March / June / September / December 2018
2018 has started very well for the Wagner Society in NSW. Our first meeting in January was held with London-based Sydney tenor Sam Sakker, accompanied by pianist Tahu Matheson, Director of Music at Opera Australia. There were 75 attendees, over 50 of them members. Visitors included a number of Sam’s family, delighted to hear him singing in Australia.
Our February meeting featured an interview with the great British bass Sir John Tomlinson. At his request I interviewed him about his experience of Wagner, which has been extensive. It was a delight to me to do this as he answered freely, breaking into song to illustrate points. His voice was still strong, though he has stopped singing Wagnerian roles. But what a career he has had! 16 years at the Bayreuth Festival singing Wotan and Wanderer, participation in the Barenboim/Kupfer presentation of the 10 major Wagner operas at the Staatsoper Berlin, when he also performed Gurnemanz, playing Wotan and Wanderer in the second season of Keith Warner’s Ring at Covent Garden as well as many other major roles. He had been surprised when Daniel Barenboim invited him to play Wotan in Bayreuth, since it is a bass- baritone role, but described how he enjoyed working in the higher range of his voice. He was eloquent in describing his experience as a singer and demonstrated with musical examples, leaving us wondering why he had decided to cease singing Wagner. 95 members and friends delighted in his presentation and he generously welcomed members who had brought along programs for signing or cameras for photographs. There were also excellent questions from members and visitors. Full reports of both these meetings are in this issue of the Quarterly.
At times we must adjust our meetings and this year we have cancelled our July meeting for one in June in order to hear Celeste Haworth, a young Sydney singer has recently returned home after singing for several years in Europe.
With such strong attendance numbers at meetings, there has been increased pressure on committee members in providing afternoon tea for attendees. We would appreciate members offering to assist in this. There are only 10 members of the committee. Many members have provided delicious contributions for meetings and these are greatly appreciated. (Who did bring the delicious lime syrup cake in January?) We would also welcome members volunteering for an occasional meeting to ensure that tea and coffee is available for members on arrival or to assist in getting plates of food out to the tables. If you would like to help in any way, Barbara de Rome would be delighted to hear from you.
One key area where assistance would also be welcome is for a member or a group to undertake the editing of the Quarterly, following the retirement of our long-time and greatly valued editor Terence Watson. Michael Day has kindly offered to produce the first two journals for 2018. He would be pleased to hear from anyone with skills or interest in editing or layout. In the short term we would like to hear from members prepared to provide news or reviews particularly with so many members still attending Wagner performances around the world.
I mentioned in the last Quarterly that Jenny Edwards, with the assistance of Florian Hammerbacher, has successfully improved our home page. It is a lively site with information on the Society and its events. Jenny is still seeking information on the history and development of the Society, such as photographs and newsletters from early meetings. The home page could also include reports by members on Wagner performances around the world, or reviews of Wagner on disc or DVD – all would be gratefully received.
We have finalised plans for the Wagner Society trip to Perth in August to hear Stuart Skelton and Eva-Marie Westbroek in the WASO Tristan and Isolde, conducted by Asher Fisch. Seventeen members have bought tickets through the Wagner Society, while another 6 are attending with relatives or friends. Members will attend on either 16 or 19 August – or possibly both! All of these have donated to a fund to support Stuart’s flight and this has been topped up by the Wagner Society to $8000 to assist WASO to bring him from Europe.
We have also finalized the provision of tickets for the Bayreuth Festival to 6 members of the Society. The number of applications was not as high as in other years, because of there not being performances of The Ring, so we did not have a ballot. All applicants have been able to get the tickets they requested. With tickets provided by the Friends of Bayreuth and the Verband of Wagner Societies, we were able to ensure that all tickets were in the stalls, with attendees getting at least one set of A1 tickets.
So 2018 has started very successfully and the events arranged for the rest of the year should be excellent, particularly the half-day seminars in August (Antony Ernst on Tristan und Isolde) and in October (David Larkin on Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg). And what a climax to the year will be the OA performances in Melbourne!
2018 has continued to be a very busy one for the Wagner Society in NSW. Our meetings have been fairly successful in terms of numbers attending and the presentations by our visitors. I would like to express personal thanks to our Vice-President Michael Day, who has taken a particularly strong interest in seeking out interesting DVDs for the first part of our monthly meetings. I am sure many of us were fascinated by the Madrid production of Das Liebersverbot, which was shown in February and March, while in May members watched Wagner’s Jews. Do check the meeting programs as some stimulating ones are being shown later in the year, such as Tony Palmer’s The Wagner Family in June and Wagner – a Genius in Exile in September. Michael has also taken over editing the newsletter for the first half of the year. We hope some members will be willing to take up this exciting opportunity, which committee members are willing to support. Do contact us if you have any interest in editing! And remember that we welcome members providing news or reviews of Wagner performances in other cities.
Secretary Barbara de Rome has searched through past records to prepare a list of artists who have received funding from the Society, the purpose for which funds were requested, the year received, and the amount they have received. This is is giving us a good basis to see what we have spent in past years, any changes in policy and a means of clarifying the criteria which we use. It has been an impressive exercise by Barbara and we all appreciate the time she has spent.
At the AGM, all members of the current committee were re-elected unopposed, save for Tony Jones. He decided not to stand in order to spend more time overseas after his retirement. Over the last five years, Tony gave much advice to the committee from his experience in market research and from his committee appointments on other arts organisations. Long- time Society member Esteban Insausti was welcomed as the new committee member. The concert, featuring three singers who have received financial support from the Society, was excellent. One of them, Chris Curcuruto, has since been awarded a scholarship in opera studies by North Texas University. He has approached the Society for assistance in living expenses.
In March, the SSO approached me asking us to participate in an article about Sydney Music Societies. I was interviewed on the phone by journalist Leta Keens and then photographed by SSO’s Daniela Testa. The article is able to be found at https://www.sydneysymphony.com/backstagenews/article/inside-sydneys-sec… and includes a range of societies from the Schubert Society to The Ukelele Society!
I was contacted in April by Jim Holman, the Chairman of the Wagner Society of Washington DC. He was visiting Australia with his wife Diane, travelling in Tasmania and Melbourne. He has a strong commitment to building links between Wagner Societies and offered to lecture at one of our meetings. Unfortunately there was little advance warning; he was only in Sydney on a Saturday, when the Goethe Institut is unavailable. We decided to set up a meeting at our home in Paddington, inviting committee members and those going to Bayreuth this year. Jim addressed us casually, describing the structure and management arrangements of the Washington Society. He also introduced us to books he has published: as writer, Wagner’s Ring: A Listener’s Companion and Concordanceand as editor Wagner Moments and Quo Vadis, Wagner? He has also lectured frequently on Wagner and brought along DVDs of his lectures on Tristan, Tannhauser and Wagner and Religion. We hope to show these prior to meetings next year. It was a pleasant afternoon, showing how we can build links between Wagner Societies and learn from each other.
I missed the May meeting as my husband Michael and I spent the month travelling in France and Sardinia. In our last week in Paris we saw Parsifal at the Bastille and a reconstructed version of Orfeo and Eurydice, with Philippe Jaroussky and Patricia Petibon at Theatre des Champs- Elysees. We felt close to the subject of the Society’s meeting on 21 May when Michael Ewans spoke about Wagner and Gluck. I also had a useful discussion with Jacques Bouffier, who represents the interests of English-speaking Wagner Societies on the Verband of International Wagner Societies, which provides us with a number of tickets for Bayreuth.
The past three months have included a number of varied events for the Wagner Society in NSW. One of the most important was the distribution of tickets to Bayreuth to members. As Bayreuth is preparing for a new Ring, 2018 had a limited offering of operas. Nonetheless 7 members applied for tickets and we were able to supply excellent seats to this small number from the tickets provided by the Friends of Bayreuth and the Verband of Wagner Organisations. Our members were able to attend their choices from Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Hollander, Meistersinger and Walkure from the Castorf Ring. Those who have been in touch have been very positive, particularly recent members Georgina Carnegie and Mandy Shaul who have been delighted by the experience.
In June we welcomed Celeste Haworth, a mezzo-soprano from Sydney who has degrees in music from Sydney and Vienna and who was most recently a principal soprano at the State Opera in Wiesbaden. She described her career in Europe and sang beautifully. But it is apparent that many members are away in June, so attendance was small and we will return to the committee decision to not have a meeting that month.
In early August, the always popular Antony Ernst, now director of the Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen, gave a seminar on Tristan und Isolde. An enthusiastic audience filled the Willoughby Uniting Church to listen to him. He emphasised the importance of the relationship which overwhelms the two characters, pointing to the und which links the characters so strongly, between the focus on Isolde in Act 1 and on Tristan in Act 3. In Act 2 und establishes the intensity of their passion. As usual, volunteers from the Society provided a range of delicious contributions for afternoon tea, much enjoyed by us all.
Antony’s eloquent discussion of Tristan und Isolde was particularly appreciated by the large number of members who travelled to Perth for WASO’s celebration of its 90thanniversary with two performances of this opera. The NSW Wagner Society and many of our members had contributed to support Stuart Skelton in the role of Tristan, and we were warmly welcomed because of this. Sadly, Dutch soprano Eva-Marie Westbroek withdrew because of illness two weeks before, but WASO found an excellent replacement in Gun- Brit Barkmin, singing Isolde for only the second time. Small, intense and with a voice of great depth, she was a strong replacement. Asher Fisch supported her sensitively particularly during the Lieberstod,
The performances and two associated events constituted a festival. On the night before the first performance, Asher Fisch, using the piano to illustrate the points he was making, described his passion for Wagner’s music and underlined its originality, its power and musicality. He then interviewed the two experienced singers performing Brangane (Ekaterina Gubanova) and Kurwenal (Boaz Daniel), whom Asher had known before both had left Israel as young men seeking careers in music). It was a bravura lecture and identified many aspects of the opera, its power and brilliance.
The Thursday night performance showed the strength WASO has developed in playing Wagner’s music. Stuart Skelton sang with great power and tenderness; in the last act he appeared without a jacket, his shirt pulled out, to remind us of his injury. Gun-Brit Barkmin sang with great strength and sensitivity and won the support of the audience in the role. Gubanova and Daniel were magnificent. Also excellent was bass Ain Agner, so often seen in roles such as Fafner or Hunding, as the rejected King Marke. He was dignified, tightly controlled in the face of his betrayal. There was a moment’s silence at the conclusion before the audience leapt to their feet with enthusiastic applause.
On Friday night the Western Australian Wagner Society hosted celebratory drinks in the Concert Hall foyer, attended by both Asher and Stuart. Asher praised the work of his orchestra and could not resist showing us all the wooden holztrompete, which had been specially made for these performances and which rang out in the second act. The WASO brass section also has a beautiful set of German-made instruments.
A second performance took place on the following Sunday. Nobody who attended these performances would regret it. In this newsletter NSW Wagner Society members have given their views, all very positive.
We have much to look forward to in the next three months. In September we will have a feedback session from those members who are attending Bayreuth. Some members are going to the Keith Warner Ring at Covent Garden, with Nina Stemme and Stefan Vinke as the leads, and we look forward to hearing from them as well. In October David Larkin will provide us with an introduction to Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, which many of us will be attending in Melbourne in November. And we expect to have a very special guest for our Christmas celebration.
I would like to thank new Committee Member Lis Bergmann who is assisting Jenny Edwards with the web-page and e-mails to members.
We are approaching the end of another busy and successful year for the Wagner Society in NSW. I am writing this the day after returning from Melbourne, where a number of NSW Society members saw a splendid Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg produced by Opera Australia. It used the Royal Opera House Covent Garden production by Kasper Holten, revived by Dan Dooner. The two leading roles were sung by overseas singers, Michael Kupfer-Radecky as Hans Sachs and Stefan Vinke as Walther von Stolzing. But all other roles were cast from Opera Australia; there were excellent performances by Warwick Fyfe as Beckmesser, Daniel Sumegi as Veit Pogner, a first-rate Nicholas Jones as David, Natalie Aroyan as Eva and Dominica Matthews as Magdalena. The chorus was in fine voice. Pietari Inkinen conducted with his usual energy and the orchestra was splendid. The State Theatre in Melbourne has a large stage and excellent acoustics. The audience on opening night responded positively.
At the NSW Wagner Society Xmas party at 2.00 pm on November 25, we will be privileged to have as guest Stefan Vinke, responding to an invitation from immediate past President Jane Mathews to speak about his career and sing for us. I look forward to a large number of members joining us with Christmas dishes at St Columba’s Uniting Church.
A large number of members prepared themselves for Die Meistersinger with a full afternoon seminar by Dr David Larkin from the NSW Conservatorium. David prepared a well organized discussion of the opera, with detailed projections. With the assistance of Warwick Fyfe, there was an excellent quartet of singers. This would certainly have provided a detailed briefing for those of us going to Melbourne.
We already have 6 applications from members for tickets to Bayreuth in 2019. The years when new Rings are being prepared for future seasons have less demand. They therefore provide great opportunities to get excellent seats provided by the Friends of Bayreuth and the Verband of Wagner Organisations, We would encourage you to choose from the operas available: Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Hollander and Die Meistersinger.
We have developed an excellent program of presentations for 2019. We have some major speakers, such as conductors Antony Negus and Asher Fisch early in the year and our patron Simone Young coming to talk about her flourishing career later in the year. Australian tenor Stuart Skelton is also hoping to fit us in, as is US director Francesca Zambello when she is directing West Side Story for Handa Opera on the Harbour.
We are still seeking assistance in obtaining fresh material for the Quarterly, which has become a very polished and admired production.
With best wishes for the festive season and a positive New Year.
After sending me her report Collen was suddenly hospitalised. Colleen is now home and feeling much better but was unable to attend the Christmas Party. I’m sure all members will join me in wishing her a speedy recovery. Mike Day, Editor