Thinking back over the 40 years of the Wagner Society in NSW made me realise that it has been part of my life for almost the whole of that time – at first in attending events and more lately organising those events – talks and concerts, and seminars, and promoting young singers and working out the processes by which we can assist them, by approving the applications for funding from young and emerging singers and creatives.
It was always our ambition to go to Bayreuth. Numerous inquiries about obtaining tickets were always met with negative replies. Our friend, Richard King, the owner of the Print Room Gallery, had attended Bayreuth numerous times by travelling with Lufthansa German Airlines and obtaining extra tickets by standing patiently outside the Festspielhaus waving a little banner. It was not until our friend Jenny made us aware of the Henebery Personal Tours (Opera and Music Festival Holidays) in Oxford that our hopes were raised. In 1980 we were allotted three tickets through them to three Wagner operas. By coincidence Jenny also recommended that her friend Len Hansen should contact Oxford and when he was successful suggested that he travel with us. This he did.
Many years ago, last century (1967), when I was on the typical “working holiday”, a couple of years after leaving school, I was living and working in London. One evening I lined up at the English National Opera to obtain “standing room” tickets (10/-, at the rear of the stalls) for Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nuremburg”. An opera, I believed was the favourite opera of my father, in Sydney. In those days, communication was either by letters, aerogrammes, or, if you were very technologically up-to-date, by sending reel to reel tape recordings.
Through the wonderful synchronicity of life, a chance remark opens doors and creates a new realm of experience. Dr Leonard Hansen, making his first visit to Bayreuth in 1980, asked the Lufthansa staff if they knew of other Aussies making the pilgrimage, preferably someone who had been there before. My friends at the airline mention Murray Smith and me as regular visitors, although we were not booked for that year. We already knew Leonard through our work, but we were unaware of his interest in Wagner.
An occasional column on aspects of the Society’s History and Highlights
(The Society's first logo was designed by Michel Arnould during the Foundation meeting on 26 October 1980.)
I first visited Bayreuth in 1954 and again in 1955 with my wife, Aviva. We had just finished our university studies in Perth, WA, had married in Sydney and were off to London in late 1953 as soon as we had saved money for the boat fare. It was like sailing into heaven. The rich concert life, the theatre, the prospect of Bayreuth, of live Furtwängler concerts, created a sense of youthful euphoria which lasted 2½ years before we returned to Perth and the sun.
Leona Geeves, a member of the Wagner Society since 1982, Vice-President 2010 - 2019 and now Artist's Liaison, has provided fascinating photos of her early visits to the Bayreuth Festival.
At the Bayreuth Festival in 1995
As part of the Newsletter's ad hoc project to record aspects of the history of Wagner performances in NSW and people's personal experiences within that larger history, I am pleased to bring you a reminiscence from Mr Phillip Bennett, retired of Taree:
Growing up in a small country town during the mid to late 1940's wasn't exactly an ideal place to develop a love for the music-dramas of Richard Wagner. Books on the subject would have been almost non-existent, as were recordings. There certainly weren't any society lectures and I doubt if many people in the town would have heard of Richard Wagner let alone be familiar with his music.