Thursday, August 28, 2014


There was always something slightly dirty and raunchy about Freddie; something incongruously attractive about him, and it wasn't good looks. Beyond the brilliance of composition and delivery, there was a palpable raw energy.

The 20,000 who filed into the arena in Sydney for 'Queen - Adam Lambert' could have been going to a school reunion. And there were uniformed cleaners slinking around with mops and buckets, cleaning the floors lest spot or stain offend. I've not seen obsession like this since we were in St Petersburg and a head lowered head scarfed woman walked behind us wiping the floor of the church after each desecrating step we took.

The production values were big. Camera work and quality, lighting and effects brilliant. Adam Lambert has a good voice. Dr Brian May PhD held the joint together with still brilliant technique which belied his soft gently spoken manner. Roger Taylor and his son did good. The reunion crowd clapped and whistled. A few stood and waved. Perhaps its the venue. Perhaps its the era. Even Mardi Gras is on the brink.

Till out came raw energy in lioness hair, strutting heels, wardrobe malfunction only minutes away, and beamed herself to the very corners of this cold soulless venue with a stunning voice and electric presence. That was when something did happen.

I've seen Lady Gaga. There's tubes of you, from mobile phones, not worthy of linking to cos they capture barely a fraction, in fact zip, of what was going on. She belted out Another One Bites The Dust.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Jonas Kaufmann is down under for two recitals in Sydney (one down, one to go) and one in Melbourne. The programme is the same for all three. Just 24 hours before the last (the second Sydney concert) there are still plenty of seats available (some 300 at a quick count and that doesn't include the blocked off choir stalls) despite the huge acclaim which precedes him, glowing reviews and substantial discounting.

Quoted front of house prices are $145 - $365 plus a $5.00 to $8.50 booking fee. So totting up two good seats, programme, drinks (let alone dinner) and parking (only rich people drive anyway) and there's not much change from a thousand dollars. If that wasn't enough to dissuade fans or would be fans, tickets were initially coupled with subscriptions to Opera Australia's 2014 (not 2015 as originally written, typo, sorry) season.

There's a pricing problem here and it's lose-lose. The house should be full to overflowing, CDs walking out the door, preferably just signed, and as many people as possible hearing him with opera in general the beneficiary which one assumes is what the promoter, Opera Australia, had in mind.

The programming was certainly everyman friendly even if everyman couldn't go - go for what was for many probably the only chance to hear such a famous voice live. We, for this very reason, went to the first Sydney concert. I had failed to get tickets in Munich, despite a good connection, although admittedly it was his Manrico debut night.

'Recondita armonia'    Tosca
'Improviso'                   Andrea Chénier
'La vita è inferno'        La forza del destino
'Vesti la guibba'           I Pagliacci

'La fleur que tu m'avais jetée'      Carmen
'Pourquoi me réveiller'                 Werther
'Mamma, quel vino è generoso'   Cavalleria rusticana


'Du bist die Welt für mich'
'E lucevan le stelle'
'Die ist mein ganzes Herz'

The above were all bracketed with excerpts from similar genre works and the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra sounded particularly good conducted by Kaufmann's man with the stick, the very genial gentle smiling unassuming Jochen Rieder.

I wasn't going to say anything about Herr Kaufmann, what with it all having been said before. But, unable to help myself as I am, can I say ...

His stage presence was a surprise, tending toward self effacing. The voice is well worth hearing live in that it is quite difficult to describe, and even harder to imagine from recordings. From the certainly masculine dark not gravelly but with rubbed edges midrange ( I told you it was hard) he ascends with a noticeable gear change to an all but angelic head voice. Dynamics and phrasing are lovely, and his crescendos particularly effective, bringing a gasp and sustained applause at the conclusion on the 'La Vita é inferno', the highlight of the night for me, moments of wonderful wonderful story telling.

I would dearly love to see and hear him in character where he could forget about Being Jonas. But most of all, I would love to hear him sing, diction perfect as it is, something like this which I heard (as you can) in this Andrew Ford interview - Der Leiermann, Schubert's Die Wintereisse. Here it is from Barcelona (a not well balanced pirate - but all I can find).

Addit  19th Aug:

Roger Neill lists the orchestral pieces , indeed much more than just fillers while JK sucked a sweet (he noticeably had a little something in his mouth in the bows between encores). The Bacchanale especially was great fun.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


K smiled and chuckled as I played this interview with Peter Sculthopre (1929 - 2014) where he speaks about being reprimanded as a child for daring to compose because all the composers were dead. Now he is dead.

                                                            (image from the ABC obit)

"That's just how he was. Warm, quite dry, and really lovely. He liked a good curry" They had met in the 70s, and K would house sit when he travelled. In a spooky ever closing loop, Sculthorpe then lived in a tiny terrace house, which he described as a decorated passageway, immediately next door and identical to where we now live in Sydney. It was a time when Peter was increasingly attracted to the east and Shinto, although Australia, its landscape and ancient inhabitants would always be his inspiration. He told the story of being in Oxford and the suggestion: 'you must like it here, it's quite old' to which he said: 'well, you should come to Australia where it's really really old'.

The recurring theme of all the obits is he was the first to show us the landscape musically through our own (he was says his) ears. I'd say rather like a musical Fred Williams, whom I'm equally mad about, if you like that kind of analogy, which I don't. Of his own admission, his work became increasingly political and environmental as the impending planetary crises became ever more pressing.

More good biography here.

The first Sculthorpe I remember was his opera "Rites of Passage" which I now read was commissioned but not ready for the opening of the Sydney Opera House where War and Peace did the job instead. About all I recall were dancers running frantically across metal sheets making percussion. It was the early 70s, and in retrospect a time which increasingly looks to have be a free-wheeling whirl of creativity and exploration with the likes of Peter Maxwell-Davies Miss Dunnithorne's Maggot and whoever whatever filling the house. Nowadays, if it isn't Boheme, no one wants to know.

Limelight has a marvellous interview The Sound of Home :

"My main influences these days are to do with the environment and climate change. It has its seeds in a work like Earth Cry from 1986 in which I was saying we should listen to the cry of the earth as the Aborigines have done for many of thousand of years. Then maybe we'll get the country right. Later in a work like Memento Mori I used Easter Island as a parable for planet Earth and population growth. The way they chopped down all the trees and ended up cannibalising each other. Couldn't even make canoes to escape the island"

His relationship with the SSO was strong. In tribute, the SSO dedicates this week's performances (Brahms Second Symphony and Strauss Four Last Songs, Robertson / Brewer) to his memory and will play his Momento Mori as an encore.

Addit 13 August :

Andrew Ford's (ABC The Music Show) well informed remembrances of Peter Sculthorpe are here from Inside Story. One is starting to get the sense that he didn't set out to create Australian music, or music which reflected Australian-ness, but rather he composed what was within him, and that necessarily was of this place. That said, he did write Kakadu before going there, imagining it, and was later surprised by its reality.

And The Music Show segment on Peter Sculthorpe is podcast here.

Monday, July 21, 2014


                                                                    (click to enlarge)

There they sat. Two baby kookaburras still covered in down on the branch of the old black wattle just outside the north windows.


I went shopping last week and bought a tagine and one of those brilliant iron pans with short handles which can be used on top of the stove and then in the oven. Brilliant except for the hand burns when you take it out.

The tagine made an excellent shoulder of lamb done with herbs, harissa, honey and lemon juice. Tour de France food, now the tele is fixed. And with the clever (except for the burns) pan, I made a pear tarte tatin. It's ridiculously easy and that it has taken decades to embrace means at least a few years longer to live. We ate it with a crème anglaise and ice cream. The Tour is exhausting and the weight peels off just watching.

                                       (K whips up some cream. New pan with burny handle on the left)

It all started with a visit to M's a few days before. S (she's a fine cook) was down to stay and help pack as M has sold and is moving into a very comfortable house where she is prepared to end her life. I don't mean actively. Perhaps finish would be a better word.

Anyway, M has a great tagine (quite large and with burny handles, though they're good for carrying it to the table) and an even better brilliant pan for Tartes because it only has one handle which apart from halving the number of burnt hands makes it is easier to flip the cooked tarte over onto its serving plate.

                                  (At M's, where Millie not so much taken with the photo opp as the lamb)

The main reason for dinner was that M had been to a new clairvoyant and wanted to talk. The session (no ouija boards and head scarves, but rather more empathy and trust) had touched on issues long unresolved and in the retelling tears rolled. She somehow was guided through, or taken back into, dark corners about her natural mother giving her up for adoption as an infant, the difficulties with her new parents and surprisingly (for me at least) especially with her adoptive mother, the cruelty of sibling rivalry, and not least the complete absence of any information about her natural father other than 'he done her wrong'.

What emerged, and made her sob again, was the news, if it was news, that she had been loved at all. Actually, it wasn't so much loved as when she felt safe. That she knew strongly: that with him, or her, or here, or there, she felt safe. I wonder now what is the difference. I think you are loved and love when someone is completely safe with you, and you with them. Completely.

Strangely, also last week during our regular midweek dinner with K's mother in Sydney she had gone on and on about her past, her three marriages, and things I'd preferred not to have heard, really. Suddenly in the middle of it she stared at me and said: 'Don't we love each other so, that we can say all these things openly to each other'.  I think she felt safe.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

EILENE HANNAN (1946 - 2014)

Melbourne soprano Eilene Hannan has died. There are some names that stay with you, always.

With all the senses heightened in the opening of the Sydney Opera House, specifically the Opera Theatre as it was then simply known, and with (virtually) all the company on stage for War and Peace, she remains with me as the loveliest of Natashas in an empire line dress of pale blue elegance. I don't remember the voice, but the presence is clearly before me, still.

It was her Governess in Britten's The Turn of The Screw with Neil Armfield (he took over after Moshinsky took ill) directing for The Australian Opera that was of another dimension. It was a case of complete characterisation through voice, body and spirit. There was a specialness about her stage presence, something from within, hard to describe but remembered to this day. She believed. I have this and am now especially anxious to get our video set-up sorted (something expensive has broken).

Opera Australia has posted this obituary, and Limelight theirs here.

Little but very significant memories these for me of someone who gave so much and whose death seems sadly much too young.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


I was only just remembering Jonathan Summers in the Otello post and now today a warm surprise (on an otherwise cold wintery Saturday morning, apart from the dog and the fire) came with a comment on my recollections of Elizabeth Connell which stirred up some memories even further.

What a great performer. Here he is in the late 1990s as Nabucco (Kosky, in case you can't tell) and to follow, another clip with the irreplaceable Elizabeth Connell (note her final note - I suspect she wasn't one hundred percent, and the walking stick and stage movements suggest maybe hip problems). Cillario conducts.