President's Report January 2004

A Letter from the President

Dear Members

Happy New Year, and welcome to our first Newsletter for 2004.

This promises to be an exciting year for Wagner performances in Australia, book-ended as it is by a restudied production of Barrie Kosky's 1996 Flying Dutchman for OA in January and February (a year late for his seven-yearly landfall), and by the Adelaide Ring in November and December.

The 1996 production of The Flying Dutchman was made possible by a bequest from Dr Leonard Hanson, who was president of our Society from its foundation until shortly before his death in 1990, and this restudied production by director Cathy Dadd will have added poignancy for many members because of this connection.

Recent Society Event

On Sunday 16 November 2003, we were fortunate to visit Mr Denis Condon's home and hear, through a technology which is now in the hands of passionate conservators such as Mr Condon, "live" performances by a range of pianists, most of them long dead.

The month before I found myself reflecting, after a particularly fine concert by pianist Barry Douglas in the Angel Place Recital Hall, on the failure of CDs to produce anything like the tone-range and dynamism of concert hall sound in our living rooms. Douglas's concert reminded me that recorded music is often a poor substitute for the sound and experience of a live performance, except where a recorded performance has a historical or personal resonance for us, or is the only choice we have.

As I sat listening to Mr Condon give life again to these pianists on a range of pianos in his music room, I realised that the sound we were hearing was every bit as immediate and "live" as Barry Douglas had been. While unique collections such as this survive, we will always be able to hear "live" pianists from the first part of the last century, through the magic of the piano roll. If only such a mechanism existed for the voice.

On Sunday 7 December, we had our final function of the year - our end-of-year party, preceded by a short video from the American Public Broadcasting Service entitled "Amato: a love affair with opera", about the extraordinary lives of Sally and Tony Amato, and the Amato Opera Company they founded in New York some 56 years ago. Clips from the video and a wealth of material about the Amatos and their company are available from the PBS website, Sadly, Sally Amato died shortly after the film was made, but if you're planning a visit to New York this year and you want to catch a performance, you can find details of Tony and the Amato Opera's 2003-04 season at the Amato website,

The party was a very social event, and at the suggestion of members at our November meeting, name-tags were provided so we all knew who we were. Our thanks go to Barbara Brady, who provided another of her much sought-after cakes for our raffle, to Barbara McNulty who donated the other raffle prizes and provided a cake for eating, to Shirley Robertson who arrayed before us another magnificent afternoon tea, to Sandy and Phil Dudgeon who used all their wiles to sell raffle tickets, and to Juliet Richters, a new member who drew the winning tickets for us. Thanks, also, to Phil Dudgeon and Terence Watson for pouring refreshing libations for us all.

Future functions at the Goethe Institut

Our first function for 2004 will be Sunday 15 February, and will be a "post-mortem" on Opera Australia's production of Der fliegende Holländer - a chance to have your say. We will show extracts from a few other productions for comparison and contrast and to stimulate discussion. If you have a particular production on video or DVD that you would like to comment on, bring that along and tell us why you like it or hate it.
On Sunday 21 March, Antony Ernst will talk on aspects of the Ring as part of our preparation for the Adelaide Ring. A new book by Antony containing articles on each of the Ring operas, which will be published by the Society, will be launched at that meeting. The chapters are significantly revised and rewritten versions of the talks Antony gave to the Society in 1998 before the first Adelaide Ring, with substantial new material.

On Sunday 18 April, Margaret Whitlam will talk about things Wagnerian in her life, and will introduce an act of an opera on DVD or video, which has special meaning for her. Then on Sunday 23 May, Wagner's birthday, we will hold our AGM, followed by a recital by the four Sydney Conservatorium opera students who we have sponsored in German language courses at the Goethe Institut this year - Erin O'Connor, Emily Garth, Rebecca Hilder and Jessica Pratt, accompanied by Sharolyn Kimmorley. They will then be our guests at a catered birthday celebration, which will take the place of the annual luncheon we have enjoyed at The Women's Club over the past few years.

The Neidhardt Ring

Last September I went to a seminar held in Adelaide to introduce the State Opera of South Australia's 2004 Ring. There was a wealth of material from singers, musicians and experts on all aspects of the Ring, but my real interest was in the music and words of Asher Fisch, the Ring's conductor, and of director Elke Neidhardt and her creative team - set designer Michael Scott-Mitchell, lighting and associate designer Nick Schlieper, and costume designer Stephen Curtis.
This quintet will determine, almost completely, the look, feel, sound and taste of this Ring. While their time in the seminar programme was immensely entertaining. Ms Neidhardt admitted that she had something of a reputation for not getting along with conductors, and modestly characterised her relationship with Asher Fisch so far - 15 months before opening night - as being like an amicable courtship. We saw slides of sets and costumes, but the intricate curtains of water and fire whose assembly and dismantling have presumably caused the performances of Rheingold to be rescheduled were only hinted at. Nature will be celebrated realistically, but not traditionally. Ms Neidhardt playfully suggested that if we thought about the kind of place the daughters of the chief of the gods would hang out, we could easily guess her setting for one of the acts of Walküre. And to appease traditionalists (or perhaps to antagonise them) Ms Neidhardt has promised a horned Walküre helmet - just one.

I have no doubt that the driving force behind this production is the iron-willed Ms Neidhardt, whose conception is unlikely to be readily negotiable. Just as Rings at Bayreuth are named after their producers - Chà ©reau, Hall, Kupfer, Flimm - this will be the Neidhardt Ring.

After the seminar, I saw a trio of figures jauntily weaving through the traffic on North Terrace and Mr Michael Scott-Mitchell, Ms Neidhardt and Mr Nick Schlieper (left to right below), looking like a very relieved Freia in the company of Fafner and Fasolt.

Our 25th Anniversary

In 2005 we will celebrate our 25th year, and the 100th edition of our Newsletter. We would like, if possible, to have a complete list of all our members during this period, but some of our early records have been lost. If any of you have membership lists or other details, or know of anyone who has, especially from the early years of the Society, we would be delighted to be able to copy them to complete our records and to acknowledge the sources.

Membership renewals

Finally, a reminder for those who have not renewed your membership for 2004. Please complete the form at the back of Issue 94 of this Newsletter and post it, with your cheque, to the Society; otherwise, a reminder notice will be posted out.

My best wishes to you all.

Roger Cruickshank 13 January 2004