Thursday, November 29, 2012


Remember Pique Dame? Not likely if you live down here.

It was the late '70s when The Australian Opera got it together and ran it in Sydney and Melbourne and Adelaide. Bonynge conducted (I'm pretty sure) a production by Regina Resnik and designed by her husband Arbit Blatas with Ms Resnik sharing the role of the countess with Rosina Raisbeck (Resnik / Raisbeck!). I heard Resnik.

It was sadly underwhelming, not surprisingly looking back. The design was poorly regarded, Resnik made little impression, and despite the incredibly accomplished and versatile Marilyn Richardson singing Lisa, it was not one of the company's finest moments. I can't remember how it sounded, but I imagine if nothing else much of the beauty and detail of the orchestration stayed choked in the pit.

Well, luck can change (if not for Herman). Coming to the end of his tenure, Vladimir Ashkenazy has blessed us with two concert performances with the SSO where it will be all about what you hear. And heading who you will hear in this Queen of Spades is our very own home grown Prince of Tenors

and likewise formidable casting from locals and Russian visitors. If anyone knows how to cast this, it's Our Vlad with his orchestra on stage, and, and the Sydney Philharmonia Choir.

I'm excited. I've been warming up. It's a big sing. The '79 Bolshoi with Atlantov you can watch in full. 3 hours. If you are anything like me, beware starting unless you have the time. It's totally compelling, on every level. I heard Atlantov only once, in Vienna, where his stunning Pagliacci was so masculine, so angry, so penetrating, it was scary.

Here you go (embedding disabled).

And Obraztsova's rivetting reverie:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Hey. Look what popped onto the radar today. Very Quite Interesting.

"Rights In The Age Of Romance"!

When I was thinking, and I was,  that Orchestra Romantique may have run out of puff I was underestimating just how much ooomph Nick Byrne has. I mean, he can play with his left ear.

Remember Nick and his ophicleide? He's back but there's no sign of Nicholas Carter waving the stick this time. "Justice In The Age Of Romance"is the mysterious header which is explained in the programme :
Director/Soloist : Kristian Winther

Special Guest Speaker : Geoffrey Robertson

Johannes Brahms 
Double Concerto in A minor for violin and cello (opus 102)
Soloists : Kristian Winther and Timo-Veikko Valve


Geoffrey Robertson introduces and discusses "Rights in the Age of Romanticism" using Ludwig van Beethoven's works as a point of reference, including overtures to:
Creatures of Prometheus

Yes, that Geoffrey Robertson.

That photo is an oldie, but a goodie.

This is terrific programming. More please. Apart from just loving the Brahm's Double (a childhood thing ya know), the integration of such genres and ideas is what we desperately need. Will Julian get a mention?

A few other things stand out. All seating is 30 bucks, so the child and concession friendly pricing and timeslot has gone, for this event at least. No kids here makes sense. There was discussion about the little people last time. These events seem a bit sporadic. Maybe that's the nature of things like this. Colour us lucky nonetheless.

Timo-Veikko Valve - now that's a name! Kristian Winther is young and recently appointed to the ACO (my error - it should have read Australian String Quartet but I think that's in some form of flux so nothing to add there, sorry. Timo Veikko Valve is ACO and maybe that's where my circuits got crossed.)

Full details here on the 'City of Sydney What's On'. I must say that I am not involved in this in any way although I was involved in some fund raising on a previous occasion.

Monday, November 12, 2012


I love this photo. It's nothing more than an i-phone snap after the Munich Götterdämmerung as we headed down the steps and out across the square. But it captured much of the night in a single frame.

It was Sunday July 15, and Nina Stemme had just finished singing the hell out of Brünnhilde. She was the third B of the cycle, following the brilliant youthful Walküre Brünnhilde of Irene Theorin (whose Isolde was about to reduce me to tears in my first night at Bayreuth, little did I know) and Catherine Naglestad's fulsome pulsing aroused Siegfried Brünnhilde. It seemed to make perfect sense to have three different sopranos for these three different women - young impetuous, sexually awakened, and last but not least the woman matured through male treachery and alone wise to the world - each so wonderfully different yet each so right.

The Ring had been six nights, with nights off between Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung and there was a grand air of celebration, generally as well as among our small group. JT was to fly back to London early next morning, Dr B was heading home to Sydney via Berlin, and we would drive S&D down to Como for a few nights before coming back to Munich.

Very briefly, I thought vocally it would be hard to beat, and have already made quick notes to that effect, especially now with Nina Stemme topping the lot. It was the production by Andreas Kreigenburg - the world is people and people are the world production. Rhinegold begins well before the written E flat with the stage filled with 'people' with the sound of water running, trickling, as people picknick, the Ring cast moving among them (look, bet she's a Rhinedaughter), undressing, painting themselves blue, becoming water, becoming the Rhine and so it began. It didn't suit me but it was fun. Later they would become earth smeared and clumped from whence Erda would appear, or in white turn into branching trees in Siegfried, or in red suspended in a frame turn themselves into an angry Fafner. The most notorious moment was at the start of Act III Walküre when instead of that Ride music bursting out there was a music-less ballet of stomping snorting mane thrashing Valkyres which went on and on, and on, till someone called out (in German of course) 'start the music', and then boos, and then bravos, and then mild mayhem, till finally the Ride began. I really don't think Mr Wagner needs anything added, on the contrary, and found it more than impertinent that anyone would think their creativity was anywhere near worthy. But again, it was fun.

Anyway, here she was, her magnificent self atop the red carpet, dwarfed by the massive columns of the Bavarian State Opera, the upper floor lights still glowing, with the crowd wide spaced and leaning forward, peering. This was the only broadcast night, out into the square (where some diehards braved a cold drizzly night) and over the airwaves and 'net, and here we were at the wrap-up. General manager looking men and a gushy hostess dominate, with the star demurely giving them the space they demanded when all we wanted to see was her wonderful self. Camera men cast wiggly shadows up the steps, and a man holds his camera out for all the world looking like he's giving one of those salutes.

Escaping the cold, we dodged the puddles and skipped across the square, slipped into Spatenhaus

and up the stairs.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


I had a curious night at the opera last week, Wednesday in fact. It was Halloween, a few moons past full, and the little street where we live was busy with squealing children running up and down in search of fun and lollies.

I was still unsettled about spending so much when I'd sworn off the local product as just not value for money. There are cheap seats, but they risk not hearing, not seeing, or both. Anyway Salome is a a rare event down here, and I just wasn't prepared to miss it, despite the scaling down of things orchestral, especially when here was a chance to hear Cheryl have a bash at it. Cheryl Barker, Baz Lurhmann's once lovely innocent Mimi, is pretty good at inhabiting a character, and Princess Salome is some character.

JL was sitting directly behind with a friend who insisted that the performance was going to be fabulous, everyone had told her, and I felt she felt I should feel lucky she was telling me, in case I thought it was going to be a Viennese waltzy night, and be disappointed, as she took a similarly educative tone to that of the email the opera company sent me the week before warning me that this might not be the Strauss I had in mind when I booked. I'm serious. And then JL needed to tell me that those French people we met at dinner the previous Friday had finally left Sydney, Madame full of complaints (too hot, too cold) while Monsieur remained as charming as ever. By now I was turned completely sideways in my seat and somehow, a cold chill in the air perhaps (no beating wings yet), I was made aware that my knee was touching the leg, long and straightforward, of my neighbour and he was, not to put it too mildly, glowering at me. Apologies fell of deaf ears I fear but never mind, the lights were dimming and bigger indiscretions were about to start.

With that curly clarinet erectile motif, curtain was up and there was the set (Brian Thompson). I am a set, it said, and a big set too. It was an elevated circular platform accessed by side steps from the rear banquet table and with a very dominant convex circular staircase descending to the stage itself of which perhaps five percent remained, if that. Unless there was going to be some sitting and singing on the stairs, the main action was looking like it would be confined to 'up and back' which is not a good start in this little theatre with poor acoustics, now overstuffed with 'a set'. There was something about the proportions that was wrong, it was choking, as if it had been designed for a big theatre, or even a normal sized one. The elevated platform was about man height above the stage, about Jokanaan height actually, suggesting there was no other way to get the prophet below stage other than building it up above him. And it was dried blood red and black, all of it, presumably blood soaked from the suspended carcasses, looking more like skins drying out to be made into leather, at the rear. Oh, it's fabulous, a nod to Francis Bacon I'd heard. But better a nod to Oscar Wilde I thought. I hated it.

I wondered how fabulous the woman behind was finding things. Now not a lot happens early on, except for some poetic thoughts about the moon, and the Princess, so there was time to ponder the costumes (Julie Lynch), with neither moon nor moonlight yet to materialise (lucky I didn't hold my breath). Here were universal soldiers, in tight (ever tried getting a soldier to wear tight?) camo style gear with shoulder strap bullet holders, knives and swords not guns, overripe red shoulder padding, and all with a strange latex stretchy look, like a fetish party where the lighting would be all but nonexistent, thankfully. Salome (Cheryl Barker) was yes in white but with a very strange pointy headdress with black curls entangled in it, more medusa than virgin teen. Mother (Jacqueline Dark) I'm at a loss to describe, other than vulgar is not how I see the incestuous one who should at least be of a certain age, and her age was not helping Ms Dark's dramaturgy, risus sardonicus notwithstanding. Herod (John Pickering) was rather more straightforward though bearing no dress relationship to the forgoing, topped with a foolish gold crown which reminded me of that many-years-ago Kosky Nabucco.

Herod is no fool. A drunk surely, and impotent old lech, but nobody's fool. (Interestingly Strauss, as Alex Ross in The Rest is Noise quotes him, saw the prophet as the only ridiculous figure, an imbecile, while the whole court was more a parody of the court of Kaiser Wilhelm, admixed with both censorious prudishness and homosexual scandal). The only costume shock left was that Jokanaan (John Wegner) actually looked a bit like you expected.

Herod had, remember, managed to get all the thinking guys to dinner for a deep and meaningful about life, death and the universe. There were the regular irregular Jews, two Christian Coptic looking priests, and I swear I saw a Ghandi too.

The stage stuff everyone had been talking about, everyone knew, and it's fabulous, don't you know. Now The Baptist would let the temptress fondle his hair, his hormones stirring, despite the very fundamental tenet of the fundamentalist, not to mention the libretto, forbidding such contact. Now the dance of the seven veils would be the dance of the seven sex symbols, from Madonna (Jesus's mum, not pop star), through pole dancer, and Marilyn Monroe. The straight legged grump next to me loved the Marilyn sequence - the billowing skirt over the cistern made him chortle and shift in his seat. He moves I thought. It was entertaining and a break from staring at that set where little before had much directorial (Gale Edwards) flair but it was nonetheless a major distraction from the business at hand -  the means to an end ("I was a virgin and thou - Jokanaan - didst take my virginity away"), lust and the loss of virginity and the ambiguity of it all: the younger defiling herself so she could defile the older, just who is good and who is evil, how ungood is fundamentalist goodness, the need to tempt, to corrupt, to not consent, to consent, to consort, to want and to get, not to mention Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, who by the way translated the original French into English. A cross-dressing undressing Salome for a Wildean Herod, now that would have been fabulous.

Still, fabulousness was nigh and vocally things had been and were going much better. Narraboth was generously cast with David Corcoran, Pickering was especially effective, Wegner imposed his considerable baritone with appropriate command, Dark was hurling out mummy dearest, and Cheryl gave notice when she stood downstage, at last, and demanded thrice the head, she meant business.

And she was indeed fabulous, alone now on a bare surreal platform looking good at last. The voice I find hard to describe - its frays a little around the edges at the top which now gave it an electric adrenalised buzz. There were moments of hair raising penetrating sound, a fullness and confidence in herself that was so relevant to the woman with the head as we witnessed slack jawed one of the most god-awful private encounters ever exposed. It was, cliché warning, a brave performance, a complete surrender ending in such rapture that I think I was even more happy for her than mummy.

And then, at the climax, the kiss, the kiss, when the moon's dark cloud cover should momentarily part and reveal all to all, and so disgust Herod (who in this production had wandered off, to attend to his needs perhaps), at that chilling moment luckily in he ambles, and may as well have been doing up his fly. It made nonsense of the sudden call to kill her. But wait. We need the soldiers, the ones with the plastic see-through shields (forgot to tell you about the plastic shields). So suddenly the rear plastic scrim lifts again and Cheryl's work is so undone - the toy soldiers are back. Now you cant crush people with plastic shields, obviously. Not a good look, not with Cheryl. So they cut her throat. What were they thinking - don't they read the papers? We kill innocents and trouble makers by tazering them down here. Tazer. Tazer. Tazer.

Thump Thump Thump from the pit. Johannes Fritzsch had done a sterling job making it sound a bit thrilling at least with his limited resources and now Silence, Deadly Silence.  But, what's that Whirring Sound? - of course, the curtain is coming down.

If there's one that calls for a blackout, this is it. And while I'm at it, if there's one that calls for singing it in English, this is it. And if there's one that calls for a moon, ...