President's Report May 2003

Dear Members

Recent Functions

2003 marks both the 190th anniversary of Wagner's birth, and the 120th anniversary of his death. Our inaugural function in February was a talk by Professor Michael Ewans entitled "Wagner in Perspective - 120 Years after the Master's Death", which surveyed the range of his contributions, the passionate views for and against which he still arouses, and his continuing relevance. Professor Ewans is an honorary life member of the Society, and his talk - which itself aroused some passionate responses - will be published as an occasional paper to mark this year's importance for us. Professor Ewans has just completed a book entitled "The Greeks in Opera", and I'll let you know when this is available.

To prepare for this year's major Wagner event in Sydney, Opera Australia's production of "Die Meistersinger von Niirnberg", at our March function we showed a DVD of Gà ¶tz Friedrich's production for the Deutsche Oper Berlin, conducted by Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos. This was the first DVD we have shown using the Goethe Institut's new audiovisual equipment, and the increased clarity of the picture and sound when compared with the videos we have shown

was astounding. In response to frequent requests, the DVD was shown with English subtitles, which I found to be a mixed blessing. Sitting at the back of the room I could hardly read them through all the heads in front bobbing and weaving, and in the end I gave up trying. Our thanks to Cecilia Segura, who provided the DVD.

The traditional Palm Sunday Parsifal meeting this year was a little untraditional, with a talk by Antony Ernst in place of a video production. While Antony demurred when I introduced him as "controversial", his talk inspired some heated debate during our normally placid afternoon tea. Antony discussed aspects of a number of possible interpretations, including Kundry's Jewish past as Herodias, the sin of mixed blood (Kundry's with Parsifal's pure Aryan), Titurel as God the Father (and his Nietzschean death), Amfortas as Christ, the Redeemer redeemed. One member has responded to some of the issues Antony discussed, and this may appear in a future issue of the Newsletter.

Future functions

We will not be having functions at the Goethe Institut in September or November. In September, members are invited to attend a master class to be given on Tuesday 9 September at the NSW Conservatorium of Music by the renowned Wagnerian bass, Sir Donald McIntyre. Sir Donald is a guest speaker at a Ring Cycle seminar in Adelaide on the weekend of September 6 and 7, which has been organized by the State Opera of South Australia as part of their preparation for the 2004 Adelaide Ring, and will be in Sydney after the seminar on his way back to New Zealand. The master class will be open to the public, and the cost will be $10 for Wagner Society members. More details of the master class will be available in the Winter Newsletter which will be mailed out in August.

On Sunday 16 November, we will hold our function at the premises of Mr Denis Condon, 47 Station Street, Newtown. Mr Condon has an extensive collection of pianos and rolls - Ampico, Duo-Art, Welte (red, green and licensee) - and a Yamaha Disklavier. Some members will recall a similar function held in 1994, when Mr Condon gave an introduction to mechanical musical reproduction, and played piano rolls of works by Wagner and his contemporaries. This is a unique resource loving preserved, and I hope that you will make the most of this opportunity to listen to these unique recorded performances.

Edo de Waart's farewell Wagner performance

A theatre party from the Society attended the final Wagner performance by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Edo de Waart. Entitled "Ride of the Valkyries", the concert included the Siegfried Idyll and a concert performance of the third Act of Die Walküre. I exhausted my superlatives for the Perth Gà ¶tterdämmerung performances in February, and didn't expect to have to dust them off again this year, but I was very wrong. With Elizabeth Connell and Bruce Martin (standing in at short notice), and the SSO in unusually fine form, the performance was superb. I was a tourist to Sydney in the 80s when I first saw Martin's Wotan in the Walküre with Rita Hunter, which was the final stage of the ill-fated AO Ring, and those memories came flooding back. I am looking forward to hearing his Hans Sachs! For a concert performance, there were moments of real emotion, for example when Elizabeth Connell looked tenderly into Bruce Martin's eyes and briefly took his hand, before he musically kissed away her divinity. But the evening belonged to Edo de Waart, who has in his 10 year tenure with the SSO brought quality Wagner to a wide Australian audience. In this farewell performance, I was almost willing to forgive him his love affair with off-stage microphones and gimmickry, which I found so annoying in the past. Bruce Martin didn't need a microphone to sing "Steh, Brünnhild!" off-stage, and we didn't need the electronic sounds of thunder either. I was overcome with such affection for de Waart by the end of the performance that I almost willed him to annoy me one last time by filling the Concert Hall with the soft glow of Loge's fire licking the insides of those great sails - and he didn't! We must wait and see whether his successor keeps Wagner in the SSO's repertoire and at the same intensity.

The strange case of Herr Wagner's Steinway

2003 is the 150th anniversary year for Steinway pianos, and three historical Steinways made a brief visit to Sydney, being displayed in the foyer of the Angel Place Recital Hall on May 28 and 29. At first we were told that one of these historical Steinways was currently owned by the Wagner family and had been played by Richard Wagner in the late 1870s, but this couldn't be confirmed. The Steinway people suggested that this piano be delivered to the birthday dinner at the Women's Club, but the dinner was held on the day the pianos arrived in Sydney, and this dream arrangement did not eventuate.

Doctor Michael Bookalil

I regret to report that one of our foundation members, Doctor Michael Bookalil, has passed away. Doctor Bookalil joined the Society on 26 October 1980, and was member number 2.

Membership renewals

A reminder to those of you who have not renewed that now is the time to do so.

"Mark-up" on theatre bookings

When we organise theatre parties to concerts, we generally add a small handling fee and donation to the Society, which is included in the cost of tickets for members. In the past these amounts may not have been clearly disclosed, and some members have asked why there has been a discrepancy between the price we charge and the cost shown on the tickets they receive. For example, members pay $165 for our theatre party tickets to Meistersinger on 5 July. We will pay Opera Australia $156 for each ticket, and the balance, $9, is a handling fee / donation for the Society. In future, we will disclose the actual ticket costs and associated fee / donation.

Roger Cruickshank 20 May 2003