President's Report December 2008 - January 2009

Dear Members

Welcome to our Summer Newsletter for 2008. If you know the third part of Clive James' thoroughly unreliable memoirs, 'May Week was in June', then you'll be prepared for this, our December 2008 Newsletter, which is being printed and posted to you in February 2009. The reasons for the delay are all mine, and I apologise for them.

Past Functions

October 2008 - Associate Professor Goetz Richter

On Sunday 19 October 2008, Associate Professor Goetz Richter, Chair of the Strings Unit at the Conservatorium of Music, Sydney, gave an stimulating illustrated talk about 'Wagner and Nietzsche' without, alas, extracts from Carmen.

That Richard Wagner, perhaps the greatest composer of his age (and also a part-time philosopher), should strike up a friendship with Friedrich Nietzsche, then a young man who would come to be regarded as perhaps the greatest philosopher of that age (and also a part-time composer), is extraordinary enough. Given the egos involved, it is perhaps not surprising that their friendship should falter, as Nietzsche found his own voice outside the Wagner circle. The surprise is that their stories, whether together or apart, were oddly parallel, even to the women who had stewardship of their legacies after death. Professor Richter's talk covered many facets of this relationship and was deeply effecting.

November 2008 - Christmas Party

Our final function for the year was our Christmas party on Sunday 30 November. The festivities began at 1pm with an introductory documentary titled 'The Life and Times of Max Lorenz - Hitler's Mastersinger', which was kindly loaned by June Donsworth. This was followed at by a fascinating documentary on the life of Georg Solti, loaned by Terence Watson, who then showed the 1957 Bugs Bunny/Merry Melodies cartoon 'What's Opera, Doc?' followed by a quiz to name the Wagner leitmotivs.

It's hard enough to keep John Culshaw's words 'I'm sick on a SEE-saw' out of my head when I hear the Walkurenritt from Apocalypse Now, without now having to suppress 'Kill the Wabbitt' as well. Not to mention the love duet between Bugs/Brunnhilde and Elmer Fudd/Siegfried set to the overture from Tannhauser, with such memorable lines as 'Oh Bwunhilde, be my wove!' Sometimes I guess we just have to endure the unendurable.

Happily this was followed by our Christmas Party. In our raffle, which raised just under $300, Colin Baskerville won two A-reserve tickets to operas of his choice in Opera Australia's 2009 season, donated by Roger Cruickshank, Shirley Robertson won the Christmas Cake donated by Barbara Brady, and Leona Geeves won a DVD from Bayreuth of the Kirchner / Rosalie Gotterdammerung.

Unhappily, I had one of those unforgiveable accidents with technology. The sign on the Goethe-Institut door asks late arrivals to phone or text my mobile phone so that they can be let in. I let someone in around 2:45 and then, thinking that there would be no others, I turned my instrument off. Alas, some half-a-dozen members, some of whom had travelled from the Hunter Valley, arrived after that and were left cooling their heels and fruitlessly phoning and texting until someone who was leaving early let them in. My apologies to those members, whose enjoyment of the party was so sorely tested; I'll make sure that I keep the accursed instrument switched on henceforward.

Katharina Wagner's Meistersinger

For the first 4 meetings in 2009, we will be showing material relevant to Katharina Wagner's current production of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg at Bayreuth.

On Sunday 15 February starting at 12.30pm, prior to Peter Basset's talk, we'll be showing a documentary entitled 'Katharina Wagner's Baptism of Fire, The Road to her Debut as Director in Bayreuth', which was kindly loaned by Barbara Brady. The film documents the genesis of her new production of the Meistersinger in Bayreuth in 2007, and gives a unique insight into the inner workings of the Bayreuth festival. (The documentary lasts 82 minutes.)

Then before each of the next three meetings, we will show an act from the production:
Sunday 15 March Act 1 starting at 12:30pm (timings from the DVD total 85m 47s)
Monday 23 March Act 2 starting at 5:50pm (timings total 61m 40s)
Sunday 24 May Act 3 starting at 11:45am (timings total 128m 55s, including credits etc)

Future Functions

The first meeting of 2009 will be held at the Goethe-Institut on Sunday 15 February. At 12:30pm we will show Act 1 of Meistersinger, followed at 2pm by Peter Bassett, who will give a talk on Beethoven and Wagner. Peter gave a fascinating illustrated talk last year on that 'other' Sachs opera, Albert Lortzing's comic opera Hans Sachs, and its influences on Wagner's Die Meistersinger, and I'm sure he'll be fascinated to see the documentary on Katharina Wagner's production.

On Sunday 15 March at 12:30pm, we will show Act 1 of Meistersinger, followed at 2pm by a talk by Warwick Fyfe on his coming to Wagner as a singer. Warwick's talk last year on his experiences as the 2007 Bayreuth Scholar was for many the highlight of our 2008 programme, revealing the depth of this wonderful singer's love of art and music.

On Monday 23 March at 5:50pm, we will show Act 2 of Meistersinger, followed at 7pm by an illustrated talk by Professor Health Lees entitled 'Wagner, the Dutchman, and the Sea', which has been prepared by Professor Lees as an introduction to the Adelaide production of the Hollander in November.
This will be our first evening function at the Goethe-Institut. Professor Lees is visiting Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, and is flying up from Melbourne for one night to deliver this talk. Afterwards, we will take Professor Lees to dinner at a local restaurant (to be advised) and anyone who would like to join this meal should contact Roger Cruickshank on (02) 9357 7631.

On Sunday 24 May at 11:45am, we will show Act 3 of the Meistersinger, followed by our Annual General Meeting, a recital by singers whom we have helped with language scholarships and assisted with overseas travel costs, and then an afternoon tea to celebrate Richard Wagner's Birthday (which this year falls on Friday, 22 May).

Last year the AGM approved an increase in the attendance fee for our functions from $10 to $15, which came into effect in July. Our hope was that the increase would not impact on the number of members attending functions, but that it would reduce the losses we had been making. We were not ambitious enough to hope for a profit from our functions, or that we might break even. For whatever reason, our attendances in the second half of 2008 reduced, with the result that our losses from functions have continued.

For this reason, the committee proposes to put a package of measures to the AGM which will be designed to continue with functions which are more cost-neutral, and to continue to support the artists and productions with scholarships, grants and donations. For this reason, we are not at this stage scheduling monthly meetings through to the end of 2009.

Ring Cycle in Melbourne 2012

The Age' newspaper of 9 December 2008 reported that 'Lonely Planet' publishing co-founder Maureen Wheeler is exploring the possibility of staging Wagner's Ring Cycle in Melbourne in 2012, and is ready to put $12 million towards the project. The article said 'It is believed the artistic administrator and dramaturg with the Ring Cycle staged in Adelaide in 2004, Peter Bassett, is exploring the options for Melbourne. But he said yesterday that he would not be able to discuss details until early 2009.'

Ms Wheeler's extraordinary act of generosity gives us hope that the emptiness left after Elke Neidhardt's acclaimed 2004 Adelaide Ring will at last be filled. The Age article links conductor Lionel Friend's name with the project, and quotes the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's chief executive as confirming that the orchestra was interested in the project. The MSO's performing home, Hamer Hall, is likely to be closed for renovations for all of 2012, and the article mentions the Royal Exhibition Buildings as a possible alternate venue.
I understand that consideration was given to re-scaling and re-stagging the Neidhardt Ring, but that this was not feasible because of the poor state of some of the sets, and the high cost of transporting them and adapting them for a new venue.

Without using an existing opera company or access to a conventional opera house, Ms Wheeler and her team have the opportunity to create something unique with their festival performances, and I'm sure we all wish them well in bringing this great endeavour to fruition. 
Peter Bassett will be talking to our Society on Sunday 15 February. Unless a public announcement has been made before that date, I understand that Peter won't be in a position to give us details of the proposal which he is putting together.

The Flying Dutchman in Adelaide in November 2009

On Saturday 7, Tuesday 10, Thursday 12 and Saturday 14 November, the State Opera of South Australia, with Nicholas Braithwaite conducting the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, will stage a new production of The Flying Dutchman, directed by Chris Drummond. The cast includes John Wegner (Dutchman), Margaret Medlyn (Senta), Stuart Skelton (Erik), Daniel Sumegi (Daland), Katharine Tier (Mary) and Angus Wood (Steersman). The work will be performed as three acts, and with two twenty minute intervals, will last approximately three hours. 
Renaissance Tours (Tel: (02) 9299 5801, Toll Free: 1300 727 095) is offering a weekend package for the performance on Saturday 14 November, which can be extended to include an excursion to Kangaroo Island.

Opera Australia

The tragic death last year of Opera Australia's musical director, Richard Hickox, while recording in the United Kingdom, has not ended the bitter controversy which surfaced in the last months of his life regarding his direction for the company and its artistic leadership and management. 
We all have our views on the company's direction, its repertoire, its treatment of Simone Young, its ensemble performers, its season in Melbourne, on the Opera Theatre itself with its problematic orchestra pit and mediocre acoustic - in fact on almost every aspect of the opera company!

Even though many of my views are not positive, I temper them with one over-riding thought - that life in Australia without Opera Australia would simply be unthinkable. For that reason alone, we need to carefully consider who benefits from the ongoing and trenchant criticism of the company, and what end its critics have in mind.

A recent article by Joyce Morgan in the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the company has appointed a five-person selection panel, including chairman Ziggy Switkowski and board member David Malouf, 'to consider the criticisms made of the company in recent months and to consult a range of industry professionals.' In the interests of the artistic future of this country, I wish them every success.

Death of Deborah Riedel

I'm sure we were all saddened with the news of the death of Deborah Riedel. Her role debit as Sieglinde in the Neidhardt Ring, for which she was the recipient of a Helpmann Award, was recorded by Melba Records and is a testament to the glory of her voice.

I last heard her in March 2008, in the role of Sieglinde in a concert performance of Act 1 of Die Walkure with the Queensland Orchestra conducted by Johannes Fritzsch, with Christian Elsner as Siegmund and Philip Kang as Hunding. None of the power and beauty of her voice had been tarnished.

Roger Cruickshank
2 February 2009