President's reports 2020

March / June / August / December 2020


March 2020
I trust everyone is safe after the terrible fires, smoke storms and floods. (Remind anyone of Götterdämmerung?)

I’m delighted to confirm that our esteemed Patron, Maestro Simone Young AO will become Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in early 2022.

The Society started off 2020 with a very fine concert on 27 February in memory of our late Past President the Honourable Justice Jane Mathews AO. It came about due to the generosity of her friend Maestro Anthony Negus. He and his wife Carmen and our Artists’ Liaison Leona Geeves did a wonderful job organizing 5 outstanding young singers performing romantic works accompanied by Anthony. Attendance was excellent and it was a good example of the Society’s aims in action – promoting the music of Wagner and his contemporaries and fostering young talent. Proceeds from the concert will go into our sponsorship fund. In the last year the Society gave over $20,000 to young performers to help with travel and tuition. This money has been raised from subscriptions and profits from the many events we hold plus generous donations from members. Thank you everyone for supporting our aims.

2020 is a very exciting year for Wagner lovers with performances of Lohengrin and Das Rheingold in Melbourne and Tristan und Isolde and the Ring in Brisbane. The Society is discussing ways we might be able to help with on-going sponsorship of young NSW performers taking part in the Melbourne Opera’s Ring, which is being conducted by Anthony Negus.

Although we in Sydney are missing out on Wagner Opera performances the Society is providing backup with talks about the works plus other interesting recitals and talks by singers and creatives. Details may be found in the Quarterly.

This month we have the ever-popular Antony Ernst followed in April by the exciting singer/director Tabatha McFadyen – not to be missed.

Our Annual General Meeting is coming up in May and we are hoping some members will step up and nominate for a position on the Committee as some current members will be retiring. You will receive emails about this in due course. You need to be a financial member to attend so please ensure your membership fees are up to date.

After the AGM Peter Bassett will talk about Lohengrin followed by bubbles and cake to celebrate Wagner’s birthday. I hope to see you there.

I was saddened to learn of the passing at age 85 of Janet Wayland, a proud member of the founding days of the Wagner Society in NSW with Len Hansen. The Society has sent its condolences to the family.

President Colleen Chesterman


June 2020
2020 has been a difficult year so far, with some unexpected and unfortunate interruptions to our program.

We had planned a number of events but were frustrated by Covid-19 regulations preventing the Society from holding meetings. We have missed out on a talk by Tabatha McFadyen and on presentations by Antony Ernst and Peter Bassett, two highly regarded experts on Wagner. We were unable to have our AGM on 10 May accompanied by our celebration of Wagner’s birthday (though at 6 pm on that day a number of members joined together on Zoom to drink a toast to him).

We will now look forward to an important celebration of the achievements of the Society. In September we will commemorate 40 years since the first pioneers met in Bayreuth and decided to form a Wagner Society in Sydney. We will mark this significant event with a special meeting on September 27, at which cake and champagne will be served.

Thanks to the sterling efforts of Lis Bergmann, with input from Leona Geeves and Marie Leech, the Wagner Society in NSW now posts material on YouTube. It includes lists of artists supported by the Society, videos taken by individual members and information on recordings and performances of particular interest to anyone interested in Wagner’s compositions. This site also features performances of Wagner operas, currently Tannhauser and The Flying Dutchman.

I would like to take this opportunity of signalling that at the next AGM (the date of which is still unknown) I will be stepping down as President. It has been a privilege to hold this position and I have greatly enjoyed working with Committee members to do as much as I could to promote the interests of the Society.

President Colleen Chesterman


Annual Report, 9 August 2020

This report will be my last as President of the Wagner Society in NSW. I have greatly enjoyed my period of three years in this position, particularly because it has been a pleasure to work with the enthusiastic and energetic people who have constituted the Committee.

In my opinion, we can look at our Society with some pride. We have a firmly committed group of members, including both founding members and members who have recently joined. In addition, our monthly meetings are almost invariably well attended, and we have been able to provide significant support to a number of talented young Australian singers who have aspired to perform in Wagner’s operas.

It is very sad indeed to have to record here the death on 31 August 2019 of the immediate past President, the Hon Jane Mathews AO. As members will know, she devoted enormous time and energy to the affairs of the Society over many years. She was also a most generous donor to the Society and to numerous other institutions engaged in enriching Australia’s musical life. It was most gratifying that the Society was able to take up the kind offer of a close friend of hers, Anthony Negus, to organise a concert in her honour. This took place before a large audience on 27 February. The Society is most grateful to Maestro Negus (who performed as both accompanist and soloist), his wife Carmen Jakobi, the five young singers who took part and the Society’s Artists’ Liaison Officer, Leona Geeves.

During the second half of 2019, particularly interesting presentations were given at Society meetings by Dr Antony Ernst (a regular presenter to us), by the Australian heldentenor Stuart Skelton, by the well-known Australian conductor Simone Young AM (who is our patron) and by Society member Robert Mitchell, who was for many years a member of Opera Australia’s chorus. We also received ‘feedback’ from those Society members who attended the Bayreuth Festival 2019 and the year finished with a Christmas concert at which two young singers and a pianist performed for us.

The first half of this year promised to deliver similar delights, but the coronavirus pandemic intervened shortly after the memorial concert for Jane Mathews. We were forced to postpone or cancel a further talk by Antony Ernst (on The Ring), talks by Peter Bassett (on Lohengrin) and Warwick Fyfe (about his first performance as Wotan) and a presentation by singer/director Tabatha McFadyen. The annual celebration of Wagner’s birthday on 10 May had to take the form of a toast to him drunk by several members on Zoom. The hopes entertained by several members (including myself) that we could attend the Bayreuth Festival 2020 were dashed when its cancellation was announced.

I wish to convey special thanks to three Committee members for their work over the past year. Lis Bergmann has devoted a great deal of time and energy to improving both the Society’s communications with its members and its website. Mike Day has further enlarged and enhanced the content and layout of the Quarterly. Esteban Insausti has taken on a number of tasks, including dealing with the Bayreuth Festival Box Office, the Friends of the Festival and the International Association of Wagner Societies (the ‘Verband’), with regard to both the acquisition of tickets and the follow-on from the Festival’s cancellation.

This expression of gratitude is additional to the thanks that I owe to all who have served on the Committee during my time as President and to the many individuals who have contributed in a number of ways – for example, by providing tasty finger-food – to members’ enjoyment of our meetings.

Colleen Chesterman