President's Report March 2012

Welcome to the first newsletter for 2012.

We have a very exciting series of events lined up for this year. Details are set out later in this newsletter. The next meeting, on 25 March, promises to be a real highlight, featuring Maureen Wheeler, the major sponsor of the 2013 Melbourne Ring Cycle, and Richard Mills, who will be its conductor. Then, only a few days later, on Wednesday, 28 March, an evening fundraiser will take place at the Goethe Institute, featuring the erudite and entertaining Heath Lees, who will be talking about the women in Wagner's life and works.

However on the external front, the news is somewhat mixed. I will start with the Melbourne Ring and then report on the Bayreuth ticket situation. As you all no doubt know, Opera Australia (OA) will be mounting three cycles at the State Theatre in November and December next year. It is a co-production with Houston Opera, and Neil Armfield is the director. There will be a stellar cast, including Juha Uusitalo as Wotan and Susan Bullock as Brunnhilde, and one of our members Deborah Humble as Erda and Waltraute. The venue is in many ways an excellent one, with a very large stage, but unfortunately not a very great seating capacity: it will accommodate approximately 1800 people. And here lies the problem.

It seems likely that tickets will be in short supply, particularly in the premium and A Reserve categories. Some time ago OA instituted a 'Ring Leaders' programme, whereby donations of $1,500, $3,000, $6,000 and $12,000 gave donors the opportunity to purchase tickets in the category of their choice and (in relation to the larger donations) to the cycle of their choice. The number of tickets procurable in this manner increased, obviously, with the size of the donation. The tickets themselves are by no means cheap: premium reserve tickets for a full cycle are $2,000 each, and A reserve are $1,600. This is in addition to the donations. Nevertheless, OA has advised us that the response has been overwhelming and they are now only accepting donations of $12,000 or more, as they are concerned that they will not be able to honour their obligation to provide seats, particularly in the premium and A reserve categories. This is wonderful news for OA, but less so for Wagner devotees, who might find themselves struggling to obtain tickets, particularly in premium and A reserve. Membership of a Wagner Society does not, I am afraid, give priority in the obtaining of tickets. Priority is afforded, in descending order, to artist sponsors, Ring leaders (according to the amount of their donation), OA patrons, OA subscribers, and finally to the general public.

However, there might be an opportunity for some of our members to obtain tickets, at least in A reserve, by the following means. I have been negotiating with OA about prospective benefits to our members if we, as a Society, were to sponsor an artist in the Ring. Our artist of choice would be Deborah Humble, who will be singing both Erda and Waltraute, and will therefore be performing in all four operas. To sponsor her would cost $30,000. This would carry an entitlement to purchase 30 tickets to the Melbourne Ring, at least in A reserve seats, and with first option after Ring leaders to premium reserve seats. It is anticipated that 10 seats would be made available for each cycle. The problem is that we, the NSW Society, do not have the funds to do this. It would only be possible if our members were to make substantial donations for that purpose, so that we received virtually the whole of the $30,000. I am therefore writing separately to all Society members, seeking to know whether enough of you would be interested in participating in this donation to make it into a feasible proposition. In exchange, you would have the certainty of being able to purchase at least A-reserve tickets for what promises to be an extraordinary event.

The other piece of news relates to tickets to the Bayreuth Festival. As you will know, the NSW Wagner Society, in common with all Wagner Societies in the world, has for decades been receiving special allocations of Bayreuth tickets. We were therefore very surprised to learn earlier this year that this will now cease. There has long been criticism, particularly from within Germany, that too many seats are set aside for preferential groups, leaving an insufficient number for the general public, and leading to a waiting list of 8 or more years. Following an audit by the German authorities last year, it was decided that this practice should cease. We were informed of this decision by a letter dated 14 December from Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katherina Wagner, which we received at the beginning of this year. On 6 January 2012, I wrote to the Bayreuth and German authorities, on behalf of all Australian and New Zealand Wagner Societies. In the letter I referred to the contribution made by the Wagner Societies generally in focusing attention and maximising interest in the music of Richard Wagner, and the importance to our members of being able to attend the Bayreuth Festival. The letter is reproduced in full on our website. The response, dated 24 January 2012, from the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Bayreuth Festival confirmed the decision not to reserve a fixed share of tickets for Wagner Societies, but went on to say that 'members of Wagner Societies shall be given limited priority on the existing waiting lists, which results in a shorter overall waiting period.'

So it is not all bad news. The general waiting list will be significantly shorter than previously, particularly for members of Wagner Societies. As the President of the West Australian Richard Wagner Society said in a recent letter to me:

'The omens have been readily discernible for many years now and the present action can hardly be taken as shocking or unexpected. I have for several years now, personally urged our members to avail themselves of the opportunity to go to Bayreuth as the door was closing.'

In addition, the Friends of Bayreuth will continue to give us a limited allocation of tickets, consisting of two tickets to all operas, and two tickets to some of them.

Finally on this subject, we recently received a letter from the Richard Wagner Scholarship Foundation, which is the sole beneficiary under the new scheme. Its previous allocation of 750 tickets each year has now been increased to 1,000, which will go to the scholars of that year, together with their supporters. So the emphasis from now on will be on supporting young and emerging talent: something that we can hardly criticise, given that it forms a significant part of our own charter.

All relevant correspondence on this issue can be accessed through our website, using the Members Only access process, which requires a password: Please note that the Members Only section of the Society's website also contains PDF versions of the last few years of Newsletters; the collection will be progressively built into a complete set of Newsletters.

Jane Mathews