Sunday, August 30, 2009


A close house visit from Skippy is unusual despite being on the edge of the bush and sometimes hearing them bound away in the evenings or on an early morning walk. The only close encounter recently was a sick roo and there's a story there yet to be told.

So this morning it was a delight to see a big bright eyed curious eastern grey sitting just beyond the Ha-ha framed by the banksias (Banksia spinulosa) behind. K had gone to town with you know who and with the old dog asleep under the table, as usual, things were quiet outside.

Now K's trip was because the ducks have babies, 7 of them, and we've always wished there'd been a safe place for them in the dam.

K is nothing if not an inventor. Even You Tube will attest to that. So a few hours and a roo visit later he proudly launched Duck Island, their just-in-case refuge, complete with a waddle ramp for little legs.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Finally some evidence of why the (Blue) Satin Bower Bird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) is violaceus by name and blue by collecting habit.

From a distance (and they keep their distance) the male looks quite black, the yellow beak the only colour at first notice, not unlike a plump English black bird. Inevitably, depending on the head tilt, the light, some slight movement, and certainly in flight, you notice an aura of voilet, a deep rich violet but just from where is less certain. It's a private colour this serial polygamist reserves for courting, with fixed leg dancing, wild head movements and flashing eyes, to seduce her into his bower.

Here he is looking quite chuffed, preening just outside our window, all fluffed up, and I suspect postcoital.

Focus isn't one of my strong points but you get the effect. By comparison, the female is a rather drab grey green affair.

I've become a bit obsessed with them at the moment, here and there, but not as much as with Sibelius 7th - that's another story.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Whatever else you can say about a Kosky anything, it is certainly a Kosky something, and this Poppea, in Sydney after a run through Vienna, Berlin and Edinburgh, is unashamedly a Kosky and a good one too.

I don't worship unreservedly at the altar of Kosky, with my exposure mostly limited to opera productions (Nabucco, Dutchman) and more recently STC's Lost Echo, distracted by what seems to me to be the barely contained precept that nothing succeeds like excess and Kosky's cri de coeur from the (small g) ghettos, Jewish, gay, antipodean, and I share 2 of them, that "I AM".

Accepting that the foundation of good art is to (cliche warning) shine light on the human condition, then Kosky's Poppea has a lot going for it with Monteverdi's cast of rampant egos and Moneteverdi's justly stunning score creating the perfect mould for Kosky to shape, and shape it he does. The contrapuntal use of Cole Porter seems to be what most everyone ends up talking about, and yet while I found it fun at first ultimately it wasn't the shocking or liberating device I expected. If anything were to shock I think the Monteverdi music itself is all the relief needed for the brutality of the staging, in fact probably more so.

Set in what at first glance looked like a cramped space under the Opera House, which is where we were, a cramped space under the Opera House, on the awkward Drama Theatre stage which played up the cabaret aspects of the production but hardly did it real justice, and the lighting I found coarse, as things moved along it occurred to me that in fact we could be seeing this decadent and grotesque unravelling of any residual semblence of self-control played out in the excavated ruins of the Nero residence itself, the Domus Aurea, now an underground descent into a past of opulence and self-indulgence and where once were marble, mozaics and enough gold for even Norman May to shut up.

That is the octagonal room, now a vast empty space with blunt openings to otherness, like grottos as they were when the Romans fell, literally, upon them, spawning the very word grotesque.

The other thing you notice as you adapt to the set is the prominence Barrie Kosky takes, not inapporopriately, but certainly a very obvious presence, facing the audience as it settles, arm over the divider (what is the word for that), relaxed, engaging, and interested, and a single spot on himself and the keyboard for the rest of the night as he drives the whole thing along.

The casting was magnificent and completely at ease with what must have been a Kosky big ask, an all singing, all choreographed, all genre descent into madness. It is quite frankly evil at work, the evil of the endless pursuit of gratification at everyone's expense, including the self, as must be the case. From Barbara Spitz's sequined and blinged Carlotta drag queen love-as-illusion Amor, rasping her way through the classics, to Martin Niedermair's beautiful alto tenor Ottone someway just short of castrato at times, and the rivetting fragile but determined antelope-in-the-spotlight like Ottavia of Beatrice Frey, whose one masterfully sustained high note, beaming out for what seemed like a minute (with a slight short waver some way near the end only adding to her fragility) was alone worth the ticket price. Florian Carove's naked Seneca was an illuminating contrast in stillness and acceptance and Ruth Brauer-Kvam's Drusilla a frenetic exercise in desperateness and survival. At the core of this filth, and I can think of only one thing left to startle us more, and it's not fit for print, entwined around their own lusts, were the sadomasochistic duo of Kyrre Kvam's Nero, a strangling animal who met his match in the equally animal Poppea of Melita Jurisic.

Their final tableaux of completion was genius, nothing except inevitable self destruction in store for them, a smug sordid achievement itself the very opposite of love, the hate of the ego now holding them only temporarily in the same orbit, repulsion already born.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


It's good isn't it. Ambloggador, how Justin Murphy describes himself on his new blog about the annual October Wexford Festival Opera of which he is the assistant company manager.

Evolving from an 800 AD Vicking settlement, Wexford (Loch Garman) is a harbour town of 18,00 sitting on the coast of Ireland at the mouth of the River Slaney just above that little bump of south east Ireland that seems to be reaching down and out to the rest of the world beyond.

The gaelic name comes from the legend of Garman Garbh. Having stolen the crown from his tribe's queen who then took herself off to the local witch, as you do, Garman was drowned in a great flood of water the witch released over the mudflats, engulfing the thief and forming the muddy silted harbour of the now Wexford.

At the nearby moorings of New Ross is a replica of the Irish famine emigrant tall ship Dunbrody.

From Wexford and nearby came John F Kennedy's grandfather, Oscar Wilde's maternal grandfather, and to Australia, Ned Kelly's father. The Kelly legend has soaked into the soil of this country and I think Ned was the only single individual displayed to the world in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Opening Ceremony (Captain Cook excepted, all eye glass and caged rabbit), our only legend. As someone whose immediate family is laced with the names of Doyle, Kevin, Carey and Foran, with a family history called "Letters from Maynooth", a dash of Italian for the family name and a spike of German for attitude, I loved this Irish larrikan segment, its genesis perhaps in Wexford.

Ian Cooper's Tin Symphony Sydney 2000 Olympic Opening Ceremony

The Wexford Festival Opera had its beginnings with a town visit in 1950 by the founder of Gramophone magazine, Sir Compton Mackenzie, who suggested to the local opera study group that they should perform an opera in their own Theatre Royal, and the WFO was born in 1951. A new performing arts complex finished 12 months ago is the Festivals new home.

This years Festival programme is here and Justin's ambloggador festival blog is here. What a remarkable community these 18,000 must be.

By the way, should you be oxidising at the rate I am, you may also be interested in Wexford's Strawberry Festival. Strawberrys are a great source of antioxidants, the basis of much if not all of our entropy.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Monica Attard did a great interview with Simone Young a week ago on ABC Radio National. If you missed it on air, as I did, it really is worth a read. She speaks frankly and with an Australian directness.

On a country's musical heritage and audience knowledge:

"The Hamburg audience is very well informed, very interested in particular in contemporary music. [ ] There are areas of the repertoire that they are not so well informed about. [ ] I've done a lot of Messiaen, some Tristan Murail, I've been doing a lot of Benjamin Britten both in the opera and in concerts. I'm doing some Ollie Knussen, I've done quite a lot of Brett Dean's music.

Australia is essentially a very young country with a young culture, therefore the operatic life in this country reflects that."

On performance standards and funding:

"I believe that there are certain levels of staffing of orchestra and chorus that one should never fall below irrespective of the size of the venue because the demands of the work to do justice to the work that is what you need.

I think there definitely should be more government money.    ...... should be funded. That's the orchestra and that's the chorus because there's no way those institutions can generate their own income"

On Lyndon Terracini:

"I think they've made an excellent appointment and congratulate them on it. I really think it's an appointment with vision, it's an appointment with substance, I think Lyndon is a really good man for the job, so that's a great step forward."

On disgruntled singers and not enough work:

"I've been advocating for years, more support of the state opera companies because I fully believe that without good and regular frequent activity at the state level, the national company will not be able to achieve what it wants to achieve and what it should be able to achieve because it's having to tick too many boxes. It's having to tick training boxes as well as performing and that's just too much for one company with very limited resources."

On the importance of the Arts:

"{The Arts} Are important because they engage the creativity of the population and it's the creative thinkers who are able to generate work and therefore income and therefore sustainability of a city because they're the ones that come up with the ideas in industry, in finance, in trading and so on. And without creative input to those minds, they're not going to be maintained as creative thinkers."

On the prospects for OA with separate Artistic and Music Directors:

"I think maybe it will work well for the company. [ ] ...that was the structure that existed under Moffat Oxenbould, with Richard Bonynge."

On her feelings for Australia, her return as a guest conductor, or in another capacity:

It is all here

It was the late Carlo Felice Cillario who observed at the 2003 Gala in his honour that it was likely fortuitous that Simone Young was essentially forced to go to Europe because when she does come back, she will be ready for us, and moreover, we will be ready for her.

So here's the plan - Simone returns as Music Director commencing with a new Ring Cycle to open the refurbished Sydney Opera House in 2015. What to do about the toads in Toad Hall is the pressing problem.


The Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis) is another pretty one who has just appeared and for the last few days has been a constant little dot of yellow usually sitting sideways (as they do,  and I know of no other who does this) on the house verandah posts or on the trunk of the big Eucalypt near the bedroom.

They are cautious little things and perch about 2 metres above the ground with the head turned down, watching, still, ready to suddenly drop to the ground for an insect and then quickly fly back to their vantage point. The height above ground is all but measured it is so constant.

They are breeding at the moment and that means mouths to feed.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Mooching around the internet I stumbled onto a few bits and pieces that give a bit of an edge to some speculation.

Stuart Skelton scheduled for Das Lied von der Erde with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in May 2010 with Ashkenazy. He has sung it to considerable acclaim: 2004 Frankfurt (Harding), 2005 St Louis Symphony (Robertson) at home and New York with Michelle de Young and 2007 San Franscisco (Tilson-Thomas) with baritone Thomas Hampson. That review is a Skelton-fans must read.

At last, and about time. Have we heard it since 1990 with Stuart Challender and Elizabeth Campbell? So the question is who will be the other soloist, female I hope. Could we dream of warm voice from cold Finland, our Ashkenazy Gerontius Angel. Oh happy dream. She is singing it in February in Paris. Dear god of programming, hear my prayer. It will then be all up to Mr Ashkenazy, and if there's a high bar around, this Mahler is it. 

I seem more and more to be croaking on about the past, and here we go again. My first ever exposure to Mahler was DLVDE, Sydney Town Hall, probably late 60's, and here she is, as she was then, the most beautiful contralto I have ever heard:

Yes, you can.

Something else has appeared on the horizon. The Gondwana Voices will join the Sydney Children's Choir and Sydney Philharmonia Choir for a large vocal masterpiece for the SSO 2010 Gala Opening with Ashkenazy. Sounds good to me, and will probably keep the 2009 Opening whingers happier. Well, Mahler's 8th comes to mind, and coincidentally Askenazy will be opening the New Zealand International Arts Festival in February with ... Mahler's 8th. 

Remember the Sydney Olympic Arts Festival opened with Mahler's 8th? Remember (honk-if-you-haven't-been-married-to) Edo? Who, besides the Mahler, also brings to mind the Berlioz Te Deum. Remember the Te Deum? That's a large vocal masterpiece. And yes I was at the recording session, Queen Mother's Birthday 2000, and 'don't ask don't tell' is the policy which covers that episode.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009


It is August 5. I can't believe it. For the first time since last summer I have just heard that gorgeous single ever repeating downward vocal run of the Blue Satin Bower Bird. I remember posting about the thrill of first hearing last year and thought I'd check what I said and when I said it.

Yes, you guessed it -it was August 5

This was taken through window glass but you may still get a hint of the voilet blush around the eye

I wish I could play you his song. One day I will. There's much to record around here, and one secret I still haven't told you. Not till the time is right.

But I can play you this, and when you hear (if you haven't already) the song of my Blue Satin Regular Visitor, you'll understand why this is as close at it gets (at 4:45).

She is going to "try and have a bash at.." and can you believe Mr Piano Man.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Woollahra is that inner eastern Sydney suburb clinging to the north facing high slopes below where Oxford Street ends and the old road to South Head starts. The apex (the divergence of Oxford Street, Old South Head Road, and the road, incongruously called Ocean Street, which drops down to the harbour) is the site of the huge late 19C Water Reservoir which superceded some of the smaller reservoirs  of the early colony. These roads run along the ridges of what must have been the most incredibly beautiful high country of the harbour.

Just below this crest, just enough to be protected from the southerlies which roll over the ridge and eddy somewhere lower, is the cross street, the main street or high street, of Woollahra, an old and once charming suburb now marketed as a village. This is a village. Woollahra is really the beginning of the end of the eastern spread of terrace housing, with the exception of the big Points (Potts and Darling) and some single houses around the high parts of Darlinghurst. It is where you  first encounter single dwellings and some are quite substantial. 

While for years now the excellence of the position has driven a frenzy of renovation and regeneration, bang in the middle of this once local shopping street sits a little outpost of entropy.

115 Queen Street. 

It doesn't carry a name, not like the much talked about St Kevin's next door. It has always been simply : the house where Joan lived.  The talk was that the house was being run down to avoid any heritage encumbrance and before it was auctioned, some effort was made to consider its purchase as a place of significance for all the obvious reasons and for all the obvious uses. The sort of thing that didn't happen to Patrick White's house which is not that far away. The matter did not escape her attention. Inevitably it went to auction and sold for a very large sum of money.

After 12 months of being boarded up, the outcome is apparent and it could have been a lot worse.

The house was built in two stages. The Original house was a sandstone single storey cottage known as "Vine Cottage" built 1856-1863.

A second storey was added c. 1891 by Richard Alston, the grandfather of Dame Joan Sutherland. Dame Joan Sutherland lived in the house for 19 years. The Family sold the house.

Since the 1950s the hosue has deteriorated and was puchased in a derelict state by the current owners in 2008.

Woollahra Council had approved an application to conserve, restore and reconstruct in accordance with the Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter under the supervision of a heritage consultant. The work by APD Building will ensure the future of the building.

The Building will form part of a single residence with a contemporary addition at the rear.

The developer is here and architects likewise.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


                    on the road yesterday afternoon, Acacia baileyana, declared weed

"Our favourite flower’s the wattle,
The emblem of this land.
You can stick it in a bottle,
You can hold it in your hand.”      

When I was kicking stones along the road of my childhood country town, August 1st was Wattle Day, and Horses Birthday.

Early last Century it was conceived  as a quasi- nationalist day on September 1st, later changed to August 1st, then back to September 1st, which it is now. August 1st in the right day around here, if when the Wattles are at their first flush peak has anything to do with it, and I doubt anymore that it does. As a child I liked it, Wattle Day. What a great idea, a flower day, a flower for a day, a day for a flower, something noone else had, a flower like our Wattle. Made me proud. I feel differently about nationalism these days.

The Wattle is a great choice, the only choice if you must have a national plant. Evolving here since the latter part of the Tertiary period (1.8 to 65 million years ago) they have earned the charming title of Nurse Plant. Carers. In nutrient poor and dry sandy soils Wattles have learnt to live, prosper, take little and contribute a lot. They breath CO2, bind weak soils, increase soil nitrogen, they fertilise, feed small insects, feed birds, and they look stunning. Ever driven west over the Great Divide in August or September and seen the great western planes sweep away from you splashed with gold? If I were a Wattle and some two-legged moron stepped into my multi-million year existence and in a nano-second of time declared me a pest, and ripped me from my soil, and planted Leylandii pines in rows in my place, and said how green and lush they looked, and then planted more, and more, I'd be a bit more than a little annoyed. I'd be pissed.

Increasingly stuck in the city, I had almost forgotten about things Wattly, till The (very) Honorable Sir William Deane floated Wattle sprigs on the icy Swiss waters where 14 Australians had drowned. The symbolism was perfect and I was genuinely touched. It was us, it was inclusive, it was memory, it was our nurse plant, it was them and they were us, and they are here now with you, and we are together. However, the power of any Nationalist symbol didn't ever escape the wiles of that little John Howard. Oh no, the Wattle joined the Akubra as a symbol of us and not you. It became another weapon in his call to separateness.

I love the Wattle. There's a lot down here, and it's fair to say there's Wattle out most of the year, but right now they're at their very best. I picked some this morning. It's through the house. It doesn't give you asthma, old bush woman talk, because the wattle pollen is probably too large to be an allergen. And we played Ann Carr-Boyd's "A Day in Taralga" recorded on the Stuart & Sons Piano.

Acacia terminalis, Sunshine Wattle, near the dam.