President's Report May 2004

Dear Members

Your committee

I'm pleased to advise that Mary Haswell is our new Secretary. We have been without a secretary since Barbara McNulty resigned from the position at the July 2003 AGM, and I know you will join with me in welcoming Mrs Haswell to the committee, and in thanking her for making her time and energy available for our Society. Elsina Rasink, who has been our treasurer for the past 3 years, will be resigning at the May AGM. If you have a knowledge of MYOB (or similar software) and can spare a few hours each month to keep our financial records upto- date and attend our meetings and functions, please contact me or any other member of the committee.

Recent Society Events

On Sunday 15 February, we held a "post mortem" discussion on the Opera Australia production of The Flying Dutchman. In for the Kosky production were used.

There was general agreement at the meeting on the glories of the performance - Lisa Gasteen's Senta (although her death by being mysteriously crushed in the stage machinery which raised and lowered the Dutchman's vessel prompted one member of the audience to shout out "Where is Senta?", and seemed more appropriate to last year's production of Salome where Ms Gasteen sang the title role), Jay Hunter Morris's Erik, and the male chorus of OA.

Overall, the meeting was not unreservedly enthusiastic about the new Sydney production, for two main reasons. First, many saw the production itself as a dumbing down of Mr Kosky's far more challenging and controversial interpretation in 1996. Second, there were health and vocal problems with other members of the cast. Arend Baumann was replaced by Daniel Sumegi as Daland before the first performance, and Jonathan Summers was replaced as the Dutchman by Warwick Fyfe after four performances. Opinions were divided on Warwick Fyfe's performance, which some felt was more wooden than the producer required.

For me, Summers' Amfortas was one of the highlights of the production of Parsifal in Adelaide in 2001, and I was disappointed that he was unable to repeat this triumph as the Dutchman. I am a sort of Warwick Fyfe groupie, and make a point of trying to see at least one performance of everything he sings with OA (although I failed to catch his Papageno, as the performance I booked was cancelled because of fumes in the pit.) At the time he took over the role of the Dutchman, Mr Fyfe was also singing the elder Germont in Traviata and Papageno, and at one point sang these 3 roles over 4 nights, which would tax the vocal resources of a saint. Having to sing his big solo number - the recitative and aria / monologue "Die Frist ist um" - without the chance to warm up on stage didn't help either. I'm sure that if Mr Fyfe can conquer his nervousness, we will see and hear an artist who will make us all sit up and take notice.

Last weekend (8/9 May) I went to Melbourne to see the final Dutchman performance there. First, it had a completely different cast - Elizabeth Whitehouse (Senta), John Wegner (Dutchman), Arend Baumann (Daland) and the amazinglynamed and physically impressive Thomas Studebaker as Erik. And, more importantly, the production was significantly altered from the Sydney one - Ms Dadd had listened to her critics.

We started with the same silly swirling mists and illuminated Dutchman's head during the overture, at the end of which - because this was the so-called Paris Version - the jolly burghers of Melbourne clapped their little hearts out. The larger space available on the Arts Centre stage meant that there were a few minor adjustments in the first scenes, but the first significant change came when John Wegner arrived with Daland to meet Senta for the first time. Here was a Dutchman with a swagger and real sexual magnetism, someone Senta could fall in love with for himself and not just because of her fixation with his portrait. The lovers' duet was no longer a static affair but a rapturous encounter full of movement. Bewilderingly, at two crucial moments, Whitehouse's voice disappeared altogether, the only vocal blemishes in a searing encounter which put memories of the Sydney performances and production far behind. Even George Albrecht, whose conducting in Sydney had been somewhat pedestrian, seemed to revel in the wonderful music-making on-stage.

Ms Dadd's biggest change was in the final scene. Eric does not being a gun onstage, allowing Senta to fend off her father and friends to disappear under the stage machinery as in Sydney. Instead, when the Dutchman climbs the stairs into the belly of his ship, Senta is at first restrained by her friends, but then breaking free and rushing after him, she is encased in the arms of the overwhelming Erik, who kills her and lowers her lifeless body tenderly to the stage. The scene is now in darkness, except for Mary, who is sitting alone on the packing cases at the left front of the stage, and picks up Senta's book and starts leafing it.

Then, as Mary too fades into darkness, the Dutchman is seen on the deck of his boat, holding Senta's lifeless body in his arms. Senta is his angel, and he is redeemed by her true love - and so is Ms Dadd's production. What Melbourne saw was a consistent, literal interpretation which, whatever your reaction to it, was true to itself and to its type. Given the 8 years that passed between the Kosky and Dadd productions in Sydney, and the mediocre paying audiences the Dutchman attracted in Sydney, we may not see the "Melbourne Version" here. But if it is ever revived in Sydney, it is well worth a second look.

I have one final quibble about something vile in both the Kosky and Dadd productions. In the musically astonishing "dueling matelots" scene, the Norwegian Chorus is on stage, frightened, singing their four-square C-major shanty, and the Dutchman's crew is "¦. is nowhere. Instead, they were pre-recorded (by the Norwegians!) and are coming to us in an unearthly manner over the loud speakers, along with the special effects and the wind noise! Live opera doesn't come via pre-recorded performances over loud speakers! I assume that this is done for economic reasons, so that OA doesn't have to pay for a second male chorus to sit around all night just to sing for a few minutes at the end of the opera, but it is a sad state of affairs for opera performance in any country when local productions are forced to use pre-recorded singers, and live singers become a luxury that only overseas companies supported by heavy government subsidies can afford. Not happy, Barry and Cathy!

I'm pleased to report that Cathy Dadd has been nominated by Opera Foundation Australia as the 2004 Bayreuth Scholar. We congratulate Ms Dadd on this achievement and, if her nomination is confirmed by the German government, we will as usual provide the return airfare to Europe.

On Sunday 21 March, Robert Gay spoke on Berlioz and Wagner. Mr Gay regularly lectures on music in Sydney and throughout Australia, and had just completed a series of eight lectures for the University of Sydney's Continuing Education programme, entitled "Wagner and the music of his time", in which he had explored the influences of Wagner's contemporaries on his musical development. Mr Gay may have ruffled a few feathers by suggesting that Wagner borrowed material from Berlioz, but he provided musical examples to illustrate his point. Mr Gay plans a series of six advanced lectures as part of the Continuing Education programme starting in October, which will function as an introduction to the Neidhardt Ring which starts in Adelaide in November, and we'll let you know how to apply when this series is formally announced.

On Sunday 18 April, Margaret Whitlam talked about moments musical and Wagnerian that have permeated her distinguished life. This was then followed (after our usual battle with technology) by a screening of one of Mrs Whitlam's favourite "chunks", the love duet from Act 2 of Tristan and Isolde. Although we chose a DVD which showed a romantic and traditional interpretation of the two lovers, it was generally remarked that, putting aside the sumptuous sounds of their singing, both were simply too large to allow anyone to suspend their disbelief and imagine for a moment that any form of passion or union was possible.

I'm sorry to report that, after 10 years of preparing and serving our afternoon teas at each function, Shirley Robertson retired at our April meeting. Unless someone else volunteers to take over organising our refreshments, I regret that we will not be able to maintain the high the Shirley has provided for all these years. Anyone who is interested in taking over these functions, with support from committee members, should contact me or any other member of the committee.

Forthcoming Events

On Saturday 22 May, Wagner's birthday, we will hold our AGM, followed by a recital by the four Sydney Conservatorium opera students whom we have sponsored in German language courses at the Goethe Institut this year - Erin O'Connor, Emily Garth, Rebecca Hilder and Jessica Pratt, accompanied by Sharolyn Kimmorley, the Bayreuth Scholar for 2003. They will then be our guests at a catered afternoon tea to celebrate Wagner's birthday, which will take the place of the annual luncheon we have enjoyed at The Women's Club over the past few years. A formal notice of AGM was posted out with proxy and nomination forms, which I hope that all members have received. The important thing to remember is that this is being held on a Saturday, which is not a traditional day for our meetings.

On Sunday 18 July, after a number of false starts for which I apologise, we will launch Doctor Antony Ernst's book on the Ring entitled "The Once and Future Ring", which the Society is publishing. A few weeks ago Antony was awarded his Doctorate for a thesis on Janacek, and we congratulate him on his success. The book contains sections on each of the Ring operas, and is loosely based on a series of talks Antony gave to the Society in 1998 before the first Adelaide Ring, which have been significantly revised and rewritten with substantial new material.

As well as launching his book (which will cost $25 and which I'm sure Antony will be delighted to autograph) Dr Ernst will give a talk on another an aspect of the Ring, as part of our preparation for the Neidhardt Ring in Adelaide in November.

Our 25th Anniversary

In our last Newsletter, I mentioned that in 2005 we will celebrate the Society's 25th year and the 100th edition of our Newsletter, and I asked whether anyone had copies of old membership lists or other details of our membership history, or know of anyone who had records from the early years of the Society, so that we could publish a complete list of our members from 1980 onwards. Alas, no-one has responded. If you can think of any way that we can reconstruct our past membership, please call me.

A footnote on Wagner performances

2004 is book-ended by two Australian Wagner performances, The Flying Dutchman at the start of the year, and the Neidhardt Ring at the end. Now that the Dutchman (in both its versions) is behind us, we have only 6 months to prepare before the second Adelaide Ring is unveiled. Whatever its fate, this second Adelaide Ring will almost certainly be the last we will see for at least the next six years, and we owe it to the performers and the artistic team, and to ourselves, to make sure that we are as prepared as we can be for this magnificent experience.

Roger Cruickshank 10 May 2004