March / June / September / December 2008
Welcome to our first Newsletter for 2008.
I have to make a confession. My usually placid demeanour was upended last week by a glorious woman (Lisa Gasteen) in an alien setting (a sardine-can in Hobart) and I'm having trouble returning to a stable state. If parts of this report contain more silliness than usual, That Woman is to blame.
December 2007 - Christmas Party
On Sunday December 9, we ended 2007 with a traditional Christmas Party at the Goethe Institut. After showing DVDs on the life of Birgit Nilsson (kindly loaned by June Donsworth) and some musical episodes in the life of a wascally wabbit (kindly loaned by Terence Watson) we moved on to the festivities.
My special thanks to Barbara Brady, who once again donated one of her marvellous Christmas Cakes for our raffle, and to Clare and Margaret Hennessy, who brought some hydrangeas to brighten our festive table, and to all those who manned the tables and helped dispense the seasonal cheer and clean up afterwards.
One member generously bought more than half the tickets in the raffle, and then won almost every prize, proving something about statistics and chance. But, because he was going overseas in a few days, he gave most of his prizes back (including the cake!) to be redrawn. He even tried to give back fourth prize, the framed lithograph of King Ludwig II, but everyone refused to let it be redrawn, and so he had to take it home.
February 2008 - Talk by Alan Whelan on Wagner Russian escapade in 1863
On Sunday 17 February, Alan Whelan gave our first talk of 2008, on Wagner's three-month stay in Russia in early 1863. Alan recounted that, after 77 fruitless rehearsals for a Tristan in Vienna plagued by postponements, Wagner jumped at the chance of getting some income and went to St Petersburg to give two concerts, stopping off on the way in Berlin to see Bulow and see his wife, Cosima, who was in a condition of advanced pregnancy. Wagner introduced the Russian concert-going public to a new phenomenon - the sight of a conductor's back. Previously conductors had apparently faced the audience and beaten time in a desultory manner, like band-masters, and some critics were unhappy with the change.
Alan looked at the influence of the visit on Russian musical performance - for example, it inspired the Mariinsky Theatre to stage Lohengrin - and on Russian composers of the period and afterwards, and also the influence of Russia on Wagner, illustrating his talk with musical examples.
March 2008 - Talk by Warwick Fyfe, the 2007 Bayreuth Scholar
Our next function is on Sunday 16 March at the Goethe Institut, where Warwick Fyfe will talk about his travels in Europe, and his experience around the role of Wolfram in last year's revival of the Elke Neidhardt production of Tannhauser by Opera Australia. I asked Warwick to give me a 'blurb' outlining his talk, and this is what he sent.
'I feel very privileged to be able to talk to the society on the subject of my trip to Germany as a Bayreuth Scholar and to be able to thank its members in person for the wonderful assistance with which I was provided and without which I would not have had one of the great experiences of my life. I intend to start with an account of events leading up to the trip.
'Last year was a turbulent and frightening one for me. Amongst other things, I thought my career might be over due to a throat condition. This situation arose shortly after I'd received news that I'd been awarded the Bayreuth Scholarship. I will describe my brush with vocal oblivion and the infamous circumstances surrounding my return to the stage as Wolfram. The bulk of my talk will of course focus on my experiences in Germany, before I conclude with a few words concerning current and future projects. I promise to try very hard to be indiscreet. In conformity with the spirit of touchy-feely-ness which obtains in this era of Kevinism, I intend my talk to be partly a conversation. This, along with the use of certain audio visual aids, should help, at least partially, to counteract the soporific effect of the sound of my speaking voice. My love of Wagner's works is as profound as ever, but my knowledge of Wagner reached its peak in my 20s, when it was virtually my sole intellectual passion. In the last decade, however, I've been pursuing other intellectual interests, with the result that my Wagnerian knowledge is a trifle rusty. This is one more very good reason to encourage contributions from an audience comprised of individuals who know a lot more about Wagner than I do. See you on March the 16th!'
In the last Newsletter I revealed that I am an uncloseted and unrepentant Warwick Fyfe groupie, which affliction has sometimes seen me in the audience of operas that I loathe with a passion. I'm looking forward to Warwick's talk enormously.
Other functions in 2008
As I write this letter, we are in the unusual position of having more speakers than we have functions, Glenn Winslade has kindly agreed to address our April meeting on 'Life in Bayreuth' from a singer's viewpoint. On September 14, Dr Robert Gibson will address the Society and on October 19 Goetz Richter (A/Prof. Strings- Chair, String Unit, Sydney Conservatorium) will talk on Nietzsche and Wagner. A number of speakers have expressed interest in talking to the Society, but we are still negotiating suitable times for them - and dates for the meetings with the Goethe Institut. The speakers include: Robert Gay, Peter Bassett and Chris Bordrick (NZ Wag Soc president). Details will be confirmed as soon as possible, either in the next Newsletter or by letter and email.
Membership renewals and donations
I'd like to thank members who have renewed their 2008 memberships in such numbers, and particularly those who have given donations so generously.
This year we have introduced electronic subscription payments direct into the Society's bank account, which have been very popular. Next year we'll look at replacing the signed application form for electronic payments with an email.
Each year during membership renewal time, mail correctly addressed to the Society at GPO Box 4574, NSW 2001, is sorted and sent to Kenilworth in Queensland, postcode 4574. The patient and long-suffering staff at Kenilworth then engross the back of the envelope with a dated ink stamp confirming the envelope's brief stop-over in that place, and direct the item back to Sydney. One envelope managed to be mis-directed three times, until one of the good folk in Kenilworth used a big texter to wake their Sydney compatriots up to the item's true destination. (Yes, gentle reader, I probably do need to get a life.)
Dich, tuere Halle
I don't remember who wrote 'there's naughtiness in everyone, and twice as much in me!' but it's true. Professor Kim Walker (Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music) is currently giving a series of talks entitled 'Great Minds' for the Art Gallery Society in New South Wales, at the gallery's Domain Theatre.
I can't attend anything at this venue without remembering a slip of the tongue during a talk given in this venue some years ago. During a lecture on Wagner's sources for the Ring story, the speaker mentioned the 'world ash- tray', from which Wotan presumably took a burnt match and fashioned his spear. It's the best segue I know from Gotterdammerung to Act 1 of Carmen , but alas I've never been able to use it.
Alas too for Professor Walker, with history repeating itself in that dear Hall. The notes for her first lecture contained the following typo, in reference to early English keyboard masters (an oxymoron): 'Aside from writing songs the English composers also excelled and took the lead in writing pieces for the virginal, a small, rectangular and often legless nun.' Even now I can't read the words without dissolving in laughter.
I'm tempted to offer a prize to anyone who can run the world ash-tray and the often legless nun (small, rectangular or otherwise) into a short and pithy sentence!
Lisa Gasteen in Hobart
I have left the best for last. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra opened its 60 th season on February 28 with a concert which included the Preludes to Acts 1 and 3 of Tristan und Isolde , and the Liebestod and Wesendonck Lieder sung by Lisa Gasteen.
A number of members of the Society and other music-lovers from New South Wales and Queensland attended this concert, many as part of a programme organised by Renaissance Tours, which included a second leg to Adelaide and performances at that city's Festival.
I'd like to thank Robert Gibson, a former member of the Society of long standing and now the Tasmanian Symphony's Publications Editor, for looking after us while we were in Hobart. Walking with Robert to a restaurant on our first evening in Hobart, our group first bumped into Lisa Gasteen, walking back to her hotel after rehearsals, and a little further on into the TSO's chief conductor and artistic director, Sebastian Lang-Lessing. Elsewhere one might have suspected that it was a put-up job, but in Hobart it was just good fortune.
The Hobart concert was followed by a gala dinner to celebrate the Tasmanian Symphony's 60 th year, at which both Ms Gasteen and Mr Lang-Lessing were guests of honour. Ms Gasteen was seated between Barbara McNulty and me, and although I'm not usually star-struck, on this occasion I gladly made an exception.
But first to the concert. The Wesendonck Lieder, as you know, are one of the few works where Wagner used a text written by someone else. Wagner originally set the five poems for solo voice and piano, between November 1857 and May 1858. Wagner intended that Mathilde Wesendonck should be able to play these piano accompaniments.
During this period, Wagner also orchestrated the piano score for the fifth poem, Traume , for chamber orchestra (without voice), and this serenade was performed under Mathilde's window by musicians led by Wagner as a present on her 29 th birthday, on 23 December 1857. I cannot say whether or not Mr Wesendonck was tucked up in bed with his wife at the time, but the similarity of both gift and birthday with Cosima's symphonic birthday greeting (The Tribschen Idyll ) on 25 December 1870 is scary.
In 1880 Felix Mottl, a noted conductor and Bayreuth stalwart after Wagner's death, produced full-blown orchestral accompaniments for the remaining four songs under Wagner's supervision, and it is with this orchestration that the Lieder are most commonly recorded and performed today. (I have read of but not heard an alternative version with orchestration of the first four songs by the German composer Hans Werner Henze.)
This brief history is included because I can never understand why the songs are not performed more often as the small-scale works Wagner originally created for solo female voice and piano, which I find are far more charming than their overblown orchestral cousins. Given the tendency of many Wagnerians to trumpet 'authenticity', it's surprising that Herr Mottl's versions are so preferred to Wagner's own delicate and uncluttered piano accompaniments.
That said, Ms Gasteen's rendering of the songs was glorious. The conductor, Sebastian Lang-Lessing, moved seamlessly from the Prelude to Act 3 of Tristan into the first song, Der Engel , which sounds contrived but worked perfectly. I had been warned about the acoustic of Hobart's Federation Hall (likened by some unfavourably to a sardine can, at least in appearance) before the concert, but I was lucky to have an excellent seat and didn't notice any problems. (Perhaps those giving the warning have forgotten the miserable acoustics we endure in Sydney in both music venues at the opera house?)
This was followed by the familiar bookend pair, the prelude to Act 1 of Tristan and the Liebestod . Here Mr Lang-Lessing seemed to me to be too loud and too slow, and neither of these helped Ms Gasteen. Friends who listened to the concert broadcast by the ABC tell me that they detected some strain in her voice, but I was too lost in the sound to notice. My overwhelming impression is of being lost in a rich dark voice full of pathos and ecstasy, surging towards the long-awaited resolution of the opening chord of the prelude.
Some point to the tension created throughout Tristan by this unresolved chord as proof that Wagner and Mathilde Wesendonck's love was never consummated, so that only in death would the lovers find their salvation. If this is true, we all owe Ms Wesendonck a great debt of gratitude for resisting the Meister's considerable charms and blandishments.
Ms Gasteen's performance was greeted with a standing ovation and prolonged applause, but I sensed that those making the biggest exhibitions of themselves were not local (in the 'League of Gentlemen' sense). I wasn't convinced that the locals actually liked Wagner, but at least they were polite enough not to fill every silence with tentative applause like their Sydney cousins do. (My advice - if you don't know when to clap, don't!)
The second half of the concert was Tchaikovsky's 6 th symphony. I thought that the concert was the wrong way round and should have had the Wagner last (in the manner of the wine at Cana) so I didn't go back into the hall after the interval, preferring to sit quietly while that great voice slowly faded in my memory.
At the dinner afterwards, I asked Lisa Gasteen why she was singing in every capital in Australia this year except Sydney. It's just bad luck, apparently. Next year she'll be singing here in Fidelio for Opera Australia. She has decided to reduce her concert activity for the next few years to have more time with her family, and while this may see her performing less overseas, it may also see her performing more at home.
And one last dinner-table story. Ms Gasteen's husband and son were supposed to join us around 10.30 at the dinner, but their flight was delayed an hour and a half, and in the end their didn't arrive from the airport until around 12.30am. We were talking, and suddenly Lisa said 'they're here' and grabbing her mobile phone left the table and called them. And yes, they were there, outside the restaurant unloading their bags from the taxi. When she came back and sat down, Lisa saw the strange looks on all our faces and asked whether we could feel when someone we loved was nearby?' Our continued bewildered looks answered that question.
Walking back to the hotel around 1.30am in a crisp 8 degree Hobart morning, I felt the surge of that great voice lift my spirits once again. That Woman has another fan!
5 March 2008
(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.
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 http://live.bayreuther- festspiele.de/live.html 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 South Australia. 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.
6 July 2008
Welcome to our Summer Newsletter for 2008. If you know the third part of Clive James' thoroughly unreliable memoirs, 'May Week was in June', then you'll be prepared for this, our December 2008 Newsletter, which is being printed and posted to you in February 2009. The reasons for the delay are all mine, and I apologise for them.
- October 2008 - Associate Professor Goetz Richter
On Sunday 19 October 2008, Associate Professor Goetz Richter, Chair of the Strings Unit at the Conservatorium of Music, Sydney, gave an stimulating illustrated talk about 'Wagner and Nietzsche' without, alas, extracts from Carmen.
That Richard Wagner, perhaps the greatest composer of his age (and also a part-time philosopher), should strike up a friendship with Friedrich Nietzsche, then a young man who would come to be regarded as perhaps the greatest philosopher of that age (and also a part-time composer), is extraordinary enough. Given the egos involved, it is perhaps not surprising that their friendship should falter, as Nietzsche found his own voice outside the Wagner circle. The surprise is that their stories, whether together or apart, were oddly parallel, even to the women who had stewardship of their legacies after death. Professor Richter's talk covered many facets of this relationship and was deeply effecting.
- November 2008 - Christmas Party
Our final function for the year was our Christmas party on Sunday 30 November. The festivities began at 1pm with an introductory documentary titled 'The Life and Times of Max Lorenz - Hitler's Mastersinger', which was kindly loaned by June Donsworth. This was followed at by a fascinating documentary on the life of Georg Solti, loaned by Terence Watson, who then showed the 1957 Bugs Bunny/Merry Melodies cartoon 'What's Opera, Doc?' followed by a quiz to name the Wagner leitmotivs.
It's hard enough to keep John Culshaw's words 'I'm sick on a SEE-saw' out of my head when I hear the Walkurenritt from Apocalypse Now, without now having to suppress 'Kill the Wabbitt' as well. Not to mention the love duet between Bugs/Brunnhilde and Elmer Fudd/Siegfried set to the overture from Tannhauser, with such memorable lines as 'Oh Bwunhilde, be my wove!' Sometimes I guess we just have to endure the unendurable.
Happily this was followed by our Christmas Party. In our raffle, which raised just under $300, Colin Baskerville won two A-reserve tickets to operas of his choice in Opera Australia's 2009 season, donated by Roger Cruickshank, Shirley Robertson won the Christmas Cake donated by Barbara Brady, and Leona Geeves won a DVD from Bayreuth of the Kirchner / Rosalie Gotterdammerung.
Unhappily, I had one of those unforgiveable accidents with technology. The sign on the Goethe-Institut door asks late arrivals to phone or text my mobile phone so that they can be let in. I let someone in around 2:45 and then, thinking that there would be no others, I turned my instrument off. Alas, some half-a-dozen members, some of whom had travelled from the Hunter Valley, arrived after that and were left cooling their heels and fruitlessly phoning and texting until someone who was leaving early let them in. My apologies to those members, whose enjoyment of the party was so sorely tested; I'll make sure that I keep the accursed instrument switched on henceforward.
Katharina Wagner's Meistersinger
For the first 4 meetings in 2009, we will be showing material relevant to Katharina Wagner's current production of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg at Bayreuth.
On Sunday 15 February starting at 12.30pm, prior to Peter Basset's talk, we'll be showing a documentary entitled 'Katharina Wagner's Baptism of Fire, The Road to her Debut as Director in Bayreuth', which was kindly loaned by Barbara Brady. The film documents the genesis of her new production of the Meistersinger in Bayreuth in 2007, and gives a unique insight into the inner workings of the Bayreuth festival. (The documentary lasts 82 minutes.)
Then before each of the next three meetings, we will show an act from the production:
- Sunday 15 March Act 1 starting at 12:30pm (timings from the DVD total 85m 47s)
- Monday 23 March Act 2 starting at 5:50pm (timings total 61m 40s)
- Sunday 24 May Act 3 starting at 11:45am (timings total 128m 55s, including credits etc)
The first meeting of 2009 will be held at the Goethe-Institut on Sunday 15 February. At 12:30pm we will show Act 1 of Meistersinger, followed at 2pm by Peter Bassett, who will give a talk on Beethoven and Wagner. Peter gave a fascinating illustrated talk last year on that 'other' Sachs opera, Albert Lortzing's comic opera Hans Sachs, and its influences on Wagner's Die Meistersinger, and I'm sure he'll be fascinated to see the documentary on Katharina Wagner's production.
On Sunday 15 March at 12:30pm, we will show Act 1 of Meistersinger, followed at 2pm by a talk by Warwick Fyfe on his coming to Wagner as a singer. Warwick's talk last year on his experiences as the 2007 Bayreuth Scholar was for many the highlight of our 2008 programme, revealing the depth of this wonderful singer's love of art and music.
On Monday 23 March at 5:50pm, we will show Act 2 of Meistersinger, followed at 7pm by an illustrated talk by Professor Health Lees entitled 'Wagner, the Dutchman, and the Sea', which has been prepared by Professor Lees as an introduction to the Adelaide production of the Hollander in November.
This will be our first evening function at the Goethe-Institut. Professor Lees is visiting Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, and is flying up from Melbourne for one night to deliver this talk. Afterwards, we will take Professor Lees to dinner at a local restaurant (to be advised) and anyone who would like to join this meal should contact Roger Cruickshank on (02) 9357 7631.
On Sunday 24 May at 11:45am, we will show Act 3 of the Meistersinger, followed by our Annual General Meeting, a recital by singers whom we have helped with language scholarships and assisted with overseas travel costs, and then an afternoon tea to celebrate Richard Wagner's Birthday (which this year falls on Friday, 22 May).
Last year the AGM approved an increase in the attendance fee for our functions from $10 to $15, which came into effect in July. Our hope was that the increase would not impact on the number of members attending functions, but that it would reduce the losses we had been making. We were not ambitious enough to hope for a profit from our functions, or that we might break even. For whatever reason, our attendances in the second half of 2008 reduced, with the result that our losses from functions have continued.
For this reason, the committee proposes to put a package of measures to the AGM which will be designed to continue with functions which are more cost- neutral, and to continue to support the artists and productions with scholarships, grants and donations. For this reason, we are not at this stage scheduling monthly meetings through to the end of 2009.
Ring Cycle in Melbourne 2012
'The Age' newspaper of 9 December 2008 reported that 'Lonely Planet' publishing co-founder Maureen Wheeler is exploring the possibility of staging Wagner's Ring Cycle in Melbourne in 2012, and is ready to put $12 million towards the project. The article said 'It is believed the artistic administrator and dramaturg with the Ring Cycle staged in Adelaide in 2004, Peter Bassett, is exploring the options for Melbourne. But he said yesterday that he would not be able to discuss details until early 2009.'
Ms Wheeler's extraordinary act of generosity gives us hope that the emptiness left after Elke Neidhardt's acclaimed 2004 Adelaide Ring will at last be filled. The Age article links conductor Lionel Friend's name with the project, and quotes the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's chief executive as confirming that the orchestra was interested in the project. The MSO's performing home, Hamer Hall, is likely to be closed for renovations for all of 2012, and the article mentions the Royal Exhibition Buildings as a possible alternate venue.
I understand that consideration was given to re-scaling and re-stagging the Neidhardt Ring, but that this was not feasible because of the poor state of some of the sets, and the high cost of transporting them and adapting them for a new venue.
Without using an existing opera company or access to a conventional opera house, Ms Wheeler and her team have the opportunity to create something unique with their festival performances, and I'm sure we all wish them well in bringing this great endeavour to fruition.
Peter Bassett will be talking to our Society on Sunday 15 February. Unless a public announcement has been made before that date, I understand that Peter won't be in a position to give us details of the proposal which he is putting together.
The Flying Dutchman in Adelaide in November 2009
On Saturday 7, Tuesday 10, Thursday 12 and Saturday 14 November, the State Opera of South Australia, with Nicholas Braithwaite conducting the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, will stage a new production of The Flying Dutchman, directed by Chris Drummond. The cast includes John Wegner (Dutchman), Margaret Medlyn (Senta), Stuart Skelton (Erik), Daniel Sumegi (Daland), Katharine Tier (Mary) and Angus Wood (Steersman). The work will be performed as three acts, and with two twenty minute intervals, will last approximately three hours.
Renaissance Tours (Tel: (02) 9299 5801, Toll Free: 1300 727 095) is offering a weekend package for the performance on Saturday 14 November, which can be extended to include an excursion to Kangaroo Island.
The tragic death last year of Opera Australia's musical director, Richard Hickox, while recording in the United Kingdom, has not ended the bitter controversy which surfaced in the last months of his life regarding his direction for the company and its artistic leadership and management.
We all have our views on the company's direction, its repertoire, its treatment of Simone Young, its ensemble performers, its season in Melbourne, on the Opera Theatre itself with its problematic orchestra pit and mediocre acoustic - in fact on almost every aspect of the opera company!
Even though many of my views are not positive, I temper them with one over- riding thought - that life in Australia without Opera Australia would simply be unthinkable. For that reason alone, we need to carefully consider who benefits from the ongoing and trenchant criticism of the company, and what end its critics have in mind.
A recent article by Joyce Morgan in the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the company has appointed a five-person selection panel, including chairman Ziggy Switkowski and board member David Malouf, 'to consider the criticisms made of the company in recent months and to consult a range of industry professionals.' In the interests of the artistic future of this country, I wish them every success.
Death of Deborah Riedel
I'm sure we were all saddened with the news of the death of Deborah Riedel. Her role debit as Sieglinde in the Neidhardt Ring, for which she was the recipient of a Helpmann Award, was recorded by Melba Records and is a testament to the glory of her voice.
I last heard her in March 2008, in the role of Sieglinde in a concert performance of Act 1 of Die Walkure with the Queensland Orchestra conducted by Johannes Fritzsch, with Christian Elsner as Siegmund and Philip Kang as Hunding. None of the power and beauty of her voice had been tarnished.
2 February 2009