President's Report March 2007

Dear Members

Welcome to our first Newsletter for 2007. This has ended up being a much more serious President's Letter than normal - there's hardly any naughtiness in this letter - and I hope this isn't a portent for 2007, which can hardly be a serious year with both State and Federal elections!!


On Sunday February 18, Terence Watson gave presentations on the Ring Cycle productions last year in Toronto and Costa Mesa, and then led a discussion with other members who had attended these performances, including Leona Geeves, and Colleen and Michael Chesterman. Terence also gave a talk entitled The case of Siegfried, which looked at the journey Wagner created for Siegfried both within the stories of Siegfried and Gotterdammerung, and within their music. He discussed whether Wagner achieved his aim of developing "a free, true happy man" (and woman) and the challenges that this poses to a director "in an interpretation of Siegfried that is not predicated on ironic distancing or embarrassed belittling, but allows him to reveal his revolutionary potential." Is Dr Watson trying to end the current directorial preference for a Punk Billy Bunter as Siegfried?

This Sunday, March 18, Robert Gay will give a talk on Wagner and French Grand Opera, which will not be another talk on Rienzi, but will discuss the influences of French Grand Opera on the later works, through even to Parsifal.

On Sunday April 15, Nigel Butterley will deliver his second Faust talk, "Faust and the Feminine", and on Sunday May 20 we will have our AGM, our Wagner birthday celebration, and a recital by students from the Conservatorium of Music, who have received German Language Scholarships from our Society.

Lecture by Professor Health Lees

In late August and early September, Professor Heath Lees will tour Australia giving talks to each of the Wagner Societies about his new book "Mallarme and Wagner: Music and Poetic Language". Tis is due to be published in June by Ashgate publishers in the UK, and there is already a link to the book on their website at

Professor Lees, originally from Scotland, is Professor of Music at the University of Auckland and his talks, given from the piano with a musicologist's skill, are always highlights. His most recent talk was in Adelaide during the Neidhardt Ring.

Subject to finalisation of his tour schedule, Professor Lees will be giving a talk on Sunday September 2 entitled "Wagner and Mallarme: Music as Poetry and Poetry as Music", sub-headed perhaps "Heath Lees opens up the ideas in his new book." Professor Lees has already given talks of this subject in Edinburgh to the Wagner Society of Scotland, and in "broken French" (Professor Lees' words) to the Cercle de Wagner de Toulouse. In his talks, Professor Lees argues that "the French understood Wagner's aims and ideas better than any other nation at the time!"

According to Ashgate, Professor Lees "has published widely on the interface between music and words, especially in the works of Beckett and Joyce. His love of all things French is complemented by a passion for the work of Richard Wagner. He is President of the Wagner Society of New Zealand, which he and his wife founded in 1994, now one of the world's larger Wagner Societies. His fascination for the Symbolists came when he read his first Mallarme poems and felt, he says, as though he were listening to music."

Professor Lees will also bring a contingent of 65 from the New Zealand Wagner Society for the performance of Tannhauser on Saturday October 27, and we hope to organise a function while they are here (although the lure of The Gondoliers may prove too great for some.)

2006 Bayreuth Scholar

Michal Imielski, the 2006 Bayreuth Scholar, has sent Opera Foundation Australia a very full report on his three months overseas, and the performances which he worked on and attended, and this is reprinted in the Newsletter. We hope that Michal can join us at our May meeting and give a brief talk on his time away, including the work with Barry Kosky on a production of Tristan und Isolde which he discusses in his report.

Membership Renewals

If you haven't already done so, it's time to renew your membership for 2007, and a renewal form is provided on the inside back cover of our latest Newsletter, and on our website at This form includes our bank account details, so if you'd prefer to transfer your money direct into the Society's bank account using your bank's internet banking facilities, you can.

One unexpected benefit of membership renewal this year is that I've learned a little more about my new country, Australia. I've discovered Kenilworth in Queensland, which has a postcode of 4574, which is the same as our GPO Box number here in Sydney. A number of our renewal letters come with a Kenilworth stamp emblazoned on their reverse, which means that the letter has journeyed through time-zone changes all the way to Kenilworth and back. If, like me, you have never heard of Kenilworth, there is a website at which can put your mind at rest. It's inland from Noosa and Maroochydore.

Wagner performances here and overseas

Sydney's two Wagner events in 2007 will be the Australian Opera's performances of Tannhauser in October and early November, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's performances of the Siegfried Idyll in December.

As well as leading a tour to the Bangkok Opera's Die Walkure in July, Peter Bassett is also taking a tour titled 'In the Footsteps of Richard Wagner' to Europe in June. Destinations include Paris, Lucerne, Zurich, Munich, three of King Ludwig's castles, Bayreuth, Dresden, Berlin and Hamburg, and the group will attend performances including Lohengrin, The Flying Dutchman and Tristan und Isolde. A number of our members have already booked for this tour, which proved to be very popular and was quickly full. Peter Bassett has let us know that a number of places have become vacant in the last week or so, and these are being offered on a first-come first-served basis. If you're interested, contact Renaissance Tours on 1300 727 095, toll free, for further information.

Bruce Martin to record Wagner CD

Universal Music Australia has embarked on a project to record famous Australian opera singers in Australia with Australian orchestras, which they hope to distribute in Australia and Europe.

In the first recording in this project, Universal is producing a CD with Bruce Martin, which will be the first time that Mr Martin has been recorded in his professional opera career. The recording will be produced in Perth in mid July with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra with Simone Young conducting. Ms Young is returning to Australia specifically for this project.

Universal is looking for financial contributions to enable this recording to take place, and is hoping to raise $30,000 from private donations and from Wagner Society members throughout Australia as part of its overall budget of around $200,000.

If you are interested in helping with this project, you can contact Elisabeth Turner, the Classical Artist and Repertoire Consultant to Universal Music Australia, by phone on (03) 9596 9909 (mobile 0407 328 066) or by email There is a package of benefits for private sponsorships of more than $1,000, including having your name in the accompanying CD booklet and a free set of Ring CDs.

You can also make a donation to the Society and ask that it be passed on to Universal Music, which will not attract any benefits but will be tax deductible.

While the track list has not been finalised, the tracks being considered include:

  • Die Walkure - Ride of the Valkyries and "Leb' wohl" (Wotan's Farewell) and Magic Fire Music
  • Der fliegende Hollander - Prelude and "Die Frist ist um"
  • Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg - Prelude to Act 3, "Wahn! Wahn! Uberall Wahn!" (Wahnmonolog) and "Was duftet doch der Flieder" (Fliedermonolog)
  • Tristan und Isolde - Prelude to Act 1 and King Marke's monologue
  • Gotterdammerung - Hagen's Watch and Siegfried's Funeral March
  • Tannhauser - "O, du mein holder Abendstern"

Wagner Journal

This month (March 2007) has seen the launch of a new Wagner Journal in the UK, edited by Barry Millington.

While the launch of a Wagner journal usually doesn't cause much comment on the platform, this first issue contained a translation of a previously unpublished letter by Richard Wagner to a firm of Milanese couturiers which hinted that Herr Wagner might have been a cross-dresser. This salacious possibility gave the Journal's launch all the publicity it required.

On 2 March, both the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age carried on-line the same story by Charlotte Higgins from The Guardian in London. The SMH headlined her report "Wagner's secret passion for frock opera", while The Age punned "Curtain lifts on Wagner's secret pink rhapsody." Even Sydney's free evening MX paper carried a short report under the headline "Letter skirts dress code." It seems that Mr Millington and all the sub-editors involved enjoyed the punning opportunities this story gave rise to.

The Wagner Journal will appear three times a year in March, July and November, and will be published both in print form for 52 pounds a year (approx A$130) and online for 30 pounds (approx A$75). A subscription for both the print and online forms of the Journal will be 57 pounds (approx A$145). Full details of subscriptions etc are available at the journal's website,

Bayreuth 2007

We've now received a total of ten sets of tickets for Bayreuth 2007, and the lucky members who will be going are Colin Jones and Paul Curran, June Donsworth, Julie and Terry Clarke, Monica and Aliro Olave, Pauline Holgerson and MaryAnne and Nick Gillott.

Under our current balloting system for tickets, the member whose name is drawn first from the hat has first choice of seats for each opera and for the Ring; the member whose name is drawn second has the choice of any of the remaining seats; and so on until the last name is drawn, and that member has no choice at all - they get whatever is left. This means that the lucky first usually has the best seats for every performance, and the unlucky last the worst (if any seat at Bayreuth can be called "bad") and everyone has the same companions sitting with them for every performance.

It has been suggested that the Society should allocate tickets so that members have a mixture of seats within the Festspielhaus (except for the Ring, where only one ticket is issued for the four nights) and so that members can sit with different people for each of the non-Ring works, and we'll put this to the AGM in May.

It's not the same without a little naughtiness, is it? I look forward to seeing many of you at one of our functions in 2007.

Warmest regards,

Roger Cruickshank
12 March 2007