President's Report December 2002

Dear Members

For many of us, this Newsletter and Barbara McNulty's President's Reports have long been synonymous. Only now, writing my first report as president, do I realise how much of Barbara's personality was infused in her reports, making them much more than a hard act to follow.

Those of you who were lucky enough to attend our AGM in July will remember the warmth and affection of the spontaneous ovation we gave Barbara when she stepped down as president. This expressed more than words could our gratitude for her tireless work on our behalf over many years on the committee, which Barbara continues in the role of secretary and as vice president "ex officio".

Most of you, I suspect, think of AGMs as events you're lucky to avoid, but ours in July was very different. Our Society makes regular donations to support young talented Australians studying overseas, such as our support of the Bayreuth Scholarship, and we sponsor artists in local productions. Prior to the AGM, we had the chance to hear, in the glorious and intimate setting of the Paddington Uniting Church, the depth of talent we have helped in a small way to foster, when Lisa Harper-Brown and Stuart Skelton gave a recital, with Francis Greep and Michael Black. It was a delight to hear and see such bright, young talent, and the committee will be looking over the next few months at other ways we may be able to help singers and musicians starting out in their careers.

Our September function was I fear our longest meeting on record, with the showing of the Kupfer/Barenboim/Bayreuth video of Gà ¶tterdämmerung. By the end a little after 6.30pm, only 15 brave souls remained of the original band of 50 who had started out with Siegfried on his Rhine journey hours before. In future we will try to use videos and DVDs with subtitles (even though this may occasionally infuriate members like me who have real problems with the lack of care in current translations of Wagner's texts) and we may consider different ways of showing these productions. 

Our October function was an illustrated talk by Anthony Ernst on Rienzi, the last of the three works never performed in Bayreuth, which is reviewed elsewhere in this Newsletter. Stuart Skelton had sung the title role in a production at the Staatstheater Stuttgart earlier this year, and included Rienzi's prayer "Allmächt'ger Vater, blick herab!" in our recital.

There are two more functions this year. In November Elke Neidhard, director of the 2004 Adelaide Ring, will answer questions about the Ring and opera production generally. Elke doesn't shirk from controversy, and her productions of Tannhäuser and Parsifal still provoke heated discussion between jaded palettes (like mine) which crave new interpretations and sensations, and those of a more traditional hue. 

In December, we have our end-of-year party, including a piano recital and reminiscences by Elizabeth Long. First prize in our raffle is a set of DVDs of the Chereau/Boulez Ring generously donated by Barbara McNulty.

Dr John Casey's talk on the Berlin Kupfer/Barenboim Wagner Festival, which he gave at our annual luncheon in honour of Wagner's birthday in May this year, was reprinted in the September Newsletter. Mr Robert S Fisher, editor of Leitmotive, the journal of the Wagner Society of Northern California, has written warmly endorsing John's comments on the staging of Wagner, enclosing past issues of Leitmotive with similar commentary. Congratulations, John!

I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Die Freischütz in September with Mr Richard King, a former president of the Society and an honorary life member. Richard may be moving from the South Coast to Tasmania soon, and in cleaning out his linen cupboard, he came across a most remarkable item - a costume from Bayreuth! Herr Reinhard Heinrich, who was costume designer for the production of Die Meistersinger given by the Federal German government to Australia to celebrate the bi-centenary in 1988, brought with him a sailor's costume - trousers, jacket and sailor's cap - from the 1978 Kupfer production of the Flying Dutchman, for which Hr Heinrich was also costume designer. We are having the item appraised with a view to selling it by auction. 

2003 will be Edo de Waart's last year as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and, unexpectedly perhaps, Simone Young's last year as Music Director with Opera Australia. Both are passionate supporters of Wagner's works and will leave their organisations and Sydney concert-goers enriched. While we may mourn their departures, we must wait and see whether their successors will continue to champion Wagner's works.

There have been two further developments in the matter of the misappropriation of Society funds, which was reported to the NSW Police Service last year. In July, the officer in charge of the investigation wrote and advised that, despite evidence gained, he had decided to use his discretion not to further investigate the matter, as in his view a prosecution would not be in the public interest. Based on medical advice and other matters set out in his letter, the Committee has agreed with this Police advice. I would like to record my thanks to the Police officers involved in this difficult investigation, to the current and former members of the Society who gave statements and assisted the Police, and to Mr Anthony Gregg, who acted "pro bono" on the Society's behalf.

In August, Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia sent a report listing the Society among the creditors in a bankrupt estate, in the amount of $35,000. They advised that no dividend was expected to be paid, and that an investigation of the bankrupt's affairs had found nothing to benefit creditors.

These two letters have brought this sad affair to a close, and the Committee will now focus on the Society's future, a sentiment strongly endorsed at the AGM. 

Finally, may I wish each of you a very happy and safe New Year, and the very best for 2003.

Roger Cruikshank December 2002