Monday, August 22, 2011


That blog title had already been written on the weekend as I'd muddled through a few thoughts about Friday's Sydney Symphony's Shostakovich 7th and Brahms double concerto. 'Life goes on' is one phrase attributed to or associated with Shostakovich and The Leningrad.

Then, the news - D's husband Jk died on Saturday and that his struggle was in part the content of my first post on this little memory lane of mine is not the least of the reasons for recording it here now. We, D and I, often spoke about what was going on with Jk. He was a cardiac cripple, and a vasculopath (all blood vessels rooted, as one vernacular said to the other) and I suspect had a malignancy of the male kind with secondaries in his spine. He had lately needed regular morphine for pain. He was desperate to die and there was desperateness in D's voice on Friday when we went over it all again, and again, death and some of its precipitants.

The sms tom-toms were beating yesterday, and she will be happy for him I know, both of them now released.

He was a man of the sea. They met in the Bahamas, sailed the world together, the last years shipwrecked by illness. She is a woman of enormous common sense, hardworking, down to earth, and suffers fools poorly and dishonesty even less. No bullshit with D. A few months ago, on a glorious Sydney Indian summers day, she organised a luncheon at the Squadron, his other home, and he brushed up pretty well for what was effectively the last hurrah. She'll give him back to the sea I expect.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


The Sydney Symphony Orchestra concert last friday was particularly memorable. The Shostakovich 7th, the Leningrad, St Petersburg, as uncomfortable a bloodied city as any to visit. Then add the Brahms double concerto, add Alban Gerhardt returning, add a gorgeous violinist making a debut, and add a young, rather tall extremely long-limbed Russian conductor also making a debut, and you have a recipe for wanting to go twice, or three times. I checked this idea through, only to find that of the three performances, two were matinees, which I found a bit odd.

Here's a very engaging Vasily Petrenko, talking about Russia today, then, himself, and the 7th:

The Brahms double gets pretty evocative for me, stamped with childhood memories, vinyl spinning on the stereo in the front room, and now I can't listen to it without going back. Which I did. Into the garden, the music overflowing out the sitting room windows, past the Magnolia denudata, in full bloom, on by the big rambling rhododendrons, flowering azaleas and camellias, all the way to the grand old Lady Loch standing tall by the front gate.

Peter McCallum lavishes much praise here, although he seems guarded about the merits of the Shostakovich. I have none of them and none about Mr Petrenko's handling of it. I thought the bolero-esque creep of insidious fascism quite scary, brilliantly managed dynamics and tempo, no risk of crassness, morphing horribly till the beast, the truth, was exposed in a raw mix of awe and terror. I love the middle movements, vast, solid, nostalgic, motherland, a land of broken hearts but not spirits. The violins sounded stunning from where we sat (rear stalls), better than ever and orchestral detail and balance just fine. Again, the pacing of the final movement had more than enough measured momentum and thrill of eventual, at last, finally, exaggerated ambivalent victory.

It was broadcast, and I wished I'd recorded it. Better still, I wish they had recorded it and made it available in the heat of the moment. It was one of those nights, for me. As there has been many others - Armenians lining up for the Sibelius for one, any overseas visitor for another. The technology is out there (I was met with all the why-not reasons when it was raised with the orchestra a few years ago) and happily we met up with it in Cologne in June. There concerts are mixed and recorded live onto disc, and pressed, ready for sale immediately after the concert, within 10 to 15 minutes. In the main foyer they have about six machines, each pressing about six CDs, so delivering about 36 discs every five minutes. You can buy the concert-you-have-just-heard in a CD box for 12 euros, or for 10 euros, stick little nipply things onto the stiffish back leaf of your programme, and clip the CDs there.

You then take home the programme, programme notes, and the live recording, all ready for the music library. Genius. We bought of course, and were out of the hall in no time. Actually, K insisted on going back the next night, just to watch it all working, and buy one more. And believe me, the quality is superb, maybe a case of less is more.

The concert was the Gürzenich Orchestra, Köln, Sir Mark Elder, Sibelius 6 and 7 (not bad, Sibelius played by Germans conducted by an Englishman), and the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante KV 364. It was a stunning night - Maxim Rysanov on viola, Alexander Sitkovetsky on violin. Electric is the word. K said they were in love. Here they are separately, so imagine them together, energetic yet extremely elegant and refined musicianship. And we have the CD(s).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


There's a few things that jump out at me from the Opera Australia 2012 (that company site takes a fair bit of searching and page turning to work through) launch. Call it getting old, but I no longer have a strong emotional investment in the company. I feel like a seagull, winging around on high, happy to stay a bit remote (that means non subscriber status - I'm just not prepared to part with my money up front anymore) and swoop down for the odd morsel. It's not the way it should be - subscribers are pretty important for keeping the momentum - but it is the way it is.

So, what to make of this :

"The Ring has the right sort of weight for the cultural life of Melbourne, whereas Sydney responds culturally a lot better to opera on the Harbour [where] it's outdoors with lots of fireworks". So says Mr Terracini. Apart from the fact that The Ring is Melbourne's and Melbourne's exclusively has nothing to do with anything except the Wheelans are putting up a few million on the proviso it is just that, Melbourne's, this is the kind of stupid sweeping statement, without basis in fact, ludicrously exaggerating an outsider's myth, that is frankly unbecoming someone getting my tax dollars. But not my subscription.

And then there's arguably the most alarming of all - that what can't be played in the Opera House pit will be played elsewhere and relayed in in 'surround sound'. Like the movies. With Mr Beresford. Wooopeee. Die tote Stadt's required orchestral forces outstrip the capacity of the pit, as for many works, think Verdi, Strauss, Wagner ... Lets think about that - the sound is coming via a mixer, with all the modifications that involves, including dynamics, and then through loudspeakers, with all the distortions and losses that involves. So, at the very least, it is only as good as the speakers, and I'm afraid, as rotten as the sound can be from the pit, that's not good enough. It may at first glance solve some problems, or rather set them aside, but it also sets some worrying precedents.

Frankly, I would rather hear the damn thing live in the concert hall (can't we set up movie screens there?), but that raises the question of would you hear ...mmm.. whoever. Opera in the concert hall has been done before, and done brilliantly. I'm tired of going on about it. And it will be done again. Soon, and sooner rather than later. Actually, Die todt Stadt should be done at the Capitol, but even I understand the problem of booking that place where popular musicals book it out well in advance.

What else. Well, Teddy will sing 34 performances, shirtless no doubt, of South Pacific. On his own. Cheryl gets her husbands head in Melbourne, Wegner in Sydney. Susan Foster sings Turandot in Sydney, the great veteran Elizabeth Connell in Melbourne. Mr La Spina continues as primo spinto rotundo tenore with Radames and Calaf. Just stand still Rosario.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Being the biggest blubberer at the opera, ever, I'm was a little surprised, not to mention disappointed, that I was dry-eyed. Well nearly. I got such a shock when George threw Lennie's dead mouse off-stage, and Anthony Dean Griffey's despair was so palpable, that I felt a tear running down my left cheek and it had just started. God, I thought, I'm not going to make it. That however, aside from a few twinges when Curly's wife went limp in Lennies clenching arms, was the emotional highpoint.

The mistake was possibly reading it on the weekend. It is such a beautifully written book, already a play, lean and compact, characters drawn with haunting minimalist word-smithing, and a jabbing use of repetition to evoke and underline. I loved the protagonists and I loved the conceit - that understanding is love - and I loved that JS was born in the same year as my father who as a youngster went jackarooing into the unfenced sheep stations of New South Wales, out in the far west. And by a completely bizarre chance meeting, a photograph recently turned up, sepia'd and worn, but enough to show a tent, a billy, and dad alone except for his dog, Lady. About 1920.

So, over primed, and despite very fine performances, a well honed Lennie by Anthony Dean Griffey in what is arguably his fetish role, a rock solid George by a nearly show stealing Barry Ryan, and for me a quite touching Jacqueline Mavardi in the impossibly difficult scale travelling Curly's wife, it just didn't get me, neither in its portrayal of individuals, nor more importantly in exposing their relationships. My loss I know.

I tended to find it musically counterintuitive to the way I 'heard' the book, like the great crescendos where I yearned for breath-holding silences - putting down the dog, let alone the man - and I was thinking what Peter Sculthorpe would make of this. It was all, not inappropriately I know, very American, and I was struggling with the switch. I ended up playing spot the tune.

Bruce Beresford made it all look and fit well, despite tedious scene changes and slightly cliched stills on the curtain. I actually didn't mind the short movie chase sequence, despite this segment being particularly musically effective, and the one place where visuals weren't really needed at all. However, I'm now wondering if the whole thing might have benefited from using more of his (Bruce Beresford's) cinematic skills. Right from the beginning, before opening curtain, establishing desperateness, and then during each scene change, working up the relationships, so that the 'opera' became of series of 'tableaux' in a grander scale vision of two men and their needs.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Capriccio. K wasn't interested, at all. We were still settling down after a long trip and 'ends' were far from meeting as the travel budget estimates, as usual, had well and truly blown out. It was simply the price thing again. Anyway, a special ticket offer email arrived, it would be the last night of what I guessed would be a last run of a well regarded production, Cheryl was pursuing her Strauss trajectory, and what's more, I'd never seen it before!

Marcellous had given fair warning about surtitle and casting issues with a reasoned debate about tolerance and company artistic development. I compromised with E row, close enough to hear and see something, and still be able to follow the chit-chat a bit without too much neck damage.

Well. For all the banter about words and music, needlessly bourgeois as far as I'm concerned, and all the angxt about who to love (why the handsome one with the sexy boots of course - oh, he's your brother - then better stand in front of the mirror and self-adulate) what really interested me was that I, and maybe a good number of the others, was absolutely fascinated by the production. The sound was pretty crap, choked and truncated, and the words just too important that one either had to stay with a fixed neck extension, risk permanent damage, and follow it all, or give it away and go with the general drift. And vocally, overparted comes to mind. I did like hearing, and seeing, Christopher Tonkin for the first time.

But nevermind all that, John Cox did wonderful things with the cast, and that alone is what kept my interest and I wonder how many others. Theatre won! That's the answer. But even Cheryl, in all her generosity, wasn't going to settle for Conal Coad.

It was all terribly elegantly deco, droves of servants suitably subservient to Madame, suitors as wonderfully ambivalent gentlemen of the arts with more eye on the purse than pussy. To her credit, Ms Barker played all this out with considerable aplomb and being the good Australian girl that she is, had all the air of should it all disappear tomorrow, she'd still be just as content, and just as wonderful. She was, I am saying, deliciously self contained, and perhaps that's exactly what this is all about. Whatever else, conform to circumstance and certain outside forces, superficial as they are or maybe, but adapt to whatever whenever and know thyself.

With the taste of the blood of regietheatre still in my mouth, I could well have done with something like this, bombed out Dresden and Susan Gritton thank you very much, but in the absence, can I say, THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE IN ENGLISH. Sheeeesh, if any work demands it, this is it. Give me a break. All that effort, so close and yet so far.