President's Reports 2016

March / June / September / December 2016

March 2016

Welcome to the first Quarterly for 2016. 

Our last event in 2015 was a highly successful one. Our Christmas concert and party was held at the Glebe Justice Centre on 22 November. A positive feast was laid on, both aurally and gastronomically. We were treated to superb singing by the sopranos Laura Scandizzo and Jenny Bonner and the baritone Soonki Park, accompanied on the piano by Mikey Curtain. The voices rang out in the resonate accoustic, and the enthusiastic audience reaction said it all. Afterwards we indulged ourselves with champagne and a superb choice of food, provided by our members. The raffle was pulled, and the winner of the first prize, the Arthur Rackham books, was our secretary, Mike Day. I promise that it was a legitimate win: I pulled out the winning ticket myself, and I had no idea whose it was at the time. It was a fitting win, though. Mike has done a great deal of work for the Society, and he had purchased a large number of raffle tickets.

For obvious reasons, we had no activities over the festive season. Our first event this year was held at the Goethe Institute on 21 February. Peter Bassett, the eminent Australian Wagner expert, talked about three Wagner productions in Adelaide: the two Ring Cycles in 1998 and 2004, and the Parsifal in 2001. Peter had a great deal of fascinating information about the different organisational background of the two Rings, which provided one of the principal reasons why the 2004 Ring, the Elke Neidhardt Ring, was never performed again, notwithstanding that it had rave reviews from everybody who saw it. Indeed, I am sure that I am not alone in regarding it as one of the best Ring productions I have ever seen. It was a real tragedy that it was a one-off set of performances, and was later scrapped. Peter also treated us to some amazing DVD images of both Rings - extracts from the performances themselves, as well as peeks at rehearsals, and interviews with people involved in them. All in all, it was an absolutely fascinating afternoon for the 77 people who attended the function. There is a longer report below.

Sadly, I have learned of the death of Julian Block who was a member of the Management Committee of the Society during the presidencies of Barbara McNulty and Roger Cruickshank. On behalf of the Committee and all our members, I wish to extend to his wife Rosemary Block and her children our sincere condolences. I understand that there will be an obituary for Julian in the June issue of the Quarterly. Julian’s daughter Jessica has written an obituary for the Sydney Morning Herald at obituary-lawyer-julian-block-20160215-gmu4yf.html.

One piece of very positive news is this: that through the Society's membership of the International Association of Wagner Societies (known as "the Verband"), we received a total of 14 tickets to the third Ring Cycle in Bayreuth this year, as well as a few to some of the other operas. This large number might not be repeated. It turned out that some of those 14 tickets had been sent to us in error, but as we had already paid for them by the time this came to light, we were able to keep them. The number of tickets that we receive from the Verband each year depends to a significant extent on the size of our membership, so this provides avery strong incentive for our members to continue their own membership and also to encourage others to join, thereby increasing the number of Bayreuth tickets we are likely to get each year.

We have a number of fascinating events planned for the year, so I look forward to seeing many of you then. We are now, as you know, dependent upon our members to assist with the catering for these functions. I have been extremely impressed by the quality and quantity of the food thus far. A huge 'thank you' to all who have contributed in this important regard.

Jane Mathews


June 2016
Welcome to the second Quarterly for 2016.

This letter will be briefer than usual. I am currently in Washington DC (where the weather is cold and wet) for a Wagner Ring Cycle. This is a replay of the San Francisco Ring, directed by Francesca Zambello. Some of you will remember her two more recent Sydney productions: Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the City of Mdensk, and Verdi’s La Traviata, which was the first of the Handa operas on the harbour. There is an excellent cast (Alan Held as Wotan, Daniel Brenna as Siegfried and Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde). The production, which has often been described as “the American Ring” conveys clear environmental messages. It depicts the story very clearly, often in a setting which is visually beautiful. In general, the audience is loving it, as illustrated by the standing ovations at the end of each opera.

There are many Australians here. I know of more than 65, and there will undoubtedly be others whom I don’t know about. I suspect that there might well be more Aussies here than any other nationality except Americans.

Interestingly, that was the case in relation to the Barenboim Berlin Ring Cycle in 2002 and the Simone Young Hamburg Ring Cycle in 2011: apart from Germans, there were more Australians than any other nationality. Many people are amazed to hear this. It shows what a Wagner loving lot we are, given that we have further to travel than almost anyone else.

Less than two weeks ago I was at a Ring Cycle in Leipzig, Wagner’s birth place. It was a variable production—ranging from fascinating to sometimes a little prosaic. Part of the variation was caused by the fact that, for the first time in my lengthy experience of Ring Cycles, the four operas took place on consecutive evenings. This meant that there had  to be cast changes for all the major roles, which affected the continuity of the story. Worthy of mention is Stefan Vinke, who was Siegfried in the opera of that name, and who performed and sang extremely well. He will be returning to Melbourne to sing Siegfried in Opera Australia’s Ring Cycle later this year—the only one of the three major roles to be undertaken by the same person as in 2013.

The second last event at the Goethe consisted of Trevor Clarke, from the Victorian Wagner Society, talking about Wagner’s influence on art. In a fascinating presentation he projected images of many art works over the last 150 years, and—without looking at notes—gave an exposition about each of them. Our last event, on Sunday, 22 May, was a concert from two singers whom the Wagner Society has supported over the years—Lucy Bailes and Laura Scandizzo, accompanied by Bradley Gilchrist and Jennifer Clarkson, respectively—as well as the traditional birthday cake (supplied by Renate and Herman Junkers—a big thank you) and a toast to the Master. [Accounts of both presentations are reported later in this Quarterly].

I am signing off this letter on 22 May—Wagner’s 203rd birthday. We are about to leave for Götterdämmerung—a fitting way of celebrating his birthday.

Jane Mathews


September 2016
Welcome to the third Quarterly for 2016.

I write this letter from Bayreuth, and am preparing myself for the third Ring Cycle, which will be starting tomorrow. This year there are more members of the NSW Society than I can remember, certainly in recent years. This is largely due to the fact that our membership of the Verband (the international association of Wagner Societies) has led to us obtaining an additional allocation of festival tickets.

This is the fourth year of the Castorf Ring here in Bayreuth, and it has attracted a great deal of controversy. Most people find the production difficult to follow, and do not particularly like it. A few think that it is startlingly original, and thoroughly enjoy it. I have to say that the more I see it, the less difficult I find it. This is probably assisted by the fact that there are now English language lectures on the day of each opera, deconstructing the production and explaining some of its more obscure aspects. In any event, the singing and the orchestra remain of a universally high quality, which in my view are by far the most important aspects of any Ring Cycle.

Unfortunately I was out of Sydney for Antony Ernst’s seminar, but on all accounts it and the recital, were, yet again, a huge success. They are described in detail later in this Quarterly through contributions gratefully received from William Beck, Lynette Longford, and Leona Geeves

I would like to mention a letter of thanks that we received from Christopher Richardson, bass baritone, (which is reproduced later in this Quarterly). Christopher was the recipient of a $4,000 scholarship from the Society, which enabled him to attend the Lisa Gasteen National Opera School in December 2013. He writes of how this experience has transformed his professional life, and led to performance opportunities that would not otherwise have been possible. We were delighted to receive this letter, as it underpins the significance of our ongoing commitment to nurture and develop the talents of young classical singers and performing artists through our funding programs.

I am happy to report that there are a number of pieces of good news to pass on to you. The first is a
wonderful early Christmas present with the confirmation that Stefan Vinke, one of the world’s greatest
heldentenors, has agreed to be the star attraction for our end of year function on 30 October 2016. This date is a little earlier than usual partly because of Stefan’s schedule of rehearsals for his much anticipated reprise of his role as Siegfried in the Melbourne Ring Cycle, and to accommodate those of our Members who will be attending one or more of the cycles. Further information about this exciting event will be sent to Members as soon as possible.

The second piece of good news is the AO (Officer of the Order of Australia) which was awarded to John Wegner as part of the Queen’s Birthday honours “for distinguished service to the performing arts as a world-renowned bass-baritone, and as an ambassador for the cultural reputation of Australia.” We congratulate John for this much-deserved honour. John, as many of you will know, has been battling with Parkinson’s disease over recent years. And “battling” is the appropriate word. He has steadfastly applied himself to exercises and other means of warding off and slowing down the progress of this disease, and has succeeded beyond all expectations.

In July this year, in our third piece of good news, regular presenter to the Wagner Society in NSW Sunday functions, Peter Bassett, was awarded a Ph.D. by Griffith University. His doctoral thesis related to the “Wagner decade” in Adelaide (consisting of the two Ring Cycles in 1998 and 2004, and the Parsifal in 2001), including the stories behind the scenes, and the reasons why the second Ring was never seen again. He has given a presentation to our society on this subject, and it was absolutely fascinating. We congratulate him for his achievements.

The fourth piece of great news is that in August 2017 Opera Australia will be putting on three concert performances of  Parsifal in the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House. To be precise, the dates are 9, 12 and 14 August, and there will be a stellar cast, including Jonas Kauffman as Parsifal, Jacqueline Dark as Kundry, Kwangchul Youn as Gurnemanz, and Warwick Fyfe as Klingsor. By the time you receive this Quarterly, tickets will be obtainable by telephoning the Opera Australia box office in Sydney.

Please keep in mind that the Society is likely to receive some sets of tickets to the 2017 Bayreuth Festival. Members will receive an email advice with information about any offers that we receive, with an invitation to advise of your interest in registering for the ballot for tickets, as is usual practice for Bayreuth tickets.

I would like to give my sincere thanks to those members who have assisted with the catering at our events. The standard has been extremely high, and it makes a significant difference to our members’ enjoyment of the whole experience. I would also like to thank Mailis Wakeham for all the wonderful photographs she takes for the Quarterly.

Jane Mathews


December 2016
Welcome to the fourth and last Quarterly for 2016.

2016 has been a busy year for your Society. Our extremely active Events sub-committee has organised a number of fascinating talks, conversations, concerts and other events. Since the last Quarterly we have had two main events. The first took place on the evening of 20 September when the author/musician Roger Neill came and treated us a very special presentation about “Australian Singers of Wagner: The known and unknown.” Roger played excerpts of a number of different sopranos singing Wagner, and had a dialogue with us, the audience, about each singer, first asking us to identify her and then discussing her career It was an extraordinarily interesting evening, and the only disappointment was that, because it was in midweek and had been organised at relatively short notice, there were not as many members there as we would have hoped.

Our last event for the year was a concert combined with our annual Christmas party, held earlier than usual because many of our members will be going to Melbourne for Opera Australia’s Ring Cycle. This year, because the Goethe Institut was booked for that afternoon, we went to St Columba’s Uniting Church, also in Ocean Street, Woollahra. The church itself has been deconsecrated, and it is now a performance hall. We were all very impressed by it. There was plenty of seating space, and the accoustics were excellent. The concert itself was extraordinary. It consisted of the young soprano Jessica Harper, accompanied by the pianist Bradley Gilchrist. Jessica had very recently won the Wagner Society German language singing prize at the Sydney Eisteddford. She sang  a large number of works, and astonished everyone with the amazing quality of her voice, together with her vocal range and her stamina. Afterwards we all enjoyed a delicious afternoon tea, accompanied by a glass (or two) of wine.

On behalf of the Events Committee, I would like to thank a number of organisations which donated prizes for the fund-raising raffle at our end of year function: tickets to performances by Pinchgut Opera, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Australian Handel Ensemble, Sydney Theatre Company and Belvoir Theatre Company, as well as to Roger Neill for a copy of his CD of Australian Wagner Singers and to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music for a number of wonderful books.

We have been promised a number of tickets to the 2017 Bayreuth Festival - more than we have ever previously been allocated, except last year (when we were mistakenly allocated tickets intended for the South Australian Society as well as  our own tickets). We have received more applications from members than we have available tickets, so we will shortly be holding a ballot to determine who the lucky festival-goers will be. I anticipate that the results will be known before you receive this Quarterly.

Speaking of afternoon tea, I have been extremely impressed this year with the standard of food which you, our members, have contributed at our functions. It makes a real difference to the overall experience, and I would like to express our deep thanks to those of you who have assisted in this regard. There is always a risk that we will omit a name which should have been mentioned and for this we apologise in advance but based on the names on our Catering Roster we would like to thank: Glen Barnwell; Pattie Benjamin; Barbara Brady; Agnes Brejzek; Gabrielle Bremner Moore; Colleen and Michael Chesterman; Mike Day; Rhonda Dalton; Barbara de Rome; June Donsworth; Nick and Barbara Dorsch; Jenny Ferns; Tony Jones, Hugh Hallard; Renate Junker; Hannelore Laundl; Marie Leech; Lyn Longfoot; Helen Meddings; Yvonne Pearse; Sue Penny; Jan Roberts; Anne Robinson, Mitzi Saunders; John Studdert; Mailis Wakeham; Terence Watson; Margaret Whealy. Our thanks also to Mailis Wakeham for taking photographs at our events. These have been invaluable in promoting our Society via the Quarterly, our website and increasingly, on our Facebook page.

I cannot let the year end without acknowledging the death at the beginning of the year of Julian Block, for many years a Member, Committee Member and Vice-President. Julian was co-opted onto the Committee as an additional member in March 2001. In the context of the major financial problem that faced the Committee in 2000-01, the then President Barbara McNulty advised the 2001 Annual General Meeting: “A new member who is a solicitor offered his services ‘pro bono’ should we need legal assistance. As we don’t have the  financial resources to fight a civil action in the court this is a very generous offer. I am sure you will join me in thanking them.” At the Annual General Meeting of 21 July 2002, Julian was elected Vice-President. At the May 2012 AGM, as the new president, and when Julian stood down after eleven years of service to the Society, I acknowledged “our long-standing vice-president, Julian Block, who has put so much into the Society over such a long period. We owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.” He contributed a great deal to the Society over the years, including the hospitality of his and Rosemary’s house for very many committee meetings. On behalf of the Society, I send our deep condolences to his widow, Rosemary, and his family. There is a formal obituary later in this Quarterly, and a personal reminiscence from the past President Roger Cruickshank.

Many of you will know Michael Abicht, who has helped us so much over the years at the Goethe Institute, particularly when technical issues have arisen. Michael has recently left the Goethe. I would like, on all our members’ behalf, to thank Michael very much indeed for all his kindness and his assistance over the years.

The Editor of the Quarterly Terence Watson has asked me to pass on his apologies to Lynnette Longfoot and Bill Brooks for mis-naming them in the headings for the articles they wrote for the September isssue, reporting on sessions of Antony Ernst’s Seminar in August 2016. The Editor has arranged for the mistakes to be amended in the website versions. 2017 promises to be another exciting year for your Society. Our Events Committee has already mounted a fantastic programme for the year. You can read about it elsewhere in this Quarterly. In the meantime, I hope that you all have a very good Christmas and holiday break, and I look forward to seeing many of you at our next year’s events.

Jane Mathews