President's Report December 2007

Dear Members

Welcome to our fourth and final Newsletter for 2007. This issue has some very interesting reviews and commentaries from members who have returned from overseas Wagner events, including Bayreuth , and I'd like to thank all of them for sharing their insights with us, some of which have had to be held over until the first Newsletter of 2008.

Functions in 2007

Heath Lees and Mallarme

On Sunday, 2 September, Professor Heath Lees gave a fascinating talk on Wagner and Mallarme, in conjunction with the launch of his new book Mallarme and Wagner: Music and Poetic Language . His talk outlined the influence of Wagner's ideas, on music and text, on Mallarme's poetry from the early 1860s onwards. Sitting at the piano where necessary to illustrate his talk, Professor Lees showed within Mallarme's poems the musical elements that had been woven into the text. Heath introduced us to a non-musical medium where text and music worked together. For many of us, exposed to text and music through singing alone, it was the first time that we'd thought about them combining in poetry. Through his skills as a musician and presenter, Professor Lees had his audience spellbound.

Bayreuth 2007

On Sunday 21 October, members who attended the 2007 Bayreuth Festival reported back on their experiences. The group included Monica and Aliro Olave, June Donsworth, Julie and Terry Clark (whose reviews are printed elsewhere in the Newsletter), and Dennis Mather, who also showed photographs of the productions.

The general interpretation of Tankred Dorst's current Ring production is that it shows that we and the Ring characters share the same space, but for some reason we cannot see each other (unless we are part of the audience in the Festspielhaus). This makes some sense for the Gods at least - which of us can say that we have ever seen a God, except perhaps when we looked into the mirror on a good day - but it seems more unlikely that we're sharing the same space as the Vassals or the giants without knowing it. This interpretation is sometimes described as "parallel universes" which I think gives Herr Dorst's single idea an undeserved grandness and pseudo-scientific stature.

Aliro Olave had a unique theory on the meaning of Herr Dorst's production - that it was like a rehearsal in which people unrelated to the actual performance came and went, took readings from pieces of stage equipment, or just stood about watching. This seems to be a much simpler interpretation covering all the elements of the production.

The group was full of praise for the unexpected revival of Philippe Arlaud's production of Tannhauser , which was John Howarded (resurrected like Lazarus with a triple bypass) to fill the gap left by the non-performance of Tristan for another year. Arlaud is reported by the SAWF News Organisation as admitting in a recent interview that he no longer stood by his production. "It belongs more to the 20th than the 21st century. I no longer totally agree with my aesthetics," he said. "In fact, I find my Tannhauser pretty crap now" ( ).

The group was certainly not full of praise for Katharina Wagner's new production of Meistersinger , and Terry Clark's review in this Newsletter is a good indication of their reaction. Given Katharina's claim on the directorship of the festival when Wolfgang Wagner steps down, hers was both an artistic and political statement that some, most notably Barry Millington writing in Vol 1 No 3 of The Wagner Journal, saw as the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Bayreuth . While acknowledging major flaws, he writes that this production is "one of the most exhilarating and courageous ever mounted on the Green Hill, at a stroke putting down a marker for a new era sympathetic to radical ideas at the Festspielhaus." We shall see.

Interestingly, the audience for the final performance of Schlingensief's Parsifal seems to have been evenly split between clappers and booers, which shows a level of acceptance that those attending earlier festivals, where the booing was almost universal, might not have expected. Perhaps the same grudging acceptance awaits Katharina Wagner's new Meistersinger ?

Antony Ernst and Tristan

On Sunday 11 November, at the Paddington Uniting Church , Antony Ernst gave a talk on Tristan , the only one of Wagner's operas on which he hadn't spoken at one of our functions. His talk was subtitled "Wagner, the Appian Way , and the General Theory of Relativity. The Appian Way is this case refers to the ground-breaking work of Swiss stage designer and theorist Adolphe Appia (1862-1928), and not to the Via Appia, the Roman road linking Rome with Brindisi .

Antony spoke about the way time passes in Tristan . Act 1, for example, begins with dawn on the horizon, and ends around mid-day (clock time of some four-and-a-half hours); time as it passes on stage (mimetic time) is only one-and-a-half hours; but the duration of events recounted in the story (diegetic time) is much longer, going back to the conflicts between Cornwall and Ireland and the wounding of Tristan at Morald's hand months or even years before. In Act 2, clock time lasts some six to eight hours from night-fall to dawn; mimetic time is around an hour and forty minutes; but diegetic time ceases to exist. Antony said that there were only three events in the opera: the taking of the poison (love potion) in Act 1, the wounding of Tristan in Act 2, and his death in Act 3. The contributed to the work's apparent lack of action.

Antony mused that one reason for this might be that the mass of the Tristan is usually so great that time and space both warp around him in some magical way, as Einstein predicted in his general theory. In a similar vein, Antony wondered whether anyone could endure King Mark's monologue without peeking at their watch at least once.

As always, Antony 's ideas were fresh and thought-provoking and represented a new way of looking at Tristan and operas generally for many of us.

Because of its wonderful acoustic and ease of access for members who find the Goethe-Institut's staircase challenging, we may return to the Paddington Uniting Church for some of our functions during 2008, for example for the recital by students from the Conservatorium at the AGM in May. Final arrangements will be advised in the March 2008 Newsletter.

Christmas Party in December

On Sunday December 9, we will end our 2007 cycle of functions with our traditional Christmas Party at the Goethe Institut. Barbara Brady has graciously promised to provide another of her sensational Christmas Cakes, which will be first prize in our raffle. Please bring a plate and we will provide the drinks. We will begin with a documentary on the life of Birgit Nilsson at 2pm and the party will follow.

Bayreuth 2008

There were 32 applicants for sets of tickets for Bayreuth in 2008, and we have been allocated 8 sets by the Festival Box Office. During our function on 11 November, a ballot was held and Anni Yuul, a member of the Danish Wagner Society who was visiting Sydney at the time, drew applicants' names out of a wide-brimmed straw hat, graciously lent by Colin Jones for the occasion.

Based on that ballot, the tickets received so far have been allocated as follows: Vic and Katie French (2 sets of tickets), Maxwell Grubb (1 set), Julie Carroll (1 set), Kenneth Reed (1 set), Diane Wang and Peter George (2 sets), and Brian Freestone and Charles Brady (the 1 remaining set.) If further tickets are received or become available, another set will be offered to Brian and Charles, and then to applicants in the following order: Robert Thurling, Charles Manning, Ross Whitelaw, Anne Jones, Gary Wilson, Meredith Stokes and David Bremer, and others.

It's likely that more than 20 applicants will miss out in 2008. Under our current rules, no preference is given to those them if they apply again next year. Each year all applicants start together from scratch. Mrs Mary Fogelberg and Ms Suzanne Williams have drafted a resolution to be put to our next AGM in May 2008, which aims to change this position:

"That from 2008 onwards, first preference in the annual ballot for tickets be given to members who have been unsuccessful in previous years' ballots."

This is an important change that should be discussed widely prior to the AGM.


I hope that I don't betray any hint of bias when I say that, in my view, Opera Australia's revival of Elke Neidhardt's 1998 Tannhauser was the artistic highlight of Sydney - if not Australia - for 2007. Despite the politics of casting and some awkward elements in the production, it was sublime, ecstatic, miraculous and overall, not at all bad. My personal comments are included below in the Newsletter.

Functions in 2008

Our first function in 2008 will be at the Goethe Institut on Sunday 17 February. At this stage, because they have other commitments around this time, we haven't finalised exactly which of our speakers will be presenting, but I'll write to you all in the new year and let you know.

Elsewhere in this Newsletter, there's a list of Wagner performances announced so far for 2008, none of which is in Sydney . The highlights include three concert performances of the Hollander in Melbourne in August, and two drive-by singings by Lisa Gasteen, the first at the end of February and in early March in Hobart and Perth , and the second in August in Adelaide and Melbourne , where she will sing Senta.

There are rumours of other productions, and statements in the press to the effect that, if the Federal Government matches the grant announced by the State Government of South Australia, there will be a revival of Elke Neidhardt's 2004 Ring in Adelaide , possibly in 2011. If anything crystallises, we will let you know, but now is the time to start lobbying the new Labor Government!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year for 2008, Warmest regards,

Roger Cruickshank
25 November 2007