President's Report September 2007

Dear Members

Welcome to our third Newsletter for 2007. Those lucky members who have journeyed to the European summer festivals are returning home, like the Pilgrims from Rome in Tannhauser , with tales of the lowlights and highlights of the performances they saw, and Sydney is once again rousing itself from the depths of another winter.


On Sunday 21 July I gave a talk on Tannhauser , touching on the role of Wolfram as the glue who binds the two legends which are Wagner's sources for his story. If space permits, some of my notes and great chunks from Mein Leben will appear elsewhere in this issue, and I hope they will give some interesting background for the Tannhauser performances in Sydney later this year.

Sunday, 2 September , Professor Heath Lees will give a talk on Wagner and Mallarmà ©. Professor Lees has embarked on a tour of Australian Wagner Societies, giving talks in conjunction with the publication of his new book on this subject, and more details are included elsewhere in this Issue. Sydney is Professor Lees' last stop, and he will escape back to the relative calm of New Zealand just as the APEC curtain descends on our city. Our September meeting is earlier than usual to tie in with Professor Lees' travel plans.

On Sunday 21 October members who attended the 2007 Bayreuth Festival will report back on their experience.

On Sunday 11 November, again earlier than usual, Antony Ernst will give a talk on Tristan , the only opera on which he hasn't spoken to our Society. Antony is currently Artistic Administrator for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, and is coming to Sydney to give a talk the following day to the Northside Opera Study Group, and we are delighted that he has been able to take the time to talk to us.

On Sunday December 9, we will end 2007 with our traditional Christmas Party. Please remember to bring a plate. At this stage we're still hunting for a suitable DVD to show before the party. Last year's was a documentary on Waltraut Meier, which was more serious than some previous offerings, but was very well received, and this year we're open to suggestions of a serious or frivolous nature.

Engelbert Humperdinck met Wagner in Naples , and was invited to go to Bayreuth where during 1880-81 he assisted in the first production of Parsifal , and was repetiteur at every Bayreuth festival until 1894. To Wagner's amusement he won the Meyerbeer Prize in 1881. According to an on-line biography, in 1914 Humperdinck applied for the post of Director of the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music, but with the outbreak of the Great War such an appointment became unthinkable, and the position went instead to one of Hercule Poirot's countrymen.

This potted biography provides the background for a piano (four hands) arrangement by Engelbert Humperdinck of Parsifal , with narration in German and English, which was performed by Simone Young and Alexander Soddy (her assistant at the Hamburg State Opera) on 12 August at Villa Music in Bellawongarah, Kangaroo Valley . Although we hoped to organise transport so that a tour party of members could attend, this proved to be a far more complex undertaking than originally expected, and the tour did not eventuate.

On 20 August, Jessica Pratt, who was back in Sydney for her sister's wedding, gave a concert with friends at Trinity Grammar School . This included her father singing " Nessun Dorma ", so that we could see where her talent came from. Jess is singing at the Vienna State Opera in January next year.


In my last President's Report, I said that the Opera Australia website showed both Glenn Winslade and Richard Berkeley-Steele in the role of Tannhauser , with Glenn Winslade's entry marked "Dates TBA". Despite the statement that "two exciting talents" were sharing the title role, "Australian Glenn Winslade and, making his Australian debut, Richard Berkeley-Steele ", it now appears that "TBA" meant "To Be Axed", because Glenn Winslade's name no longer appears on the cast list for any of the performances. Instead, the Tannhauser for all performances is currently listed as Richard Berkeley-Steele, who sang the role on 8 and 10 August at the St Endellion summer festival in Cornwall , under the baton of the festival's musical director, Richard Hickox CBE.

The website now shows that the role of Wolfram von Eschinbach ( sic ) will be sung by Jonathan Summers to 27 October, and thereafter (on 30 October and 2 November?) by Warwick Fyfe. Previously, the website showed that the role would be sung by Warwick at all performances. Those who like me have looked forward to hearing Warwick in this role will need to change their performance bookings quickly. I also said in my last President's Report that this year I was hoping that all the drama would be on-stage. It would appear from the cast changes on the website that, as in 1998, this won't be the case.

Warwick Fyfe is the 2007 Bayreuth Scholar. I spoke to him recently about his travel plans. He leaves for Europe after the last performance of Tannhauser , where he will spend some time in Hamburg , with a side-trip to Berlin , see a performance of Rienzi in Leipzig , attend Tristan rehearsals in Munich , castle-watch in Fussen, and visit the Richard Strauss Institut in Garmish Partenkirchen. ( Warwick is covering the role of Mandryka in Arabella in Opera Australia's 2008 season.) Warwick first went to Bayreuth in 1993, and again in 2000 when he was awarded a Bayreuth Bursary.

Contrary to the rumours, Opera Australia's 2008 season does not include another revival of a Wagner opera, although supporters of Nietzsche will be delighted at the prospect of a new production of Carmen plus a revival of the Pearl Fishers in the same year! Apparently you can never have too many handbags or too many Bizet operas.

Paul Curran

Paul Curran, who is currently in Bayreuth with nine other members of our Society enjoying the third cycle of the Dorst Ring and more, has a new website - - which is well worth a look. The July 2007 issue of Opera magazine had an eight-page biography of Paul written by Andrew Clark, which gives some insight into his ideas as an opera producer, including his refreshing simple view that his role is to tell the story. From January 2009 Paul will also have a new job as Artistic Director of the Norwegian Opera (Den Norske Opera) . Paul was described by the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten as "an enthusiastic and sought-after rising international star", and if you've followed his career over the past few years, you'll agree that they got that right.

Paul told Aftenposten that he's thrilled by the construction of Oslo 's new Opera House, due to open in April 2008, and is reported as saying " Oslo is getting the most extraordinary new Opera House in the whole world," he said. "I really mean that." We'll organize a public stoning for disloyalty to the Orange Segments when next he visits Sydney .

Lisa Gasteen's part-Wagner CD

Bruce Martin's recording of an all-Wagner CD with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under Simone Young was postponed after Mr Martin had a freak accident and cracked three ribs. Clare and Margaret Hennessy report that, since the orchestra, conductor and recording technicians were all scheduled and ready, Lisa Gasteen stepped in at the last moment and instead a CD has been recorded with her, including some Wagner and Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs. We understand that the recording with Bruce Martin has been rescheduled for 2008.

Bayreuth 2008

Our idea of inviting applications for Bayreuth in 2008 earlier than usual has been extremely successful, with applications already received from 16 members. Applications close on Sunday, 30 September 2007, and the application form is reprinted in this Issue.

What to do with your Wagner collection

For various reasons, a number of members have been in touch over the past few months, to discuss the fate of their Wagner collections. Most members have collected newspaper and magazine articles, programmes, records, tapes, CDs, books, videos and DVDs over many years, and are thinking about what to do with their collections when they no longer have the space to house them.

The Society doesn't have a library, so we can't handle gifts of material you may no longer want to keep. Clare and Margaret Hennessy chose to recycle a significant part of their record collection through radio 2MBSFM, which has a regular fund-raising sale which is open to the public. Before doing this, they kindly brought their collection of Wagner records to our July function, so that members could have "first choice". Some members who have significant collections of books have spoken to the Conservatorium of Music, to see whether they can be donated to their library. Others have found specialist dealers in rare and second-hand books through which to dispose of their collections. Because this is something which we all consider from time to time, I'd be interested in hearing from members who have already downsized their collections, so that we can give others some good ideas.

And thereby hangs a tale. Some time ago I lent my copy of George Marek's biography Cosima Wagner , and it never returned. (Lending is a great way to reduce any collection!) I wanted to re-read it, so I hunted around on the Internet, and found hardback copies in various conditions for between $3 and $125. I decided to buy a more expensive copy, allegedly in very good condition, but the Internet failed me and the transaction did not complete. Shortly afterwards, I happened to have breakfast with a friend in Glebe Point Road, and browsing in Da Capo Books (somehow it's always an expensive delight) I found two copies of Marek's book in excellent condition for A$18 and A$20. I splashed out and bought the $20 copy. There's a message here about spending more time out and about and less time on the Internet, but I intend to ignore it. If you haven't read the book, Da Capo might still have its $18 copy, waiting for you to add it to your collection. Warmest regards,

Roger Cruickshank, 26 August 2007