Monday, January 30, 2012


Bookending the Faust (the New York Met's take on Gounod/Barbier et Carré after Goethe) were two plays which made that production (bubbled away in the moral vacuum of a dream sequence where the solution to anything is, well, anything) seem to be bordering on banal. The music is French sensuous, and the story one of mendacity, lust, passion and scandalous impregnation. Oh, the potential. Without my theatrical counterpoints, I might have been more easily satisfied dramatically, as I was musically.

Because it's rather nice about now to slot a picture into a post, here's the never married Johann Wolfgang von Goethe with his friend if not soul-mate Friedrich Schiller, both standing tall outside the Court Theatre in Weimar.

Goethe holds a laurel wreath, his hand gently resting on Schiller's shoulder. The bond is palpable.

Now, here's the post.

Cheek by Jowl have a travelling global roadshow of " 'Tis Pity She's a Whore", after the Jacobean John Ford - a blood-revenge drama of incestuous pregnancy, forced marriage, self-poisoning by switched chalices, and finally cardiac evisceration - take that you whore! With the touring British production, director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Promerod deliver a stylish contemporary update of an oldie-but-a-goodie. The setting is Annabella (sister of Giovanni - you know the rest) sitting on her bed, laptop open, ipod plugged in as the audience enters the theatre, and her world. The story was well delivered, although I found much of the dialogue hard to catch, not least because of the strong contemporary cadence of the British english, a broken jerking legato-less style, and the slight voiced Annabella of Lydia Watson. And when it was over, the blood spilt and the deed done, what pleased me was the return from off-stage of a fully alive Annabella, her hand outstretched to her brother still holding the avulsed heart.

Forgiveness I thought. Understanding. Understanding is forgiveness. How marvelous. When later I mentioned this to someone-who-knew I learnt that in fact the intent was to confirm that, yes you guessed it, it was all a dream. It does make it work, but at the same time I can't help but feel it moves the whole moral imperative to a lesser space.

This will give you the texture of the production.

Next came "Thyestes", after Seneca (the father of the revenge play) presented by Belvoir written by Thomas Henning, Chris Ryan, Mark Winter (the three actors) and Simon Stone (director). Thyestes is the story of the House of Artreus, as the director details (not for the faint-hearted, as Bette Davis said about old age).

Remember Argamemnon? Remember revenge begets revenge? Well, Argamemnon is the son of Artreus!

In this piece of contemporary theatre where there is no escape from the immediate reality that this is now, they are us, we are of them, it could be me, it is me, where the script is written to be improvised each night, where all the roles are played by males, you are faced with the black comedy of the vileness of the human condition. I was stunned. They speak not the text of Seneca, but the vernacular of contemporary Australia, brilliantly using parallel circumstance on the moral spectrum to prize open the raw truth that there is no difference in degree, in time, or in place.

If you were taught at school that to covet is to steal, if you have ever wondered if to wish someone dead is to kill, if attack is attack and the slightest of same is the greatest of same, then you have some insight into how this is played out. "These myths are real". Genius in concept and execution is all I can say. And you don't have to take my word for it.

A G rated example (and there's not many of them) is the scene where Seneca writes of Pelopia, mother of Aegisthus and second wife of Artreus, having discovered the identity of Aegisthus' real father (Pelopia's own father, Thysestes - sorry, not so G rated after all) kills herself. All this is explained in surtitle text before the scene opens, wherein Pelopia (remember played by male, jeans and t shirt) sits at a grand piano which appeared from nowhere on a sparse white set with no flies and no wings, and sings (beautifully but I'm not sure what key) Schubert's 'Der Doppelgänger'.

The night is quiet, the streets are calm
In this house my beloved once lived
She has long since left the town
But the house still stands, here in the same place.

A man stands there also, and looks to the sky
And wrings his hands overwhelmed by pain
Upon seeing his face I am terrified -
The moon shows me my own form.

O you Dopplegänger! you pale comrade!
Why do you ape the pain of my love
Which tormented me upon this spot
So many nights, so long ago

The great Richard Tauber, tenor

The great Feodor Chaliapin, bass

K is home safely, and I / we are going again.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


I've been on the town.

There was the Met HD Faust at the local. And not bad at all it was. The seats are comfortable, the crowd small and predictable, and the sound satisfactory, if not great. The orchestra seemed to come forward from the sound stage a small way, but the voices were trapped and sitting back behind the screen. I guess it was the mixing. And as for speakers, consider me spoilt. (By the way, K is back from CES and Cal-I-forn-I-ay on Monday, and I think I've blown up a tweeter in the country; timing will be everything when I break that news.)

There was Jonas Kaufmann, handsome dark voiced tenor-de-jour; René Pape, oozing personality in the Méphistophélés role for which he is well famous; an attractively frail bewildered Marina Poplavskaya as the now-you''ll-think-I'm-awful-in-the-morning and don't tell-my-brother-about-the-baby Marguerite; and a terrific performance from Russell Braun as da brother.

The real star was the little giant in the pit: the completely amazing Yannick Néset-Séguin. The orchestra was superb and it was all so ... so French. I envy Philadelphia. The production I didn't care for - nuclear physicist, Fat-Boy the work of the devil of course (nice try but I'd leave that commentary in the hands of Mr Adams), although the factory scaffolding set had its moments of menace with everyone caught in its cold steeliness. And yes, it was just a dream, with 'dopplegänging'. Well, yes it is a dream, but that's not the way it works. Barbara Willis Sweete's handling of the filming and editing was restrained, with more long shots, and quite beautiful in parts, and that was a pleasant surprise.

It began of course in the Auerbach's Keller in Leipzig where Goethe and the lads drank and rumbled. It's now a popular touristy spot ...

... complete with the legendary magician riding the barrel out,

and murals tell Goethe's story (perspective can be seen in the first photograph above).

Here's Jonas Kaufmann's (quite dark, germanic, and a little pushed but very effective) "Salut, demeure chaste et pure ..."

And now, the fabulous Franco Corelli for how the Italians do it (and Bonynge was much more a natural in the French repertoire)

Finally, Georges Thill flies the tricolour for the home team

More Out and About and dopplegänging tomorrow ...

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I'm a reasonably curious person. It may have started with the impact of reading "On Death and Dying" by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the remarkable psychiatrist who was the first I think to help me regularly contemplate my own death.

I was struck, and still am, by the recurring message of those who had had near-death experiences that the insight gained in their 'transition' was that our purpose here was to seek knowledge and to know love. I once looked after someone who had such an experience and the sincerity and clarity of her recall, once she trusted me, was beyond convincing; whatever the physiological processes and/or metaphysics involved, cause doesn't matter in light of the outcome.

Now I am a little bit wiser about what she (and they) meant by knowledge and love, and surely that doesn't need any elaboration. I think I have found my source; more another time. But I did absorb some thirst for learning and experience which has pushed me in pursuit of anything but treading water, risking maybe lack of depth in the drive to embrace too much - grazing might cover it.

Where was I? Curiousity. Like enrolling in courses. It's not just the subject matter but the other insights of who, when and where. Like the photography courses last year, of which there were three. I had a camera, and it worked on automatic. But what I didn't know about was who taught photography, who went to photography classes, and what else you could learn there, other than something about how to use the camera. I didn't realise how completely impossible it is to predict what other students (about ten per class) would be bringing to class each week in our assignments; how poor my judgements, dangerous judgements, would be in imagining their view of the world. As a learning experience that itself was enough.

So there were assignments, four per course, and at the end of each course a student could submit what they considered their best shot for consideration to be hung at the end of term student exhibition. That in itself holds many lessons - the need or not for approval, for one.

The first photo I submitted (Camera Craft 1) was an attempt to be too clever by half. It would be a shot of the (very patient) dog in front on a mirror without a reflection and it took forever to set up and work out. It wasn't selected to hang.

Next was Adobe Light Room. I was quite chuffed that I had negotiated my way through it all, and at the end could produce a triptych (from Dresden, beautiful Dresden, and labelled what's more) for all the world to see. It wasn't selected.

Finally, with Camera Craft 2 I made it to the wall with a shot of a man desperate to sell a flower to two Japanese women sitting street-side in front and just below us in a little French restaurant. K was mortified that I would dare bring the camera in but 'being there' was one of the requirements of this particular assignment. It's all about the lighting, and that was all about chance.

I can't help myself - I started German lessons last night. Fascinating teacher, a woman from Iran who has been living in Sydney for a year, and an interesting group of students, bipolar in age, one of whom came up to me and said "I know that (my) name, are you friends of ....." Here we go.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


The courtyard tree is the city is a Chinese Elm, Ulmus parvifolia, a pretty deciduous elm from China and the East. It is hardy with an upright trunk of attractive flaking reddish browny tan bark and the branches arch and spread like umbrella spokes and in summer contain the little yard in a luscious green.

Parvi-folia: little leaf, poor insignificant leaf. It is a lovely leaf I think, small and delicate, with slightly serrated margins and strong ribbing to give it strength, and character. Now, we are just one month past the midsummer solstice, and already age is wearying them though autumn seems so distant still.

Some are falling with a full compliment of chlorophyll, green, and settle and wither on the table alongside my favorite rocks.

But with each day, more and more are yellowing, their energy systems run down, and lighter drift in the air. And in the breeze and float their fall is broken by the delicate lacework of the spiders whose lacy webs stretch from most unlikely place to most unlikely place.

The spiders and their webs are welcome (if not that sticky surprise on your face) and now with markers, are so much easier to dodge and preserve.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Yesterday afternoon I took to the bed for a well-earned rest and a good read. The afternoon heat and humidity were building up. Outside the screen doors the house gum tree was throwing its shadow across the grass and I was back a few centuries, having moved on from the she-wolf, beyond the origin of 'patrician' and 'pleb', hadn't laughed at what SPQR doesn't stand for (humour is not one of Mr Hughes strong points, of which there are more than enough) and was settling into early Rome (and that section of the book that apparently one must read with a certain degree of caution) when ... around the corner came ... Jurassic Park.

I'm sure he's the same one I've seen before, briefly, and at a distance and rather more in the wild. But here he was, this huge Goanna, wondering across the lawn in search of food which I assume would be birds, mice and lizards (at least ones smaller than he) tongue, forked as you can see, darting in and out, shoulders humping as he swung himself forward (there's no way I can refer to this fantastic creature as anything but male), taking his time but not wasting any either.

There have always been swallows nesting in the corners of the (for want of a better expression) car-port. A week ago I noticed these lovely swooping little birds had suddenly disappeared and the nests, as best I could see from the ground, were empty. I think the explanation just walked across the lawn.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


No sooner had the lawns been mown, and I was sitting on the verandah in admiration (it has been a good summer for lawns) than they were back, those tense little bundles of energy, 'Robin Yellow Breasts' - the Eastern Yellow Robin. Maybe it was cutting the grass, or perhaps they knew the weather was building up and carpe diem etc, but after a noticeable absence, there they were perched as usual just high enough to be safe and still within easy dart-down-grab-grub-and-get-back-quickly distance.

A few metres is their range, and they favour the verandah posts or the low branches of the eco (tall and spreading enough to give summer shade yet let the underslung low winter sun through) eucalypt strategically placed in the north-east angle of the house. Cute and fluffy they maybe from a distance, but a closer look betrays a serious sharp eye on the business of survival.

The weather did build up. While in that first moment of awareness next morning it seemed I'd beaten the sun, the darkness was a sky heavy with storm clouds. By the time I was back in bed with a cup of tea and Julian Barnes (I can't wait to finish it but don't want it to stop and every word is to dwell upon) it was raining. Millie had no book, no tea, and was off as usual to inspect the remains of the night, with that moist black nose and its sensory depth of field telling her who and what had been, where, even when, and should she be lucky, might be slow still escaping the dawn.

Julian Barnes: his latest contribution to Intelligent Life is "Where Sibelius Fell Silent".

"There are two famous silences in the history of classical music: those of Rossini and Sibelius. Rossini's lasted nearly 40 years, was a worldly, cosmopolitan silence, much of it spent in Paris, during which time he co-invented tournedos Rossini. Sibelius's, which lasted nearly 30 years, was more austere, self-punishing and site-specific; and whereas Rossini finally yielded again to music, writing the late works he referred to as "the sins of my old age", Sibelius was implcacble. He fell silent, and remained silent."

If you haven't yet, make the pilgrimage. Stare into that fireplace, as Julian Barnes:

Between storms we've had our walk now, and the weather is lifting a little. The humidity is up and there's primal tongues of mist rising from the gully. You can see that rough barked grey gum where the robins wait near the house.

Friday, January 6, 2012


What a difference. I'm back in the country for a few days and this morning was cool, misty and quiet. As the kettle boiled, feeding had already started outside.

It looks like he's in the flowering wattle, but the wattle is not his fare. The Gang Gangs and King Parrots feed on the wattle seeds. This big bird, the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus - funereus!) eats big. He's after the hardening seeds of the shrubby Banksia spinulosa, the hairpin banksia - a native to this area. I've mass planted them all around the house.

There's ruff ends left on the plant and and an excess of rejected or spilt seeds underneath. 'Waste not want not' we would have been chastened at the table. A closer look at a half eaten seed capsule shows it's not that unlike corn on the cob after all.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Here we are idling into the new year. Sydney is enjoying the most glorious weather of perfect days in the high twenties and a light onshore breeze with not a hint of any heavy humidity. And the nights are mild and somehow soft, windows wide open, lying under a single sheet, the ceiling fan on a slow revolve. The frangipani in the front yard has just started dropping its flowers, heady white whorls with yellow throats, mostly onto the footpath over which it hangs.

Everything and everyone seems to be moving in slow motion, even at the pool, where we swim each morning now.

There's few films worth going out for but last night we settled for Melancholia which at least sounded interesting and had ruffled a few feathers one way or another. It was entertaining, in that I didn't fall asleep, and I suppose well enough acted, but not one premise, not one character (well, except for that Charlotte Rampling mother, whose biting dismissal of marriage cut through the rest of the dross) and especially not the self-conscious self-indulgent art direction had any impact on me at all. And as for its metaphysics, well there wasn't any. I thought it a load of crap. I even thought the editing was rubbish, and I don't often venture there. Oh, yes, the sound track. Over and over and over, T & I, till you wanted to scream, like Mum did when I was my Roy Orbison phase: Turn that damn thing off will you.

Note to self: you still haven't seen The Eye of The Storm - Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis at al and Fred Schepsi bring Patrick White to the screen with great acclaim - no mean feat that.

(Charlotte Rampling as Elizabeth in The Eye of The Storm)

This wasn't helped I'm sure by arriving just a few minutes before screening into a nearly full (small local) cinema with a few empty rows at the front (beyond my neck let alone eyes) and scattered singles throughout. I spotted two seats up the back - one on the aisle (seat 1), then a popcorn eating young male (seat 2) with crossed leg extending into seat 1, then the other empty seat (seat 3). There was no option but to take a stand. I approached him to see a glass of wine on the floor of seat 3. "Is that seat taken?"I ventured. The head moved sluggishly to one side with no attempt to rearrange himself or his spreading person. "Then, I proposed, it seems the options are we sit either side of you, or perhaps you could move up one". "I'd prefer neither" he shot back. By this time heads had turned, and blessedly one of the gay couple (seats 4 and 5) rescued the situation with "We'll happily move along for you". K got to sit next to the unhappy chap and I was next to the happy gay fellow, or is that fellow gay, who slept through most of it, his boy friend rubbing his arm.

One of the more memorable films I've seen lately (at home on video) was the surprising, in fact startling, "Requiem for a Dream". I was surprised, startled, because I'd forgotten the book on which it is based was by the man who wrote "Last Exit to Brooklyn" (that rattled even the British establishment in the late 60s), and knew nothing of Hubert Selby Jnr's (1928 - 2004) story. Some of it is here.

It is a potent and beautifully made film about the curse of existence - attachment - the curse of the ego. Needs. In this case, stretched into addiction, of the less legal kind. No less cruel or destroying than legal addictions, they are all much the same, a wicked disguise of the truth that is our essence - these things will not fulfill.

Here is Hubert Selby Jnr interviewed by Ellen Burstyn, the film's star (might I suggest you give him time, there are some messages worth waiting for)

Should he interest you, the rest are follow-ons on youtube, easy to find.

Meanwhile, in another exploration of attachment, here is the very special Yvonne Minton (I saw the child at the mother's breast - Act 2 Sc 2 Parsifal - all attachments bring suffering, even a mother's for her child):