President's Report March 2006

A Letter from the President

A letter to Members

Dear Members

Welcome to this, our first Newsletter for 2006, in which we mourn the passing of arguably the greatest Wagnerian soprano of the second half of the 20th century, Birgit Nilsson. Many of us only know her effortless soaring steely-sheened voice through recordings, whether as Sieglinde (and third Norn) in Knappertsbusch's spacious 1957 live Ring from Bayreuth, or as Brunnhilde in Solti's monumental studio recording of the Ring (1962-65) and in Bà ¶hm's meticulous live Bayreuth recording from 1967. Her great voice was stilled with her retirement from the operatic stage in 1982, except for one last extraordinary Brunnhilde at a gala performance at Covent Garden in 1992 when, at 72, "she could still tingle the spine with the voice that had dominated opera houses in the 1960s and 1970s" (UK Telegraph 12 Jan 2006).

While on the subject of recordings, we are still waiting for the first opera of the promised set from the Neidhardt Ring in Adelaide in 2004, and regretting that last year's triumphal Tristan in Brisbane with Lisa Gasteen and John Treleaven went unrecorded.


On 19 February, we held our first function of 2006, at which Professor Kim Walker, Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, spoke about the role of the Conservatorium, the work of the Opera Studies Unit in particular, and the need to find private funding to replace government grants which have been severely cut. Sharolyn Kimmorley then conducted a voice coaching class with Catherine Bouchier, a voice student at the Con. From feedback received at and since the function, members attending found this "master class" a fascinating and rewarding window onto the work of the Conservatorium, and I'd like on your behalf to once again thank Professor Kim Walker, Sharolyn Kimmorley and Catherine Bouchier for their fascinating insights.

Traditionally, our functions are held on the third Sunday of each month. However, as the Wellington Parsifal performances are on the weekend on the third Sunday in March, and because the Easter and Anzac Day public holidays fall around the third Sunday in April, we have combining the March and April functions into a single meeting on Sunday 2 April at the Goethe-Institut at 2pm, at which Alan Whelan will speak on the life and works of Siegfried Wagner.

It's generally acknowledged that, as a composer, Siegfried Wagner never emerged fully from the shadow of his father. When he died in 1930, in the same year that his mother died (Cosima cast an altogether different shadow over Siegfried's life), Bayreuth was left in the hands of his notorious widow, Winifred Williams. We tend to see the origins of present-day Bayreuth in the next 15 years of German history (1930 to 1945), and for some the stain left by Winifred and some of their children has still not been wholly wiped out. The tumultuous period following his death may have contributed to a certain neglect which Siegfried Wagner has suffered at the hands of Wagner scholars, and I'm looking forward to Alan's presentation.

Going to the Movies

Without a lot of fanfare, we showed the first of ten episodes of "Wagner", Tony Palmer's 1983 marathon (9 hour) film on the life of Wagner before our function on February 19.. Just like "serials" at the movies in the days before home theatre, we will be showing one episode before each of the next 9 functions, starting with episode two on 2 April. The "Wagner serial" will start at 1pm, and the function will start (as usual) at 2pm.

The film is not without its critics, especially for its non-chronological use of music and its occasional waywardness when historical accuracy gets in the way of the story, but in terms of the outstanding actors who deliver the roles, it is almost without peer. Foremost are the Wagner of Richard Burton and the Cosima of Vanessa Redgrave. Then there is the knightly Pfing Pfong and Pfang of Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir Laurence Olivier (as Pfistermeister, Pfordten and Pfeufer respectively), the narration of Andrew Cruickshank (that great Scottish ham whose Doctor Cameron is burned in to the collective unconscious of too many generations), and an army of bit players - Gwyneth Jones, Peter Hofmann, Franco Nero, Sir William Walton, Arthur Lowe, Prunella Scales, Corin Redgrave, Yvonne Kenny, Manfred Yung, Jess Thomas, Dame Joan Plowright, Cyril Cusack, and many more.

This isn't something that is likely to be coming to a cinema near you any time soon, so why not come early to a few of the functions and sample its delights.

Bayreuth 2006

At our December 2005 function we drew the names of all the applicants for Bayreuth tickets in 2006 one by one from a hat (a Neidhardt Ring sunhat) which I took from my own Pandora's Box which is called "unfortunate Wagner merchandise bought on impulse which is too vile even for raffle prizes".


My Pandora's Box ("unfortunate Wagner merchandise" etc) had a few additions over the holiday period. While trying to sniff out Wagner rarities on DVD from Germany (via I came across three seeming gems which were unknown to me: Wagner meets Cuba - Parsifal goes La Habana; Wagner meets New York - Tristan meets Isolde in Harlem; and Wagner meets Spain - Siegfried's Ole in Espana. Tragically, only the first two have arrived, but when the third appears I know where it will be going. There is very little Wagner in these works, which are recordings and concerts given by a small orchestra augmented apparently by local musicians and singers from each location. "Tristan meets Isolde in Harlem ", for example, has music which sounds a little like Big Band meets Procol Harem, with occasional recognisable moments from Wagner. You can tell that the theme is taken from Wagner because His Head appears rather prominently on the screen and if, when the word "enter" flashes on-screen you press "enter" on your DVD remote controller, you can hear the actual orchestral passage which is being butchered. I must have been very naughty in a past life to have to endure these DVDs.

Next to these latest arrivals in Pandora is the two-volume set of P Craig Russell's masterpiece "The Ring of the Nibelung". Had I noticed that the publisher was Dark Horse Comics before I bought them, I might not have been as surprised when I opened the parcel from Amazon dot com. The most interesting part of the "illustrated novel" is at the end. After Hagen has been dragged down into the Rhine , we see Wotan thrusting his shattered spear into Loge's breast, killing him. Later, we see Brunnhilde and Siegfried alive and united, like Adam and Eve, near the ashes of Walhalla. And in the arid burnt wasteland, a tree takes root and grows. The final cartoon image is the final image from the Neidhardt Ring , sans Erda.


A number of members have asked about the biography of Franz Liszt to which Nigel Butterley referred, which was the three-volume set written by Alan Walker and published by Cornell University Press:

  • Franz Liszt: The Virtuoso Years, 1811-1847 (482 pages, ISBN: 0801494214)
  • Franz Liszt: The Weimar Years, 1848-1861 (656 pages, ISBN: 0801497213)
  • Franz Liszt: The Final Years, 1861-1886 (624 pages, ISBN: 0801484537)

I have included the number of pages in these paperback editions so that you will see the task that lies before you if you purchase all three. Also by Alan Walker and published by Cornell University Press is the smaller and much sadder volume "The Death of Franz Liszt: Based on the Unpublished Diary of His Pupil Lina Schmalhausen (Hardcover, 224 pages, published December 2002, ISBN: 0801440769) which gives a stark account of Liszt's lonely death in Bayreuth .

A number of members have also asked about the Newsgroup in which Alan Whelan participates, which is

There are several ways in which you can access this Newsgroup. Your Internet Service Provider can give you a link so that, using standard email software such as "MS Outlook Express" you can access this and any other Newsgroup. For example, Telstra Bigpond broadband cable subscribers can use a link at to access any Newsgroups they wish. Your Internet Service Provider should be able to help you set up a connection to this Newsgroup using their own server address.

You can also access the messages from this Newsgroup via the web. For example, if you search on using you will easily find a number of web-sites, such as

where you can view the current day's postings, or sites such as…

where you can view the last 500 postings.

Wagner performances

In Sydney in 2006 we have the SSO performing "The Ring - An Orchestral Adventure" under the baton of Edo de Waart on 6, 7, 8 and 10 April, and the Australian Chamber Orchestra performing the Siegfried Idyll in a series of concerts billed as "The Giants" 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 Perth the West Australian Opera is staging three performances of Neil Armfield's production of Tristan und Isolde , conducted by Richard Mills, on November 4, 8 and 11. The cast is Isolde, Susan Bullock; Tristan, Alan Woodrow; Brangane, Bernadette Cullen; Kurwenal, David Wakeham; King Marke, Bruce Martin and Melot, Barry Ryan.

And by the time you read this, the two "semi-staged" performances of Parsifal in Wellington on 17 and 19 March will be over. With an all New Zealand cast, including Sir Donald McIntyre in the role of Gurnemanz and Margaret Medlyn as Kundry , these performances are part of the 2006 New Zealand International Arts Festival, in conjunction with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Our Society has made a donation of A$2,500 in support of these performances.

I hope that you can attend some of these 2006 Wagner performances, and some of our own functions, and please don't forget to take a look at one of the Tony Palmer "Wagner" serials at 1pm before each of our functions.

Roger Cruickshank Sunday 5 March 2006