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.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


That's a snap of the first curtain call at Friday nights Opera Australia's Otello premier.

The Otello is the big kiwi Simon O'Neill who you probably know has been singing his way around the world with Parsifal and Siegmund and things heldentenorish. The Desdemona is the rush-to-the-rescue soprano from Armenia, the very lovely and very glowing Lianna Haroutounian who has already bailed out Covent Garden, twice:  Don Carlos and Verpers.

It was a rapturous end to a much anticipated night (what with the scandal not to mention Mr O'Neill's stage Otello debut, having sung it in concert with the LSO) with a first night crowd all aglitter and agog, and in furs. A tall elegant woman in a long silver dress with silver braiding in her jet black hair covered her shoulders in a pale plush stole and another had an ancient full length rabbit brown number. Both also sported males in black tie. Do women still wear furs? Apparently. As Joan Rivers said: "Come to me with a paper belt and I'll talk to you".

Oh, I have an Otello story. Mum and Dad were back from London and talking about the wonderful Otello they'd seen and the glorious Desdemona and how the bastard strangled her, and that after she'd said her prayers! That was te Kanawa, I boasted. Te Kanawa. She's huge (long time ago talk).  She's New Zealand - te Kanawa - part Maori. Then it wasn't her Mum said. This one was blond.

Which raises an important issue. This is no ordinary marriage breakup (not that I mean most marriages are ordinary). But I had an aunt who used to say that getting and staying married meant you might just as well go down to the bus stop at Double Bay (think: same socio-economic group), find someone you liked the look off (think: stir the loins a bit) and from then on it's all hard work. She had a point.

But there are some marriages that transcend the usual (for want of a better expression) and raise eyebrows. Gay marriage, often, still. Inter-racial, sometimes, still.  Inter-religious, sometimes, still. The marriage in question in Otello, and the marriage that is destroyed purely because of its specialness, is exactly that - unusually special. He is a black Moor, she is a fair skinned Holy Mary saying Christian. each further isolated from their group by the very marriage itself and all the more interdependent therefore. There can never be one without the other now, no going back after 'crossing over'.

So, for me, a production which doesn't play this card, not necessarily black face and blond wig, but delineate the intensity and specialness of this union misses out on highlighting just how it gets derailed and the enormous tragedy, and impact, of the end.

We've got the 10 year old Kupfer production, the one Simone Young was involved with, I think, and frankly, I've never really liked it. It doesn't deliver what matters most.

It's the set that doesn't work for me. In trying too hard to symbolise the whole nightmare, it ends up cluttering the stage and looking choked, wasting two thirds of it, ensuring half the singing is half way up or worse with heads in the flys singing to ropes. And it's noisy. Set in the 30's or 40's, the women clunk up and down in clunky shoes, and the men are brown shirts, of ranked medalling, in boots.

And all this upping and downing happens on something no more solid than a choir stand. But good for hiding under and eavesdropping and strangling your wife. What's more, it's a few degrees of horizontal. And it's boobie trapped. It's bombed out and the gapes are roped off with old movie palace ropes. It's all snakes and ladders. Yes, got it. More importantly, time spent negotiating the metaphor was time lost in developing dramatic credibility. Despite one of the most beautiful love duets ever, it takes more than silhouetting against Venus to set up this heartbreak.

                                           (Lianna Haroutuonian taking a curtain in the green nightie)

Anyway, all bitching aside, the set is fine in itself I suppose. It just needs to be in a theatre with a much much bigger stage, a pit with a big orchestra, and air to breath. What you could make out of this fabulous score sounded good, but pinched. It's these mighty works where you cry out for lucid sound, and perhaps less electronic thunder? 

Simon O'Neill is big. Maybe faced with having to get physical (it's like a step class), he did just that. And threw(sic) himself into it. The voice is large, and of great breath and phrasing, and penetrating. I don't care so much for the nasal quality, purely personal taste. His thundering entrance was something much lost in the melee and the upper stairs. Neil Armfield spoke of the letting the singers get it out. Downstage works wonders.

Lianna Haroutounian had better placement on the stage and perfect placement in the voice. Careful but not cautious, she poured it out with a young clean rounded tone with enough warmth to reach into your heart with ever increasing despair. While the voice may not be fully unfurled at the moment, she gave a hint of the future with an Emilia, addio that had her whole night compressed into it and released with an urgency in the most thrilling combination of resolution and fear. I felt lucky to be hearing her now, with a little pitter patter in the heart at last.

After the Ave Marie, the first natural pause really, the crowd erupted into sustained clapping and cheering, a thank you for coming at such short notice, for not being the other one, and most of all for nailing it, beautifully. When Otello appeared through the rear high shutters to make his entrance just as the applause started to fade, the volume and cheering picked up again in a not-finished-with-her-yet statement, and he had to stand and wait. Good moment.

Iago's primal slime doesn't come all that easily. There's the need to get into very dark territory, the darkest corners of the ego. Claudio Sgura didn't get there for me. He has a good and at times lovely baritone, too lovely perhaps, and up against this big Otello, he has to come out the winner. Most others liked him, but I kept thinking of Jonathan Summers, and more lately, Warwick Fife whose surprise Alberich is last years Ring was the talk of the town.

Jacqui Dark comfortably reprised her fine Emilia. All the guys were fine. The chorus was good, blown about by storms and scuffles, but lessened by much of the time being stuck up high and back.

I like this one too:

Monday, June 30, 2014


Last night it blew a gale, cold as charity etc etc. I took to the bed early with my socks still on, a big cup of hot milo, and the six hundred pages of Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom of which I'm a third the way in and still any thoughts of taking Akabar are only just emerging.

While I'm impatient to get to the Bernanos books which have arrived, I can't skip quickly through Arabia and its all male world (there has yet to be one female character), a world of men whose "strength was the strength of men geographically beyond temptation [of civilisation]".

For whatever it may reveal about me, I can say I had to read twice the description of twenty nine year old Sherif Shakir whose 

"mother had been Circassian, as had been his grandmother. From them he obtained his fair complexion; but the flesh of his face was torn away by smallpox. From its white ruin two restless eyes looked out, very bright and big; for the faintness of his eyelashes and eyebrows made his stare directly disconcerting. His figure was tall, slim, almost boyish from the continual athletic activity of the man.
  [ ] 
In war he was the man at arms. His feats made him the darling of the tribes. He, in return, described himself as a Bedawi, and an Ateibi, and imitated them. He wore his black hair in plaits down each side of his face, and kept it glossy with butter, and strong by frequent washings in camel urine. He encouraged nits, in deference to the Beduin proverb that a deserted head showed an ungenerous mind: and he wore the brim, a plaited girdle of thin leather thongs wrapped three of four times round the loin to confine and support the belly. He owned splendid horses and camels: was considered the finest rider in Arabia: ready for a match with anyone."

Back in the bedroom. Most of all, there's the dog, and her body heat. She presses hard against me, playing jig-saws, moulding herself into my contours, often starting the night on her back and looking face-wards into the bedside light. Last night she crossed her forelegs with a display of nails I couldn't resist catching on the phone.

In a brilliant piece of design, the actual nails are really only half their appearance. Reality is doubled by hairs of matching shape and colour.

(As usual, clicking of photos enlarges them)

Friday, June 27, 2014


Last night (Thursday) the endlessly fascinating Cate Blanchett was in conversation with Anne Summers, feminist, thinker, writer, publicist in front of a sell out house at the Sydney Theatre. The house was very much predominantly female, perhaps as much as 70-80%, with the rest made up of gays and otherwise arty fellows, and the odd husband here and there.

                                                                        (my pic)

It was, for me at least, a rare occasion to see someone of such success and huge fame talking freely, as freely as freely is, about life, career, arts, feminism, and things Australian, not that she hasn't been outspoken before on issues she cares about.  But Anne Summers is a good and gentle foil, and the promise of some genuine insight into Cate Blanchett was well fulfilled.

It was interesting to watch and wonder where performance started and stopped, and perhaps during questions from the floor there was an extra bit of naturalness that crept into her voice, and style, with hints you were really at home with her, or she with you. But that's unfair, to suggest she was any more acting than any of us act all day every day, playing our roles, at home, at work, wherever. The content was never in doubt, always her, and generous and genuine. Most generous.

                                                           (from the twittersphere)

She spoke about her career. How as a young girl she was taken with her mother to see the Mikado starring the "louch" Frank Thring. (Never heard of him? Yes, you have as the first four seconds of this might remind you.) Mid performance the Mikado's black moustache fell to the stage and looking down at it Frank decried 'Damn this cheap Japanese merchandise' and on with the show. She was, she said, thrilled by the risk and danger.

Of a career path that means taking what interested her, not what may or may not be perceived to be the calculated right career path - her first role as understudy to (the great) Kerry Walker.

She spoke of the nerves. Always there are nerves. Shitting bricks, like tonight. And of the need to not see beyond the moment, never looking through the play to the end, and thinking in the wings waiting an entrance 'All I have to do is walk over there and sit in that chair" and it would begin - the interaction with the other players which was all it was about.

She spoke of the search for perfection and the never ending doubt about what's been done. About seeing the world through the eyes of the characters, people you often didn't even like, but who had a perspective and view that needed to be considered. I've often wondered why actors, not all  but many, had seemed to have achieved such worldly wisdom. Here was a clue: they had been many people in many situations, many lives in one.

She takes inspiration from watching children play and interact with honesty and innocence.

She loves and thrives on language, and turns to the dictionary when searching for the elusive. Just what does the word 'must' really mean?

She and Andrew raise the boys, letting them into the wonders of the stage and the arts when appropriate, while domesticity and schooling goes on as normal, even dealing with internet porn well before she ever dreamed she would need.

She abhorred the sexism dished out onto Julia Gillard, who regardless of politics or circumstance would never have been the subject of such filth if she had been male.

She spoke of the years running the Sydney Theatre Company. She answered questions from the floor with humour and honesty.

She gave her time freely, and for that Anne Summers made a donation in her name to the Children's Hospital Randwick, and about six or eight children of varying age came on stage at the end (including the delicious little girl of perhaps four who had her routine well worked out, and peering into the auditorium went through a little dance routine, arms arched over her head for a slow full turn and bow, oblivious to anyone else on the stage, especially Ms Blanchett) and presented her with gifts and flowers.

She restores your faith, makes you proud, and betters the world. Cate Blanchett.

Saturday update: This isn't the 90 minutes we got, but in just three minutes, you get a good idea of what she says, and how well she says it. It is under the Murdoch banner, please forgive. She did.