President's Report May 2005

A Letter from the President

Dear Members and Friends

Welcome to the hundredth issue of our Newsletter in this, our 25th anniversary year.

This issue has been compiled over many months by our editor, Terence Watson, and I know that you will join me in congratulating him on bringing together such an interesting Newsletter from so many distant sources.

On behalf of the present Committee, I want to thank all of you, our current and past members, committee members and officeholders, for your contribution to the Society. Without your generous help and membership, we might not be here to celebrate this anniversary, and we would not have been able to provide the funding and scholarships for artists and productions that has been possible over the past 25 years, in line with our aim of promoting Wagner's music.

Anniversaries are always personal affairs, and often they are tinged with sadness. They provide each of us with an opportunity to look forward, but they also afford a moment when we can look back and reflect on the past, on the opera performances and concerts we have attended, and on the friendships we have made, some of which are part of the Society's history too.

Newer members may wonder what the fuss is about, but as a relatively young Society, we are fortunate in having as current members many who formed or joined the Society in those early days. They provide us with a living history of things Wagnerian, both internationally and here in Australia . Many of them had become Wagnerites long before the Society was formed, and knew each other from their visits to Bayreuth and other festivals, and from their participation in the rich musical life of Australia . They were "Wagner Tragics" long before that awful term was coined!

When these early members look back on the past 25 years of the Society's history, they will recall some friends who are no longer with us, and others whose health no longer allows them to participate as actively in the life of this city as they used to do.

The Society and its members have been lucky that the last 25 years or more have been such a rich period for things Wagnerian in Australia . We have seen performances of all 10 works in the Wagner canon from Opera Australia, the State Opera of South Australia, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, among others.

In 1984, Opera Australia premiered Andrew Sinclair's production of Das Rheingold , the first step in a planned Ring cycle, which faltered after Die Walküre , although this work was restaged in 1989 in a production revised by Andrew Sharp

In 1987, Opera Australia premiered the Neidhardt Lohengrin under Stuart Challender, which was revived in 1990 under Carlo Felice Cillario with a young Lisa Gasteen as Elsa; in 1988 it staged the acclaimed bi-centennial Die Meistersinger , revived under Simone Young in 2003; in 1990 with the SSO under Stuart Challender, it staged Neil Armfield's Tristan und Isolde in the Concert Hall of the Opera House, where it was revived in 1993 under Carlo Felice Cillario; in 1996 it stage Barry Kosky's Fliegende Hollander ; in 1998 the Neidhardt Tannhauser , with a creative team including Michael Scott-Mitchell and Nick Schlieper; in 2001 Andrew Sinclair's Lohengrin ; and in 2004, Cathy Dadd's Hollander .

A staged performance of Parsifal has eluded Sydney audiences, but Brisbane 's 1995 Biennial International Music Festival included a concert performance, and in 2001 the State Opera of South Australia premiered Elke Neidhardt's Parsifal , the first staging of this work in Australia . Brisbane 's Biennial International Music Festival continues its concert performances of Wagner with Tristan und Isolde in July 2005, with a much more internationally-recognised Lisa Gasteen as Isolde.

The SSO under Edo de Waart gave concert performances of each of the Ring works over a four year period, starting with Das Rheingold in 1997 and culminating with Gotterdammerung in 2000 as the centrepiece of the SSO's contribution to the Olympic Arts Festival.

In 1998 and in 2004, the State Opera of South Australia gave Australia and the world two productions of the Ring . In 1998, Bill Gillespie brought the Chatelet's Strosser production and gave us the first fully-staged Ring in Australia in almost a century. In 2004, Elke Neidhardt gave us the first "Australian" Ring to overwhelming critical acclaim, although those who yearn for a more traditional production with helmets and horses would have wished that Ms Neidhardt had been an American and not a European.

There have been other outstanding concert performances of the Ring operas, among them the Perth Arts Festival's multi-media concert performances of Gotterdammerung in 2003.

I have catalogued some of the Wagner performances in Australia over the last 25 years because it forms a prism through which the activities of our Society can be recalled, since we provided financial sponsorship for many of these and other Wagner-related events.

There are some who believe that these 25 years may come to be seen in retrospect as a sort of golden age of Australian Wagner production, the like of which we may not see for some time.

While I think that it's too early to say whether the changes in the musical directorships of both the SSO and Opera Australia will have an impact on Wagner performances, there is at least one bright light in our coming calendars. Europe will soon be awash with festivals and commemorations for the 200th anniversaries of the births of some of the artistic giants of the 19th century. In 2011 we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt, and in 2013 the 200th anniversary of the births of Giuseppi Verdi and Richard Wagner.

While these events will trigger an avalanche of festivals and marketing in the recorded and live music industries overseas, I believe that they will also produce more than a trickle-down effect locally as well.

This year there are a number of events at which we will celebrate our anniversary. On 22 May, Wagner's Birthday, there is a party at the Goethe Institut following our AGM and a recital by students from the Conservatorium of Music.

On 7 August, thanks to Miriam Gordon, acclaimed dramatic soprano Deborah Polaski will talk about her career and recent productions and recordings. Many of you will remember Ms Polaski's performance in the title role of Electra at the Capitol Theatre under Simone Young in 2000, her Bayreuth performances, notably as Brünnhilde in the Kupfer Ring from 1988, and will be familiar with her more recent performances and recordings, such as the Tristan und Isolde highlights with Bertrand de Billy and the RSO Vienna released this year (Oehms Classic, OC602).

And as usual we will celebrate the year's ending with a party on December 11.

I hope that many of you can join us at these events, and at the Society's other functions during the year. Bonne Anniversaire. Roger Cruickshank

1 May 2005