President's Report December 2005

A Letter from the President

Dear Members

Wagner performances in 2006

I ended my letter in the last Newsletter on a rather bleak note, lamenting that Opera Australia's 50th anniversary programme for 2006 included no Wagner, and that Sydney concert goers in 2006 could expect slim pickings indeed when it came to Wagner performances.

I am therefore delighted to be able to report that the pickings are not as slim as I thought, and that there are some Wagner performances in Sydney next year. The Australian Chamber Orchestra celebrates its 30 th anniversary in 2006, and they will include the Siegfried Idyll in a series of concerts billed as "The Giants". In Sydney , this concert is on 9 and 12 September in Angel Place and on 10 September at the Opera House, and also in Canberra and Wollongong , Adelaide and Melbourne .

In addition, although not exactly music by Wagner, the SSO is featuring a concert entitled "The Ring - An Orchestral Adventure". According to the programme, as well as Mozart's Piano Concerto number 15, we will hear the highlights from the Ring, woven into "a seamless orchestral adventure" by one Henk de Vlieger "lasting a little over an hour", and conducted by Edo de Waart. Wagner without words, edited by Mr de Vlieger, will probably be to Wagner as instant is to coffee, or Bell to Shakespeare. Naturally, I've already booked.

It is not to Sydney that we must look in 2006 for Wagner works performed whole, but east to Wellington and west to Perth . In our last Newsletter we mentioned that there will be two "semi-staged" performances of Parsifal in Wellington on 17 and 19 March 2006 , with an all New Zealand cast, including Sir Donald McIntyre in the role of Gurnemanz and Margaret Medlyn as Kundry . If Ms Medlyn can bring off a performance that is anything like her Kundry in Adelaide in 2001, you will hear something truly superb.

These performances are part of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's Wellington subscription season for 2006, and preferential bookings for NZSO subscribers have been open for some time. Seats are now on sale to the public, and although we looked at organising a small invading theatre party to attend one of the performances, this has not turned out to be feasible. It's therefore a case of every member for her- or him-self, and you should contact the New Zealand International Arts Festival on 0011 64 4 473 0149 (fax 0011 64 4 471

But I think that the jewel of 2006 will be found in Perth , where the West Australian Opera as part of its 2006 season is staging three performances of Neil Armfield's production of Tristan und Isolde , conducted by Richard Mills, on November 4, 8 and 11, 2006. The cast is Isolde, Susan Bullock; Tristan, Alan Woodrow; Brangane, Bernadette Cullen; Kurwenal, David Wakeham; King Marke, Bruce Martin and Melot, Barry Ryan.

From the advertising, this looks like the Opera Australia production that was staged in Melbourne in October 2001, with Simone Young conducting. It starred Lisa Gasteen ( Isolde ) and Horst Hoffman ( Tristan ), whose pictures appear on the West Australian Opera's website advertising these 2006 performances. It also uses the same cast and conductor as we heard in a concert performance in Brisbane in July this year, except of course that the Australian Youth Orchestra, which played so brilliantly in Brisbane, will be missing, and in place of Lisa Gasteen ( Isolde ) and John Treleaven ( Tristan ) Perth will hear Susan Bullock and Alan Woodrow.

Perth has heard these two wonderful singers before, in February 2003 in two concert performances of Gotterdammerung , as Brunnhilde and Siegfried . In the Newsletter at that time I wrote "I doubt that I will hear the Siegfried-Siegfried prologue sung live with such power and searing incandescence as Susan Bullock and Alan Woodrow delivered in "¦ these Perth performances "¦" and I recommend these 2006 Tristan performances with Bullock and Woodrow to you all. Perth is setting itself a very high target indeed with a staged production so soon after the wonderful concert performance in Brisbane . It is a pity that Opera Australia does not feel that it can set itself targets like this.

As with the Wellington Parsifal , the Perth Tristan is part of the WA Opera's 2006 subscription season, and seats for non-subscribers go on sale on 1 December 2005 through His Majesty's Theatre in Perth, phone (08) 9321 5869, fax (08) 9324 1134. His Majesty's Theatre seats just under 1,250, so if you want tickets it will be something you should book sooner, rather than later, and as with the Wellington Parsifal , it is a case of every member for her- or him-self. If you need more information go to the West Australian Opera's website, , where you will see an open-air performance of Samson and Delilah with Stuart Skelton ( Siegmund in the Neidhardt Ring).

Wagner Society Functions in 2006

Our first function in 2006 will be on Sunday 19 February, and will be a window on the work of the Conservatorium of Music. We hope that Professor Kim Walker, Dean of the Conservatorium, will be able to open this window with an introduction to the work of the Conservatorium, especially its Opera Unit. Then Sharolyn Kimmorley, who needs no introduction, will illustrate the coaching techniques she uses with singers by conducting a class with a pupil from the Conservatorium.

Because the Wellington Parsifal is on the weekend on the third Sunday in March - our traditional meeting date - and because April has Easter and Anzac Day public holidays around its third Sunday, we will be combining the March and April meetings in 2006 and having a single function on Sunday 2 April, at which Alan Whelan will speak on the life and works of Siegfried Wagner.

On Sunday 21 May - the Sunday closest to Richard Wagner's birthday - we will have our Annual General Meeting, to be followed by a recital by the students from the Conservatorium who received scholarships to study German language at the Goethe-Institut, accompanied by Sharolyn Kimmorley, and then our annual birthday party for Herr Wagner. This is usually our best-attended function of the year, despite the AGM, which in 2006 will include deliberations on the vexed question of how we should apply for and allocate tickets for the Bayreuth festival each year.

On Sunday 16 July Nigel Butterley will present his second talk, this time on the music of Franz Liszt. Nigel's talk at our October meeting on "Wagner and Liszt" was particularly well received, and Nigel has agreed to return and speak about another aspect of Liszt's music.

On Sunday 17 September, we will ask those members who attend the Bayreuth festival in 2006 to speak on the new Ring production, the first conducted there by Christian Thielmann. The enthusiasm for this new Ring has led to us receiving more than three times our normal number of applications - 28 in total - for next year's festival, although I have heard that some members will dispose of their tickets Bayreuth's current production of Parsifal , and in some cases to the productions of Tristan and Hollander .

We are waiting on confirmation of the availability of our speaker for Sunday 15 October.

On Sunday 19 November, Alan Whelan will give an illustrated talk on Rienzi . Alan says that it can be argued that the libretto for Rienzi is the best libretto that Wagner wrote before Rheingold , and also that Rienzi is a superior work to Hollander . This should be an interesting and possibly controversial talk.

On Sunday 10 December 2006 , we will have our end-of-year party.

This time last year

This time last year most of us were in or on our way to Adelaide for the Neidhardt Ring. It's sad to reflect that, a year on, the promised recording from the federally-funded Melba Foundation has not appeared. Their website, , now does not appear to list the Ring at all, and perhaps it has been buried like so much else from that glorious production. For example, despite recording some 90 hours of film, the ABC could manage only a one-hour documentary, and that was rescheduled a few times before it was finally broadcast, because Aunty didn't think that anyone would be interested.

The Goethe-Institut is to be congratulated for sponsoring an exhibition of photographs of the production by Michael Scott-Mitchell, the set designer for the Neidhardt Ring, which is alas as close as we have come to seeing a book or any other pictorial record of that wonderful event.

The whispers about the production being taken up by another country - China ? the USA ? - have been stilled, and the sets now probably lie sadly in warehouses or containers, somewhere in Adelaide, waiting for an Australian revival of one or all of the works so that they can be brought back onto a stage. And just as those old whispers have been stilled - like the whisper that the State Opera of South Australia may never recover from the financial impact of the bailout - new whispers have taken their place, such as the rumour that any restaging of the Ring will be shackled with meeting the cost of the storage since the debut in 2004, in effect making any revival financially impossible.

I hope that these whispers too will be proved wrong, but the suspicion remains that, after all, we lucky few saw the only staging of the Neidhardt Ring.

And on that ambiguous note, I wish you all a very happy new year, and all the best for 2006, with its promise of great things in Wellington and in Perth .

Roger Cruickshank 14 November 2005