Friday, April 30, 2010

MORAG BEATON 1926-2010

It was 1967. My cousin and I had risked taking a student subscription to THE OPERA and there we were in the second back row of the gods of the (new) Tivoli Theatre, Sydney. The only person we knew was our pyschology tutor, Miss A B, sitting way way below us, and even further beyond was a small black square - the stage. The Tivoli had yet to meet the demolition ball, but it did, shamefully, and the scar is still there, cnr Castlereagh and Campbell streets.

It was Turandot, and I remember, never forgot, couldn't forget, the incredible huge turquoise blue peacock-train, the voice that came out of it and the name of its owner - MORAG BEATON.

Miss A B was exploding with enthusiasm at interval, her excitement barely contained, like her ample breasts in their knit sweater. As we climbed back up to our nose bleed seats, I was struck by how overwhelmed she was, while all I could think about was how anyone could open their mouth so wide, such that even from our dizzy heights you feared for the first few rows that they might disappear with the next breath. But something had happened and just what would only become clear in retrospect. I had been exposed to the immediacy, the thrill, and the risk of the human voice live, and a template had been set - for soprano, and for big. And the fetish is still alive and well.

Morag Beaton was born in Edinburgh in 1926 and died in Sydney on the first of April. I'm very sad she's gone, and sad I didn't hear about it earlier. I think I would have liked to have gone to her funeral, and have never before had that thought for a public figure.

Her mother was her first teacher, and a slow moving career took an abrupt change in 1964 when Richard Bonynge offered her a job, as a mezzo, in the upcoming 1965 Sutherland-Williamson, as it was called, Grand Opera Tour of Australia. She came, and she stayed. Moffat Oxenbould describes her as a warm and generous spirit, a great character, and the confidante of the lovelorn and looney, reading fortunes with a soft lilting accent and talking of myths and mysteries. There is a cheeky photo of her on the beach in 1965 with Richard Bonynge, Elizabeth Harwood, Margreta Elkins, Spiro Malas and others. Morag Beaton's eyes peer through the camera and there's a winning confident smile on her pretty face. She is the only one with a hat and covered shoulders.

She sang over a wide range, and an especially acclaimed Tatyana, before Bonynge saw in her what she had secretly dreamed of - the brilliance of tone, enormous range, and heft for Turandot. It was to be her defining role, and as it turns out, a life changing one for me. Thank you Morag Beaton.

She returned to London in 1966, chosen by Bernard Herrmann to record Cathy for the studio recording of his "Wuthering Heights", another landmark for her. Back in Australia, she now sang with The Australian Opera. One of Moffat Oxenbould's stories opens a window into her wonderful character. In Cavalleria one night, she had just sung the impassioned duet with Alfio, and instead of rushing offstage as usual, she dropped to her knees and started beating the stage with clenched fists, completely at odds with the music, before realising how incongrous things were, getting up, looking around, and slowly walking off. When he asked later why, and what she was doing, she replied in irresistable Scots accent: " Well, wee pet! Last night I was watching the late-night movie on television and Katina Paxinou was in it. At one point she got down on her knees and beat the ground, and I thought it was verryy effective."

A disagreement with Edward Downes, then Music Director, in 1973, over the role of Giorgetta, saw her fling an old celtic curse onto him, and his manhood, and she was off the barge and on the way to England. She was back in Australia by 1976, but never sang on the opera stage again. There was a recital in 1983, one of the rare events you would rewind your life to be at, and some songs with the late Geoffrey Tozer for her 80th.

The Australian obituary is here, and that from the Scotsman here.

Here is that wonderful voice, as Cathy, in three excerpts from Wuthering Heights : 'I have been wandering", "Look, the moon", "It's now Christmas".

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Things have been going round and round around here and all around rather relentlessly and getting off the merry-go-round has been short lived and not easy. And my horse has been bucking a bit, but I'm staying on, just.

All of which is by way of telling you that posts have been started if not finished and, moreover, there is something which just shouldn't wait. Here you go, it is : ALL ABOUT EVE.

As usual, let it fully load if your connection is slow, move volume to high, go full screen (click extreme bottom right and you'll just make it) and I think house lights down for this one. You may want to read the extensive Youtube notes first, but my recommendation is blow yourself away, like the little puff of nothing we are, and then catch up on the science before getting on for another ride.

The Extreme-ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE) on board the Solar Dynamics Obervatory (SDO) maps the radiation environment as it climbs to its mission orbit.

The SDO website is somewhere you may want to disappear into for a reality check on what is really important, and it's not that parking spot you missed this morning. There you will find this awesome eruption, as seen on TV, and much more. Feel small, very very small.

Monday, April 12, 2010


This arrived this morning, while I finished knitting a scarf and finally read War and Peace waiting to get through to the Booking Office, from a composer friend of Ks with the message that in a few minutes they do more than Madonna has done in a life time. If you are not one of the several million who have already seen it, introducing - The Ross Sisters.

Disclaimer - it gets pretty freaky

Friday, April 2, 2010