Thursday, June 27, 2013


Katharine Murphy pens a brilliant analysis of Australia's first female Prime Minister for The Guardian.

But try as she might, she lacked convincing shorthand to deploy to voters. She was intensely private, contained, reserved – stubbornly enigmatic and withholding for a person so long in the public spotlight. She rationed appearances by her best self. There were glimpses of something that rang clear and true: the enduring values that drove the Labor agenda in this difficult term despite all the obstacles; the quest for a coherent legacy in the delivery as well as the dreaming; Gillard’s ferocity over the dispatch box; the exocet precision of that misogyny speech. Her pre-prime ministerial self would expand and fill a room, but would then retreat, abashed, in silent apology.



Another much anticipated event was Britten's War Requiem in the the Philharmonie. It would be the first time inside the hall, and I harboured a slightly perverse interest in hearing this work in Germany conducted by an Englishman, even more so now we had just left Dresden, with its lingering debate about the bombing as payback for Coventry Cathedral, for the reopening of which Britten composed the work. At dinner somedays later, with D whom was had met through David, the conversation so turned, and it was interesting to hear him say that if you mentioned Coventry in Deutschland, most Germans wouldn't have a clue what you were talking about. Nor Colditz, as I found out on my last visit, but then that does date me, and my schoolboy reading.

So we returned to Berlin for a night at the Philharmonie, that strangely shaped almost garishly golden German expressionist building I had first seen just after the wall came down, then surrounded by disuse and patched wilderness. Now it sits aging a little, tucked into the wedge between the expanding Potzdammer Platz, whose dalliance with vulgarity might yet be checked, and the luscious green expanse of the Tiergarten, from which it looks once squeesed, an unwanted blemish.

The interior (of the hall) was not unlike a squashed version of the SOH concert hall, shortened with the sides pushed out. There was the same worrying vault over the concert platform, with more effective looking reflectors above than at home. Surely this wasn't also built outside in. I understand there are also sound absorbers strategically placed on high, but invisible, unlike the funereal drapes we seem saddled with. And for all the hype, the sound from where we sat, less than ideally placed hard left at the front, was none too special either, drier than was expected. Planning note to self: the Concertgebouw (where a week before we'd heard a staggeringly good Dvorak New World with Dudamel) may be better the last venue, not the first.

As we arrived, it looked like people were sitting in our seats, or we were in the wrong spot. I asked the woman, travelling alone and perhaps about 60 yrs old and who came through the door with us, for help. The others were in error and as we took our places, she sat immediately behind. No sooner was I fingering the programme than there was a tap on the shoulder. She too had her programme and was pointing to the second photo in the notes (the first was of Britten) showing Churchill in the Coventry Ruins in 1940, the picture cropped at the sides eliminating the uniform on the as viewed right.

"I shame for this" she said, most unexpectedly. What do you say then, in the face of such complexities between strangers with the subtleties of language unavailable and the misappropriation of nationality (I assumed she thought I was British) confounding the relationship. I was uncomfortable, probably more so than she, who had at least publicly declared herself.

Lights dimmed, Sir Simon and the soloists entered, the choir already in place, and the childrens choir we couldn't and didn't ever see. There were German surtitles. It was a strange unemotional performance for me. Maybe I had spent all my Dopamine on Der Rosenkavalier. Maybe I had over predicted the frisson of the event. Or maybe I had only come, to my shame, to hear "I shame for this".

There were no ghosts to be heard in what should be a very spooky work, the dead speaking and the dead forgiving. I kept thinking is it because this just isn't 'their' music that the textures don't sound quite right, the dynamics seem contrived, the bells are hit too hard, the children without that blushing innocence of the English. The American Emily Magee was the most effective of the soloists, standing behind the first violins. Her firm confident soprano sliced through, swinging up in her early entries like a blade cleaving the air, sounding ripe for some Poulenc any time soon. Englishman John Mark Ainsley seemed constrained by something, a self-consciousness, which never let him go as he over carefully made his was through a pretty difficult tessitura. The German Matthias Goerne, whom we had heard singing a beautifully articulated and heartfelt Das Knaben Wunderhorn in Sydney with the BPO, also seemed depleted early, syllables swallowed and unfinished, until he belatedly embraced something deeper within as he reached his final "The pity of war, the pity war distilled" and the emotion came through at last.

From the (on-line) programme notes:

"In this urgent anti-war appeal, the English composer juxtaposed the Latin Mass for the Dead with the shattering poetry of Wilfred Owen, the "war poet" who fell in the last days of World War 1 at the age of 25. "I am writing one of my most important works. These magnificent poems, full of the hate of destruction, ar a kind of commentary on the Mass" (Britten).

The score's title page contains the following lines by Owen: "My subject is War and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do today is warn"

Five days earlier [than the 30th May 1962 premier in the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral] William Mann, long-time chief music critic for The Times of London, had written: "It is not a requiem to console the living. Sometimes it does not even help the dead to sleep soundly. It can only disturb every living soul, for it denounces the babarism more or less awake in mankind with all the authority a great composer can muster. There can be no doubt .... This is Britten's masterpiece"

At the end there was a long long silence, and when released by Rattle, a tremendous ovation from the audience. Standing from right to left : John Mark Ainsley, Emily Magee, Matthias Goerne behind the children, Choir Master, and Sir Simon on the left, hair whiter then ever.

We walked quickly back up Potsdamer Strasse to the hotel talking mostly about the acoustics.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


We interrupt this slow leak (please forgive) of the early days in this year's escape from Oz with breaking news:

                    I have been in the presence of the wondrous Anne Schwanewilms.

Now, for those (less fortunate creatures, may your lives be one day more complete) who have not had such good fortune, there's little I can say to approximate the experience. And to those who are equally blessed, there's little I can add because you already have the Knowledge.

It happened like this. When the trip was in the planing stages, dots on a calender, expanding and contracting, moving around the map, some points fixed and others moveable, there came from David Nice, a kindred blogger whose encyclopaedic knowledge and depths of insights would be otherwise completely intimidating bar for his generosity of spirit and tolerance, verily enthusiasm, for learners (but then aren't we all only somewhere on the ladder) and otherwise lesser musical creatures, an invitation to meet in Dresden on the occasion of a dream cast Der RosenkavalierIt was little surprise to find out the performance was sold out, and while tickets come and go, appear and disappear, the nature of the planning and the nature of me were such that something more concrete than 'she'll be right' was in order, and off went a letter to the box office.  No sooner sent than came the reply with the offer of two perfect (and I mean perfect) seats. The gods had spoken. The fulcrum of the whole journey changed.

And so on the day there were four (two Londoners, two Sydneysiders) in the car on the autobahn from Berlin to Dresden, its flood waters receding, a calmness in its wide open spaces and haunted stones, a city so easy to slip into and feel comfortable and safe, and want to stay.

There it was again, Semperoper ...

... itself not soiled by the flooded Elbe, although the sets for this Rosenkavalier were either unable to be transported, or somewhat water damaged, or some combination of both.

We would see a downstage performance in front on a suitably simple backdrop of constrained elegance, warmed by the loveliest of sets of wall candelabra, and with three pairs of double doors for the comings and goings of households and inns. Little was lost with this scaling down, except perhaps the presentation of the rose although what gorgeousness was pouring out from the pit was more than enough to compensate and deliver that all too rare hearing-is-seeing phenomenon. And while this was my second visit to Semperoper (happy to die twice now), it was the first for opera, and while I don't doubt for a second that the acoustics are all they are said to be, we might just have scored a perfectly placed sound board which shifted what we were hearing even further along the good-better-best line.

Perfect seats. Perfect sound. The Semper orchestra playing perfectly the music of their genes with Christian Thielemann directing from his heart and not his head, and Anne Schwanewilms in bed with Elina Garanca. That should just about be all you need to know. But there is more, much more, and it's the reality of these voices for which I have no adequate description.

Anne Schwanewilms, it needs to be said at the outset, is an absolutely compelling stage presence. She's not especially tall, but looks to be, is svelte with the loveliest of arms and hands, and has that carriage of head which oozes confident charm without ever slipping into arrogance. And all this in a black fine shoulder strapped night gown most Marschallins only dreamt about in their better days, let alone embraced in their latter ones; a Marschallin who was as comfortably a woman of her years in her circumstances as any could be, without ever resorting to the stuffy haute histrionics some need to make their case.

And from this radiant creature comes a voice of glowing purity with perfect diction, impeccable placement and phrasing, and the most beautiful of shading of colours and dynamics. Did I say the voice glows? It glows - like a light, from within. She sings to you, and only you, she speaks to you, and only you, and whispers secrets in your ear. 'Du bist mein Bub, du bist mein Scahtz'.

Of Elina Garanca, what can be said? The perfect Octavian? The looks, the demeanor, the feel for youth's overreached desires and misplaced understandings were perfectly in place. The voice is luxury itself, huge and if on occasions she pushed it (though push is really the wrong word, maybe less contained) further than was expected, or necessary, it was never at the expense of beauty of tone or spreading, but rather only served to underline this exuberant excited fresh young masculinity she managed to capture so easily, and which was impeccably harnessed as the night, and she/he, matured.

If Baron Ochs be the real central character of this humorous yet poignant work, then I have just seen the wonderful bass Peter Rose give it the perfect delivery. Neither country bumpkin nor dirty old lech, Peter Rose's Ochs is a lovable fellow and quietly endearing, content with his lot in his own bewildered way, and a personality sneaking up on you till you realise that you feel more for him than you might care to admit.

Daniella Fally's early anxious nervous Sophie may have been somewhat overshadowed by the brilliance of her colleagues, but the tightness loosened as the night progressed and by the final trio, she was a fine descant floating lovely clean sliver across the lights.

The smaller character parts were all fine in their own way, and especially noteworthy was the cheeky Annina of Helene (one 'n') Schneiderman. What a giggle she is.

And finally the handkerchief was retrieved, mine and hers, and there she was, one last time.

Addit Jan 2106 - the curtain calls have appeared on the Tube of You:

Sunday, June 9, 2013


The train hugs the craggy coast and in 40 minutes you are in the little beach resort of Sitges which seems to be a bit of a gay mecca for whatever reason, presumably something to do with a nude beach, the predictably gorgeous weather, that it is small enough to be self-limiting and for all the overt touristy nonsense, it is quite lovely still, little winding streets tumbling down to a wide promenade and a sandy beach divided into several sections by massive man made breakwaters. I wouldn't wish to stay here, but others come regularly year after year.

But for lunch (bread brushed with tomato and salted, fine cured ham, thin slices of a sharp cheese from La Manch, and the house white, a bit heavy and sweet), for the train ride, for the gentle friendliness of the merchants, and simply to check it out, it was fun and we were back in town well in time for a sun kissed nap.



Next stop - the Centre for Contemporary Culture Barcelona, CCCB.

In conjunction with Cinémathèque Françcaise in Paris, Azienda Palaexpo-Palazzo dell Esposizioni in Rome and the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, and financed by the European Commission, CCCB Barcelona is presenting the exhibition 'Parsolini Roma', looking at the life of the writer and filmmaker  Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975).

Pasolini's adult life, as he projected it, is seen here by examining (in a brilliantly curated exhibition of his writings, poetry, cinema, politics, sex, loves, and friendships) his particular relationships with Rome and both Pasolini and Rome are on show here.

Starting with Pasolini fleeing with his mother to Rome in 1950 (the darkened first room fronts a large 50's railway carriage window, with Pasolini's collaged life clacketty-clacking past outside), through the 60s, 60s in Rome, it ends abruptly, as he did, in 1975 with the discovery of his dead body near Ostia. Poverty, sex, boys, films, whoring, novels, travel to India and the third world, the Rome Trilogy, Anna Magnani, scandal, blasphemy, libel, court cases (33 cases attempts to silence him), The Gospel According to Matthew (dedicated to John Paul XXIII), love, loss and depression, Paris, Callas, New York and finally some property outside Rome to where he could withdraw with his lover Alberto and where between a football stadium and the sea he was murdered, aged 53.

I make note of all this simply as a record of a quite startling, and it's fair to say unique, exhibition the likes of which are most unlikely to pop up in our corner of the woods, unless it be of interest to someone like David Walsh at MONA.

Ninetto Davoli, who left Pasolini to marry ..

Pasolini in Mali; African music would influence his soundtrack to Medea ..

Directing Laurent Terzieff, the Centaur in Medea ..

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Barcelona is a delight and a great way to enter Europe. With no more than a passport stamp and a wink, a dark eyed handsome wink, the bonds of the old colony felt loosed and I was free. We're returning; nothing seems that different except that I, for one, am more appreciative of the people, these Catalans, proud Catalans. (The subtitles at the opera, the eminently sensible personal-behind-the seat-in-front ones, are in Catalan, Spanish and English.) They're direct, but warm and welcoming. There's a sense of energy slightly pent-up, restrained by politeness. It's exciting. And transport is good, walking is easy on wide boulevards lined by its exceptional architecture, and yes, La Rambla, crazy as ever, is still there, tumbling down to the sea.

The Museums are in fine shape. A Museum card (6 museums 30 euro) is the first buy after a transport card. We comfortably managed four.

Just off La Rambla toward the University quarter, where we are staying, is the MACBA - the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art. It makes the extensions to the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art look dreary, and cheap - though I shouldn't really make any comparison, inviting opinions about economy vs vision, debt crisis vs balanced books with generous but hen's teeth donors. Anyway, they (the MCA extensions) I think are dull and whatever the merits of minimalism in galleries, modern or otherwise, what can't be overlooked is the need to stimulate the senses immediately. Sydney doesn't cut it for me.

First amendment - I woke up to find I'd crossed images - the text above and photos below reference MACBA - the Barcelona Museum of Modern Art, and not the CCCB which is a next door conglomeration of buildings and extensions, and so this post has been rejigged. Sorry.

This, just to confirm, is MACBA, where "art ain't about you, it's about we."

The Neues Museum in Nürnberg (I know, that was last year, but I make my case) is another example:

(Internet speeds, especially upload speed, is pretty variable to poor so far, so these posts will be behind real time but written in the present and generally short but hopefully getting more often - bear with me. More coming to a screen new you .... )