March / June / September / December 2019
2019 has begun very positively for the Wagner Society in NSW. We have a very promising program of speakers and performers planned for this year.
Our first guest was the British conductor Anthony Negus, who came to us fresh from conducting the Flying Dutchman in Melbourne. He gave us an outline of his career, commencing with his early experience as an assistant to Reginald Goodall in path-breaking performances of The Ring in English for the ENO. He then made some particularly interesting observations about how to maintain appropriate rhythms and ‘pulse’ when conducting Wagner. He used the piano a number of times to illustrate most effectively what he was saying.
Our second guest was Israeli conductor Asher Fisch, who engaged in a wonderfully animated conversation with the audience on a wide range of Wagnerian topics. Members recall with pleasure his wonderful Adelaide Ring and recent WASO Tristan und Isolde, with Stewart Skelton as Tristan.
The Society is delighted that the attendances were very good for the first two events - 65 and 75 and looks forward to getting similar audiences during the rest of the year. There are promises for the Wagner Society of a number of other interesting speakers during 2019 and also some treats in Wagnerian music.
Since the last President’s Report, the Committee responded to applications from members for Bayreuth tickets for 2019. The following members were successful in getting tickets for Tannhauser, Parsifal, Meistersinger and Tristan und Isolde between 25 and 28 August:
Greg and Christine Ellis
David May, who received most of his tickets from the box office
A number of members were interested in attending a performance of Lohengrin on 18 August. Unfortunately it proved very difficult to find out more about this performance. Some information may become accessible to them after they arrive in Germany.
Early though it is in 2019, two Wagner operas have already been performed in Melbourne. First, Melbourne Opera put on an outstanding production of the Flying Dutchman in the Regent Theatre, conducted (as I mentioned above) by Anthony Negus. Then an impressive production of Parsifal by Victorian Opera took place at the handsome Palais Theatre in St Kilda, under the direction of Richard Mills. What a legacy of large and suitable theatres remains in Melbourne and how we all regret the demolition of theatres here!
One concert that we can look forward to will be in the Federation Concert Hall, Hobart, on 2 November. Nina Stemme is returning to Hobart for an ‘All-Wagner Gala’ with fellow-Swede John Lundgren. He has been much praised for his Wagner interpretations at the Bayreuth Festival, Royal Swedish Opera and Royal Opera, Covent Garden. As at the earlier Wagner concert featuring Nina Stemme, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Marko Letonja.
President Colleen Chesterman
We have continued with interesting meetings for members of the Wagner Society.
Our Annual General Meeting was held on March 31. This was earlier in the year than our AGM had been usually held and disappointingly attendance was not high. I gave a report on the activities of the Society, which had a very successful year. I would like to acknowledge the years of dedicated work given to the Wagner Society by members of the committee.
First I want sincerely to thank our last President, Jane Mathews. She held the presidency for 5 years and gave us dynamic leadership, all based on her profound love of Wagner’s music. She has been a committed leader and has been made a Life Member.
In the last discussions before the voting for the committee, three of our valuable members decided against standing for the committee.
Barbara de Rome who has been our efficient secretary for five years decided that she would resign. She celebrated by heading off to the Ring at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
Jenny Edwards also resigned. She has been invaluable in keeping links with our members and sending important news to them. She has worked with Lis Bergmann to ensure that Lis can keep strong links with our members.
Finally Leona Geeves also resigned after years on the committee. Leona has been invaluable in encouraging the development of singers with voices with the potential to develop in the Wagnerian repertoire. We hope she will continue with this important work.
We will all miss their passion and their experience, but we also hope that others will emerge to assist the committee.
Our next meeting was on May 19. This had a very good number of members in attendance. Two generous visitors from the USA to Sydney approached the Society offering to perform. Baritone Ted Labow and soprano Celeste Siciliano performed a challenging program of Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss to a very enthusiastic audience. Members of the Society were also delighted to hear the excellent piano accompaniment provided by Jonathon Wilson whom we had assisted to attend the Lisa Gasteen School in Brisbane.
The performances were followed by an afternoon tea with bottles of champagne to celebrate the birthday of Richard Wagner. Members also provided a generous supply of rich chocolate cakes which were very popular, accompanied by much lively conversation.
We have an excellent list of speakers in the rest of the year. Antony Ernst will talk about Parsifal to the Society in early July. Tenor Stuart Skelton is also coming in July to talk about his successes overseas. In August our Patron, the great Australian conductor Simone Young, will talk about her impressive international career. In October we will be lucky to hear Robert Mitchell, formerly a leading tenor in the Australian Opera chorus, talk about his continuing career.
We were informed last year by the Bayreuth Festival that the price categories had been rearranged for this year’s festival. Fortunately none of our group of ticket buyers has had any problems with this, despite delays in getting tickets out. We have a good group of members, eight on tickets from the Society, going to the Festival.
We are all excited at the news that Opera Australia will be offering Lohengrin in May 2020 and 3 Ring Cycles in Brisbane in November 2020. We will be contacting society members about OA’s Wagner 2020 Syndicate initiative to sponsor young Australian singers.
So there is activity in Australia on Wagner performances and discussions. Networks between the states help us to learn about these and to brief our members about opportunities to hear operas and singers.
President Colleen Chesterman
This report will express sorrow because of the recent death of our immediate past President, the Honourable Jane Mathews.
Jane discovered Wagner and his music several decades ago and was keen to share her enthusiasm for his operas amongst her numerous friends. She had a number of records, particularly of the Ring, and held many parties which would feature sessions listening to Wagner’s music. Guests would provide contributions of food and of course there was also wine to increase their enjoyment.
She enjoyed going to Bayreuth to meet other enthusiasts in the network of Wagner-lovers. She was elected President of the NSW Wagner Society in recognition of her commitment. Her contacts in Australia and around the world were always encouraged to come and talk to our Society. Jane had been ill for a period and her death is a relief from pain. We will remember her as a great enthusiast for music, a long-term supporter of organisations such as the Sydney Symphony and Opera Australia, an extremely generous donor to music in Australia and a committed lover of Wagner’s operas. We will miss her contributions deeply.
Meanwhile the Wagner Society has been very active. Antony Ernst gave a very thought provoking view of Parsifal in early July. Two weeks later we were very fortunate to have Stuart Skelton come to speak to us about his career. He was in Sydney to sing in Peter Grimes; it was a wonderful performance and very well attended by members of the Wagner Society who had heard him speak. His career overseas is flourishing. In a recent email to me he mentioned that in forthcoming months, he will be singing twice at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, as Verdi’s Otello and as Siegmund in Valkyrie.
In August, our patron Simone Young came to talk to us about her career. She outlined the demands on her attention in Hamburg where she had so many levels of responsibility. Now she has embarked on a free-lance career and is enjoying the experience of moving between conducting orchestras and contributing to other music, be it opera or symphonies.
President Colleen Chesterman
I am writing the President’s Report following our attendance at the Huntington Festival in Mudgee, which is planned to be the last one to be held. The final session brought all the musicians playing at the Festival onto the stage, to participate in a piece called A Farewell to Music, commissioned by our late President, Jane Mathews, AO. It was a very moving tribute, using a short poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, and a powerful acknowledgement to those responsible for the Festival. As Carl Vine wrote, it recognised the end of 30 years of music in the beautiful vineyard and the regret of participants with the end of the Festival.
In Sydney, the Wagner Society has had some very interesting recent meetings. In September we heard members who had tickets for Bayreuth describing the operas they had seen. Other members joined in talking about other operas seen in Europe this year. In October, Robert Mitchell, who has been a leader in the Opera Australia chorus, gave a presentation on Wagner in Paris and Riga and the influence of other composers on him during his development. In December our Christmas concert was very enjoyable. We had three young performers, one a pianist and two singers. We owe thanks to Leona Geeves for organizing this concert.
The events committee have put together an exceptional series of events for 2020 starting in February with a memorial concert for Jane with maestro Anthony Negus and singers encouraged by Jane. Details are on the Coming Events page. During the year there will be a series of talks giving insights into the major performances coming up - Lohengrin in Melbourne and the Ring in Brisbane. First up in March is Antony Ernst talking about the Ring, followed in later months by Peter Bassett on Lohengrin. A summary of all events in 2020 is on the For Your Diary page.
Society members can take much pride in our organization. 2020 is our 40th anniversary year. I would like to encourage members to renew their subscriptions and bring along their friends to our monthly meetings. We should be proud of this organization rising from a small membership to now as a dynamic and lively forum for discussion.
I would like to draw members’ attention to the sad death of John Wegner AO on 19 November. John was a significant contributor to the recent growth in performances of Wagner. The Society made him Honourary Life Member for his contribution to Wagner in Australia.
President Colleen Chesterman