time, we haven't finalised exactly which of our speakers will be presenting, but I'll write to you all in the new year and let you know.
Elsewhere in this Newsletter, there's a list of Wagner performances announced so far for 2008, none of which is in Sydney. The highlights include three concert performances of the Hollander in Melbourne in August, and two drive-by singings by Lisa Gasteen, the first at the end of February and in early March in Hobart and Perth, and the second in August in Adelaide and Melbourne, where she will sing Senta.
There are rumours of other productions, and statements in the press to the effect that, if the Federal Government matches the grant announced by the State Government of South Australia, there will be a revival of Elke Neidhardt's 2004 Ring in Adelaide, possibly in 2011. If anything crystallises, we will let you know, but now is the time to start lobbying the new Labor Government!
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year for 2008, Warmest regards,
25 November 2007