President's Report September 2005

A Letter from the President

Dear Members

Let me begin by congratulating our Newsletter editor, Terence Watson, on the superb results achieved in our last two newsletters - issue 99, which dealt with the 2004 Neidhardt Ring in Adelaide, and issue 100, which celebrated the Society's 25th anniversary - both in glorious colour. This issue, 101, will be back to black and white, which is somehow appropriate as we survey the slim prospect of Wagner performances in Australia over the coming year.

Because of these two special issues of the Newsletter, I haven't had the opportunity to comment on the functions we've held so far this year, and to thank our contributors and speakers.

First, there is a review in this issue of a wonderful special event which was held on Sunday 7 August, at which Deborah Polaski was interviewed by Miriam Gordon- Stewart. This was accompanied by two short extracts from DVDs of Ms Polaski's performance as Brunnhilde in the Kupfer Ring produced in Barcelona last year and conducted by Bertrand de Billy, which Ms Polaski was able to watch for the first time, with some trepidation.

I'd like to thank Miriam for her kindness in organising this interview for us. The Society has helped Miriam with some of the costs of her recent vocal studies in Europe, and she suggested that as Ms Polaski was coming to Australia for a holiday, she would arrange this interview as a "thank you" to the Society for its assistance. I thought I had become somewhat cynical in my dotage, but I was charmed and just a little overwhelmed by The Diva, as I'm sure many of you who attended were.

On Saturday 30 July, there was a single sold-out concert performance of Tristan und Isolde in Brisbane as part of the 2005 Queensland Music Festival. It seemed that half of the Society, and may other Wagnerians from across Australia, had come to witness what may sadly have been Lisa Gasteen's farewell to Australia, as she sets her sights on an international career from her new home in Europe. Some who had found fault with her Adelaide Brunnhilde told me afterwards that her rock-steady Isolde sounded as if it had been written for her voice. It is a tragedy that this breathtaking performance was not broadcast or recorded, and can only survive in the memories of those who attended. The other soloists - the Tristan of John Treleaven, who was Ms Polaski's Siegfried in the DVDs of the De Billy/Kupfer Ring, Bruce Martin's King Marke, Bernadette Cullen's Brangäne, David Wakeham's Kurwenal - were astoundingly good, as was The Australian Youth Orchestra under Richard Mills. These amazing artists produced a performance of international quality which passed without much notice apart from the usual devotees, and was all but ignored by the ABC and the arts press. The new benchmark for opera performance in Australia, created last year by the Neidhardt Ring, was matched by this superb concert performance.

Our function on July 17 was a talk entitled "Wagner and Film" by Doctor Roger Hillman, which sadly I wasn't able to attend, although I understand that Dr Hillman's film extracts and talk were very thought-provoking.

During the month of July, there was an exhibition of photographs by Michael Scott-Mitchell the set designer for the Neidhardt Ring in Adelaide, which was sponsored by the Goethe-Institut Sydney. These photos were taken during the final dress rehearsal for the Ring, and were on display in the Exhibition Hall at the Opera House. A number of Society members acted as volunteers during the exhibition at which a "highlights" CD with extracts recorded at the Neidhardt Ring was played. Apparently this CD, or the first of the operas from that production, is due to be released commercially early in 2006.

Our May function, on Wagner's birthday, began with our 2005 AGM, and was followed by a recital by Kerry Nicholson and Amy Radford, students from the Conservatorium of Music who were recipients of our German Language Scholarships, accompanied by Sharolyn Kimmorley, and then by our annual Birthday Party for Richard Wagner. Sharolyn also played a rarely-performed piece of piano music by Wagner which Asher Fisch had played in Adelaide during the Neidhardt Ring, and which Sharolyn had been lucky enough to find in the Elder School of Music. Our normally placid AGM was enlivened by a discussion on the balloting of Bayreuth tickets, and the Committee will research the options available and make a recommendation to the 2006 AGM. The birthday party included the singing of "Happy Birthday" to Herr Wagner, which I now realise makes some members feel uncomfortable.

Our April function was a fascinating illustrated talk by Alan Whelan on Symbols in Parsifal. Alan has a frightening knowledge of things Wagnerian and of the history of the Wagner family and of Wagner performances. He is a regular contributor to the news-group Humanities.Music.Composers.Wagner. under an impenetrable pseudonym, and is writing a book on Wagner. Alan's scheduled talk in November entitled "Perception and Reception of Wagner in the Nazi period" has drawn some international interest, with requests for copies of the talk received before the talk has been given.

At our March function, Jane Mathews, whom we congratulate on receiving an A.O. for services to music (among other things), reprised the talk she gave in Adelaide during the Neidhardt Ring on Women in the Ring.

We hope to be able to publish Jane's talk in a future issue of the Newsletter. Jessica Pratt then gave a recital accompanied by Sharolyn Kimmorley, after which she was interviewed by Antony Ernst, who had been in Rome with Jessica. Antony has taken up an appointment as the Auckland Philharmonia's new Manager of Artistic Planning, and we wish him well in the challenging arts environment of Noise Island.

Our February function was a lively discussion about the Neidhardt Ring. Billed as a "post mortem", it was retitled a Celebration when it was realised the patient was very much alive and fondly remembered by those who had attended. There were members for and against almost every aspect of the performance, although Gutrune's leg brace seemed to have few supporters.

Looking ahead, our September meeting will be a panel discussion on this year's non-Ring operas at Bayreuth, led by some of those members who will be attending, including Jane Mathews and Terence Watson; in October, composer Nigel Butterly will speak on Liszt and Wagner; in November, as I mentioned earlier, Alan Whelan will talk on "Perception and Reception of Wagner in the Nazi period"; and in December we will celebrate the end of our 25th anniversary year with a party on December 11. Don't forget to bring a plate. I hope that many of you will be able to join us at these events.

The recently-released Opera Australia 2006 programme includes no Wagner, and to date the only news is of two staged performances of Parsifal in Wellington on 17 and 19 March, which are described elsewhere in this Newsletter.

After such marvels as the Ring and Tristan, it looks like slim pickings indeed.

Roger Cruickshank 16 August 2005