President's Report September 2003

Dear Members

Recent Functions

Since our last Newsletter, we have held two seminars on Die Meistersinger von N?rnberg, which was staged in July by Opera Australia at Sydney's Capitol Theatre, which will soon be its home while the Opera Theatre is refurbished.

The first seminar, jointly sponsored by the Art Gallery Society, was held on Saturday 7 June in the Domain Theatre at the Art Gallery. The first opened with Arthur Lawrence, an art historian who specialises in the Italian Renaissance, speaking about Nuremberg's other famous son from that period, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), a contemporary of the historical Hans Sachs (1494-1576). He read from some of Dürer's letters, including a detailed description of a procession of Guild members in Holland which could have been a model for the act three procession in Meistersinger.

Antony Ernst was both our second and third speakers, filling a last-minute vacancy caused by ill-health. He spoke first on historical and then on interpretational aspects of Meistersinger. I hope Antony won't mind my sharing an amusing moment from his talks. Some of you may remember a speaker at an earlier seminar who referred inadvertently to the "World Ash-Tray" from which Wotan cut a branch to carve his Spear. Antony, referring to the historical Sach's peripatetic existence, called him the "Miss Marple" of the Northern Renaissance. In a moment of mental abstraction, for which I never can forgive myself (as Miss Prism put it so well) I was suddenly seized with the vision of Bruce Martin in drag as Margaret Rutherford (who on film was both Misses Marple and Prism). I will take these images to my grave.

Our final speaker was Dr Sally Kester, a Perth-based music reviewer, part-time lecturer and Jungian psychoanalyst in private practice, who spoke on the psychology of the Shadow in Meistersinger. Dr Kester lived her talk to the full, ending by reading a dark portrait of Richard Wagner and the shadows which attended his genius.

My thanks to our speakers, to Craig Brush, the functions manager for the Art Gallery, and to the Art Gallery Society and its volunteers, who made the seminar such a success.

The second seminar was held on Saturday 5 July at the State Library, where Professor Heath Lees, president of the Wagner Society of New Zealand, who came with a group of members from that Society, spoke on the musicology of Meistersinger. Professor Lees' lecture, which was initially beset by technical challenges as we fought to gain mastery of the venue's technology, dovetailed perfectly with the matinee of Meistersinger most of us attended later that afternoon.

All of you, I hope, attended at least one performance of Meistersinger, so I will spare you my thoughts on the performance, save one. I am not a devotee of Meistersinger, but the third act of the performance I attended included sublime music, magnificently sung, bringing my handkerchief out on more than one occasion to clear a path for fresh tears. I have been told that at other performances there were understudies on stage, or that the principals were in poor voice, but nothing like that happened that evening. Although I was not emotionally engaged by the work, Wagner's subtle musical genius still worked its magic in the oddest ways. Infuriatingly, I woke for days afterwards with bits of Meistersinger in my head, but that condition has passed. Today it was the Dutchman.

On 20 July, we held our AGM, and afterwards watched video extracts from the 1982/83 season of the Vienna State Opera, which included breathtaking performances from great singers in their prime, mostly now retired. It was a much more exciting afternoon than it sounds.

Future functions

Next month, members are invited to attend a master class to be given by Sir Donald McIntyre on Thursday 11 September. (See "Coming Events" for details.)

Sir Donald McIntyre most recently appeared in Australia as Alberich in two concert performances of Gotterdammerung in February 2003 in Perth. He debuted at Bayreuth in 1967 as the Telramund in Lohengrin, and in 1976 sang Wotan to great acclaim in the Centennial Ring at Bayreuth, controversially produced by Patrice Chereau's and conducted by Pierre Boulez.

Sir Donald is a guest speaker at a Ring seminar in Adelaide from Friday 5 to Sunday 7 September, organised by the State Opera of South Australia. He was to have been accompanied by his wife on this visit, but unfortunately because of ill health Lady McIntyre will remain in England. The Society has given a donation of $2,000 to the State Opera of South Australia to assist with Sir Donald's expenses.

In October at the Goethe Institut, Terence Watson will give the first of a series of talks by different speakers about aspects of the Ring, in preparation for next year's second Adelaide Ring. We are are in the early stages of discussions with the State Opera of South Australia about sponsoring a recital by Phillip Kang here in Sydney next year, and are planning to organise a weekend seminar for everyone from New South Wales who is going to Adelaide which Mr Kang is here. Watch our Newsletters for further information.

In 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 this opportunity to visit this collection and listen to these unique recorded performances.

Sydney Conservatorium of Music

We are always looking for ways in which we can help young artists setting out on their careers, and recently I met Sharolyn Kimmorley, who heads the Opera Unit at the Conservatorium, to discuss ways in which we could form an association between our two organisations. We congratulate Sharolyn on winning the 2003 Bayreuth Scholarship, which she will take up in November. As usual, the Society will pay the scholar's return airfare to Europe.

There will be two excellent opportunities over the next few months for you to hear students from the Opera Unit at this early stage of their careers. Some will perform songs by Mozart, Bellini, Wolf, Debussy, Puccini, Strauss and Britten for the National Lieder Society on Saturday 16th August at 7.30pm at St. Luke's Presbyterian Church, 28 Lord Street, Roseville. Tickets are $12 ($8 concession) and the number for enquiries is 9924 4860. Then on Friday 17 and Saturday 18 October, students will perform the "Marriage of Figaro" (in English) at 7.30pm in the Music Workshop at the Conservatorium. Tickets are $25 ($20 Concession/Foundation) and for enquiries and bookings you should phone 9351 1342.

I hope that many of you will be able to get to one of these concerts, to support these exciting young artists. Our March 2000 meeting was at the ABC's Eugene Goosens Hall, and was a Wagner concert - with music from both Richard and Siegfried - given by the student orchestra from the Conservatorium of Music under Maestro Cillario. This included extracts from Lohengrin which showed the quality of performance that these young students can achieve.

Following my discussions with Sharolyn Kimmorley, I will soon be putting some practical proposals to your Committee, including providing a number of scholarships to allow students from the Opera Unit to complete intensive German language courses at the Goethe Institut, and making a donation to the Opera Unit to support its concert and performance programme during the year. As a "quid pro quo", we can expect to hear some of these students performing at our Goethe Institut functions from time to time.

Roger Cruickshank