President's Report October 2003

Dear Members

Recent Events

Our September event was a master class given by Sir Donald McIntyre at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. With Andrew Greene accompanist, three students from the Conservatorium - David Greco, Caroline Wenborne and Jessica Pratt - and Opera Australia's Warwick Fyfe worked with Sir Donald on their chosen arias. Anyone at the master class who was unaware of the depth of talent of the student-singers at the Conservatorium would have been blown away by these outstanding performances, a point which Sir Donald made several times.

Sir Donald's advice seemed simple but proved to be difficult, as advice from an old hand often is; be prepared, have the first word ready in your mouth, breath from your thighs, project your voice. Warwick Fyfe, who grows in stature with each new role with OA, chose Rigoletto's aria "Pari siamo". David Greco sang Papageno's aria "Papagena, Papagena, Papagena!" (watched with great interest by Warwick Fyfe, who will sing the role in next year's Opera Australia production); Caroline Wenborne sang Else's aria "Einsam in truben tagen"; and Jessica Pratt chose "Si mi chia mano Mimi" from La Boheme.

After the master class, Sharolyn Kimmorley (Chair, Opera Studies Unit at the Conservatorium) and I had dinner with Sir Donald, who was flying to New Zealand early the next morning. He mentioned that, for five years in the 1970s, the McIntyre family lived in Bayreuth in the upstairs apartment of Haus Siegfried, next door to Haus Wahnfried. His landlady during this period was Frau Winifred Wagner, who lived downstairs. Each year, Frau Wagner dined twice with the McIntyres, once downstairs in her rooms, and once upstairs in theirs.

After his visit to New Zealand (he is the Patron of the Wagner Society in New Zealand) Sir Donald returned to England via Hawaii, where he was looking forward to receiving a copy of a new book of essays in tribute to Wolfgang Wagner, written to mark the 50th anniversary on New Bayreuth in 2001, to which he had contributed a chapter. Sir Donald is an ardent admirer of Wolfgang Wagner.

Sir Donald possesses a wealth of information and stories about Bayreuth, the development of Wagner performances in the last 40 years or so, and the great singers and artists he has met along the way, including members of the Wagner family. I only hope that as much of this as possible finds its way into an autobiography or some similar work, so that his impressive oral history isn't lost.

On Friday 17 October, I was lucky to attend the opening night of the Marriage of Figaro performed by singers and musicians from the Sydney Conservatorium. I arrived ticket-less to find that evening's performance sold out, as were the remaining two performances, but I made it inside through Sharolyn Kimmorley's kindness. Sung in English (limited rehearsal time didn't allow the singers to learn their parts in Italian) the performances were bright, sharp and irreverent. I hadn't seen a Count snorting coke while he sang before - people say I need to get out more - and for once the casting incongruity was the sight of young singers made up as aged persons, and not the reverse! A wonderful night of superb performances. Make a note in your diaries to catch next year's sell-out performances of whatever these amazing students turn their talents to!

On Sunday 19 October, we returned to the Goethe Institut for a talk by Dr Terence Watson entitled "Wagner and Power - Part 2 - Gesellschaft und Gemeinschaft". I was trapped in the projection room, where I could hear very little and see even less, struggling with technology - Terence liberally illustrated his talk with extracts from DVDs - and losing the fight. At one stage everything - the speaker's microphone, DVD and video players - blew. That's a technical term for an event which is often accompanied by unprintable utterances. Luckily, turning everything off, counting backwards from 100, and turning it all back on again, restored us to full sound.

I'm hopeful that Terence will find a way of providing a text-only version of his talk, which we can publish before next year's Adelaide Ring.

Future functions

On Sunday 16 November, we will hold a function at the premises of Mr Denis Condon, 47 Station Street, Newtown. Mr Condon has a passion for music and a unique collection of pianos and rolls which are lovingly preserved, and I hope that you will make the most of his generosity to visit Denis's collection and listen to these unique recorded performances. Denis says that his room normally seats 30, although this can stretch to 45. After that, it will be a squeeze, but everyone who comes should be comfortable. My advice is to be early. Station Street runs between Enmore Road and King Street, a short distance south of the Newtown train station, and afternoon tea will be served.

On Sunday 7 December, we have our final function of the year, at the Goethe Institut - our end-of-year party. We will be showing a video about New York's private Amato Opera Company, a labour of love for Sally and Anthony Amato. The video shows the pleasure the Amatos got and gave by following their dream without compromise. We may also have a short video taken by one of our members at the Festspielhaus this year.

Interested in joining the committee?

Since Barbara McNulty stepped down from the position at our AGM in July, we have been without an honorary secretary. Are you interested in the role? The duties aren't exceptionally onerous, there are usually between four and six committee meetings a year (including the AGM) and your fellow committee members are a friendly lot. Give me a call on 9357 7631, and let's talk about it.

As many of you will know, Barbara is currently "out of action", convalescing after a successful operation. Her irrepressible energy has been stilled by doctor's orders, and Barbara will be at home for the next month or so, plotting more delights for the over-subscribed tour she is leading to New York next April and May for the Metropolitan Opera's very tradition Ring Cycle.

Health insurance is not a prerequisite for anyone interested in joining the committee as secretary, but it helps.

Membership renewals

Our financial year is now the calendar year, so membership renewals are now due for 2004. Just complete the form at the back of this Newsletter and post it, with your cheque, to the Society.

This is the time that we remind you that your Society is a registered charity, and therefore donations of more than $2 are tax deductible.

Your donations, and money left over from membership subscriptions after we have paid for our operating costs, including the cost of our Newsletter and website, are used to meet the Society's aims, for example by sponsoring performances of Wagner's works, individual singers, and the Bayreuth Scholar.

In 2004 we will make a donation towards Opera Australia's revival of the Flying Dutchman in February, we will sponsor Jennifer Barnes in the role of Grimgerde in the 2004 Adelaide Ring (in addition to Stuart Skelton, in the role of Siegfried), and we will support four singers from the Sydney Conservatorium who will be taking German language courses at the Goethe Institut. These are Erin O'Connor, Emily Garth, Rebecca Hilder and Jessica Pratt (who took part in Sir Donald McIntyre's master class.)

Looking forward to 2004

One direct benefit to Society members from our support of these singers is that they will return the favour - they will perform for us. Although we haven't finalised all the arrangements yet, we're hopeful of having short recitals next year from a range of singers and artists. This includes, as well as the four Conservatorium students listed above, Miriam Gordon-Stuart, whose Eva in this year's performances of Meistersinger by Opera Australia was such a delight. (We've recently provided funding for Miriam, who is currently in Germany for five weeks taking voice classes.)

We're also in negotiations with some former Bayreuth Scholars, who we hope will be able to speak to us and sing as part of our programme next year.

We're planning a seminar on the Ring for those attending the Adelaide Ring next year, to coincide with a recital to be given in Sydney by Phillip Kang, whose visit to Sydney we will help sponsor. Details of the venue, date and programme will be advised later.

As we go to print, the programme for the first half of next year is not yet finalised, but when you renew your membership I'll post you out the programme, along with your membership cards and receipts.

Looking back on 2003

2003 isn't over yet, but it has been a tumultuous year. It has seen Edo de Waart's last year as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and, sadly for many, Simone Young's last year as Music Director with Opera Australia. Both have been passionate supporters of Wagner's works and their uncompromising standards in Wagner performance have enriched the musical life of Sydney and beyond. We wish them both well in their future musical careers, and must wait to see what level of commitment their successors will have to Wagner's works.
In 2003 we commemorate both the 190th anniversary of Wagner's birth in Leipzig on 22 May 1813, and the 120th anniversary of his death in Venice on 13 February 1883. Our inaugural function in February 2003 was a talk by Professor Michael Ewans entitled "Wagner in Perspective - 120 Years after the Master's Death". Professor Ewans provided us with a copy of his talk, which is reprinted in this Newsletter, although references to the musical examples which accompanied Professor Ewans' talk have been deleted.

Finally, I wish each of you a very happy and safe holiday season and New Year, and the very best for 2004. I look forward to seeing you at Denis Condon's on 16 November, and at our end-of-year function on 7 December.

Roger Cruickshank 30 October 2003