I am delighted to begin my second report for 2006 with news that my earlier predictions of a dearth of things Wagnerian in Australia over the next few years may well prove to be wrong.
Melba Foundation Limited, which, according to CEO Maria Vandamme, stepped in at the last minute to record the Ring Cycle in Adelaide in November and December 2004, wrote to patrons in April to announce a schedule for the release on CD of each part of the Neidhardt Ring, and then of the whole set. Die Walkure was released on 7 June 2006, Das Rheingold will be released in October 2006, Siegfried in February 2007 and Gotterdammerung and the Ring Cycle set in October 2007. [For some information about the new SACD format and the release of Die Walkure , see below.]
As I said in my annual report for 2005 delivered at our AGM in May this year, Opera Australia is rumoured to be planning productions of two Wagner operas, one in 2007 and a second in 2008, and there are also rumours that the State Opera of South Australia is planning to stage Meistersinger in 2008 and to restage the Neidhardt Ring in 2010. Having Cassandra-like predicted a depressing lack of future Wagner performances, I will devour humble pie with relish if this proves not to be the case.
On 2 April, we held our second function of 2006, at which Alan Whelan gave an illustrated talk on the life and works of Siegfried Wagner. The overwhelming impression for me that remains from Alan's talk is, perhaps unexpectedly, one of the intense lyricism in parts of Siegfried Wagner's music, such as his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra composed in 1915.
My curiosity and enthusiasm roused, I bought Sonnenflammen , his opera Opus 8 set at the time of the fall of Byzantium to the crusaders, which was the only complete opera recording I could find locally. The story ends with the body of the flawed hero Fridolin being consumer by the flames that are destroying the city, while the women of the story escape. For those who are looking for them, parts of this plot have some similarities to plots used by his father, but the most immediate difference between the two story-tellers is that Siegfried Wagner's story is (please excuse the awful pun) Byzantine, difficult and confusing in its myriad directions, and perhaps in search of a good editor.
Within the music, however, there are such unexpected periods of lyricism that I find myself looking for more. Through the Internet, it's not hard to find. There is an International Siegfried Wagner Society at www.siegfried-wagner.org , which has an English-language page. Unfortunately, unless you are a fluent German speaker, your enquiries take you into the amusing, but unreliable, world created by the auto-translation facilities offered by Internet search engines such as Google
One story which I could confirm was that Werner Andreas Albert, who was president of the International Siegfried Wagner Society for many years and conducts a number of orchestras in performances of Siegfried Wagner's works which are available in Europe on CD, was in Brisbane on 5 May 2006 and conducted the Queensland Orchestra in a concert which began with the overture to Siegfried Wagner's opera Der Friedensengel (the Peace Angel), Op 10, which was published in 1914. This concert was broadcast by ABC Classic FM.
Our third function for 2006 was our annual celebration of Richard Wagner's birthday, held on the closest Sunday to the actual date, which this year was Sunday 21 May. Our Vorabend was the showing of the third part of Tony Palmer's 10-hour epic, "Wagner"Â, which was followed by our Annual General Meeting, a recital by Jessica Pratt and two of our 2005 German Language Scholarship students, Amy Radford and Harriett Marshall, accompanied by Kate Golla, the 2005 Bayreuth Scholar, who also gave a short talk about her month in Germany last year, and finally by our birthday celebration. My thanks to the singers and to Kate Golla, for making this another wonderful afternoon. The staged venom with which Jessica Pratt launched into the Queen of the Night's second great showpiece, "Der Holle Rache"Â, left me breathless.
The Annual General Meeting decided, after much discussion which was thankfully focused at the end by Professor Hans Freeman, to amend the rules for allocation of Bayreuth tickets so that members who have not previously been to Bayreuth with tickets provided through the Society will be given preference. Sets of tickets will henceforward be allocated by ballot to applicants in the following order: (i) to applicants who have been members of the Society for two years or more and who have not previously or in the past five years received tickets to Bayreuth through the Society, (ii) to other applicants who have been members of the Society for two years or more, and (iii) to all other applicants.
I would like to welcome two new members to our Management Committee, Gaby Bremner-Moore and Alan Whelan, who were nominated from the floor of the AGM. They join the existing committee office-bearers and members, who were all reappointed for a further year.
Other Wagner performances
The Sydney Symphony Orchestra's performance of "The Ring - An Orchestral Adventure"Â under the baton of Edo de Waart in early April was an unexpected pleasure. I had been put off by the faux marketing of a "highlights"Â performance, under a poster of the Valkyries as Mardi Gras icons Dykes On Bikes, but it was nothing of the kind. Instead, it was a single connected whole made up in the main of music from the Ring Cycle written by Wagner without voices - the prelude to Rheingold, the descent into Nibelheim, the entrance of the gods into Walhalla, the ride of the Valkyries, Forest Murmurs, Siegfried's Rhine journey, and so on. Musically it was a delight, with very few moments where the absence of a vocal line intruded into the flow of the music. For me it brought back memories of the four years, ending with Gotterdammerung in 2000, when de Waart and the SSO gave outstanding concert performances of each of the Ring works.
I almost hesitate to heap more praise on the two "semi-staged"Â performances of Parsifal in Wellington in mid-March, since the reviews of the performance have already used all the superlatives I know. With an all New Zealand cast, including Sir Donald McIntyre in the role of Gurnemanz and English-born Margaret Medlyn as Kundry , these performances were part of the 2006 New Zealand International Arts Festival, in conjunction with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Our Society made a donation of A$2,500 in support of these performances.
Instead of telling you how good the singers were, I'll make some observations about negative aspects of the ticketing process and the physical location of chorus and soloists relative to the audience and the Michael Fowler Centre. Tickets were first allocated to Wellington subscribers for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's 2006 subscription season (which is how friends and I got our tickets) and were only later made available to the public. This meant that some eager overseas travellers had to book travel and accommodation without having tickets for the performances. The staging took place on a raised platform behind the orchestra, with the orchestra moved forward to the very front of the stage. This proved to be a disaster for many viewers in the Fowler Centre, where the front-row seats in the stalls are already slightly below the level of the concert stage. Although these seats were priced as premium seating, they had no view of the raised stage behind the orchestra or of the singers on that stage, and many overseas visitors I spoke to from our own Wagner Society and from the Adelaide Society were bitterly disappointed with their seating. Luckily, the management of the theatre and the staff of the NZSO were able to re-seat many of them, but as a general rule a festival performance will not attract friendly comments from overseas visitors if they only get seating left-over after the locals have taken the best available in the house, or from anyone who pays premium prices for opera seats without a view of the singers.
My second observation relates to the physical location of the male chorus with the Fowler centre. This chorus was split, with 17 tenors high up in the back rows of a block of audience seating on one side of the orchestra, and 17 basses similarly high up on the opposite side of the hall. The female chorus was also in audience seating behind the orchestra, but it faced out into the auditorium. The stage was not large, and only the principal singers, pages and Klingsor's six ZaubermÃ¤dchen appeared on it, a few at a time. The acoustics of the auditorium appeared to favour singers and musicians on or near the stage, and did not favour the male choirs located high up in audience seating, who sang across the hall to each other rather than out into the auditorium. As a result, the Grail Knights, whose vocal menace is usually a driving force in the Good Friday services, sounded weak and distant from where I was sitting. Similarly, Klingsor sang from high at the back of the auditorium behind the orchestra and stage, behind and between two screens onto which the text was projected. These screens seemed to me to block some of the sound, so that Martin Snell's deep rolling bass voice sounded oddly thin. The quality of the singers was so overwhelming that it was annoying that the performances were marred by these positional decisions.
Visit by Bernd Benthaak
Bernd Benthaak, the director of the Wellington Parsifal and of other operas including works by Wagner, will be visiting Australia later this month. He will be in Adelaide around 20 June as guest of honour at the 20 th anniversary celebrations of the Richard Wagner Society of South Australia. Bernd was not a foundation member of that Society, but he provided the catalyst for its formation, as he was directing the Flying Dutchman in Adelaide in 1986 when members of the audience decided to see if there was enough interest to form a Society.
Mr Benthaak's visit is being partly-sponsored by our Society as a contribution towards the celebration of South Australia's anniversary, and on his return to New Zealand, Bernd will be stopping off in Sydney for a few days, when we hope to organise an informal dinner with him. Details of this will be sent to members by email, since at this stage we don't know the exact dates of his travel.
A recent Sunday morning waddle past the eateries lining Macleay Street, Potts Point, in search of sustenance, was pleasantly but briefly interrupted by a chance encounter with Colin Jones and Paul Curran. Paul has made an outstanding career for himself as a stage director in Europe and North America, and was back in Sydney between projects. Paul's website , www.paulcurran.info contains some astounding images from his past productions, and if you have the time it's well worth a look, especially at the pictures from his La Scala Tannhauser .
Donations and membership renewals
Finally, some words of apology. I have been beset by problems with technology, requiring a new PC following the untimely demise of my former model with the consequent loss of a considerable amount of data. My new PC failed after a number of weeks and I had to start the process of rebuilding my data a second time. Then there were the unappreciated attentions of a select group of worms and viruses, which were inconvenient but not fatal. And lastly the discovery that a number of macros which I used to generate letters to renewing members and to produce receipts for tax-deductible donations would not run on my new PC no matter how nicely I fiddled with them.
The upshot of this tedious tale is that no letters or receipts have been posted since March, and for this unacceptably long delay I apologise. I will be posting individually hand-crafted receipts for donations and letters acknowledging your membership renewals over the next few weeks, so that everyone should have received a reply by the end of the current tax year, 30 June. If you don't receive anything by then, please phone me so that I can re-generate the document you require.
Our Newsletter editor advises me that the September issue will contain a number of reviews of the Copenhagen Ring Cycle. Many thanks to the contributors. All contributions are welcome!
Best wishes to you all,
Roger Cruickshank, Monday 13 June 2006