Monday, July 21, 2014


                                                                    (click to enlarge)

There they sat. Two baby kookaburras still covered in down on the branch of the old black wattle just outside the north windows.


I went shopping last week and bought a tagine and one of those brilliant iron pans with short handles which can be used on top of the stove and then in the oven. Brilliant except for the hand burns when you take it out.

The tagine made an excellent shoulder of lamb done with herbs, harissa, honey and lemon juice. Tour de France food, now the tele is fixed. And with the clever (except for the burns) pan, I made a pear tarte tatin. It's ridiculously easy and that it has taken decades to embrace means at least a few years longer to live. We ate it with a crème anglaise and ice cream. The Tour is exhausting and the weight peels off just watching.

                                       (K whips up some cream. New pan with burny handle on the left)

It all started with a visit to M's a few days before. S (she's a fine cook) was down to stay and help pack as M has sold and is moving into a very comfortable house where she is prepared to end her life. I don't mean actively. Perhaps finish would be a better word.

Anyway, M has a great tagine (quite large and with burny handles, though they're good for carrying it to the table) and an even better brilliant pan for Tartes because it only has one handle which apart from halving the number of burnt hands makes it is easier to flip the cooked tarte over onto its serving plate.

                                  (At M's, where Millie not so much taken with the photo opp as the lamb)

The main reason for dinner was that M had been to a new clairvoyant and wanted to talk. The session (no ouija boards and head scarves, but rather more empathy and trust) had touched on issues long unresolved and in the retelling tears rolled. She somehow was guided through, or taken back into, dark corners about her natural mother giving her up for adoption as an infant, the difficulties with her new parents and surprisingly (for me at least) especially with her adoptive mother, the cruelty of sibling rivalry, and not least the complete absence of any information about her natural father other than 'he done her wrong'.

What emerged, and made her sob again, was the news, if it was news, that she had been loved at all. Actually, it wasn't so much loved as when she felt safe. That she knew strongly: that with him, or her, or here, or there, she felt safe. I wonder now what is the difference. I think you are loved and love when someone is completely safe with you, and you with them. Completely.

Strangely, also last week during our regular midweek dinner with K's mother in Sydney she had gone on and on about her past, her three marriages, and things I'd preferred not to have heard, really. Suddenly in the middle of it she stared at me and said: 'Don't we love each other so, that we can say all these things openly to each other'.  I think she felt safe.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

EILENE HANNAN (1946 - 2014)

Melbourne soprano Eilene Hannan has died. There are some names that stay with you, always.

With all the senses heightened in the opening of the Sydney Opera House, specifically the Opera Theatre as it was then simply known, and with (virtually) all the company on stage for War and Peace, she remains with me as the loveliest of Natashas in an empire line dress of pale blue elegance. I don't remember the voice, but the presence is clearly before me, still.

It was her Governess in Britten's The Turn of The Screw with Neil Armfield (he took over after Moshinsky took ill) directing for The Australian Opera that was of another dimension. It was a case of complete characterisation through voice, body and spirit. There was a specialness about her stage presence, something from within, hard to describe but remembered to this day. She believed. I have this and am now especially anxious to get our video set-up sorted (something expensive has broken).

Opera Australia has posted this obituary, and Limelight theirs here.

Little but very significant memories these for me of someone who gave so much and whose death seems sadly much too young.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


I was only just remembering Jonathan Summers in the Otello post and now today a warm surprise (on an otherwise cold wintery Saturday morning, apart from the dog and the fire) came with a comment on my recollections of Elizabeth Connell which stirred up some memories even further.

What a great performer. Here he is in the late 1990s as Nabucco (Kosky, in case you can't tell) and to follow, another clip with the irreplaceable Elizabeth Connell (note her final note - I suspect she wasn't one hundred percent, and the walking stick and stage movements suggest maybe hip problems). Cillario conducts.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


That's a snap of the first curtain call at Friday nights Opera Australia's Otello premier.

The Otello is the big kiwi Simon O'Neill who you probably know has been singing his way around the world with Parsifal and Siegmund and things heldentenorish. The Desdemona is the rush-to-the-rescue soprano from Armenia, the very lovely and very glowing Lianna Haroutounian who has already bailed out Covent Garden, twice:  Don Carlos and Verpers.

It was a rapturous end to a much anticipated night (what with the scandal not to mention Mr O'Neill's stage Otello debut, having sung it in concert with the LSO) with a first night crowd all aglitter and agog, and in furs. A tall elegant woman in a long silver dress with silver braiding in her jet black hair covered her shoulders in a pale plush stole and another had an ancient full length rabbit brown number. Both also sported males in black tie. Do women still wear furs? Apparently. As Joan Rivers said: "Come to me with a paper belt and I'll talk to you".

Oh, I have an Otello story. Mum and Dad were back from London and talking about the wonderful Otello they'd seen and the glorious Desdemona and how the bastard strangled her, and that after she'd said her prayers! That was te Kanawa, I boasted. Te Kanawa. She's huge (long time ago talk).  She's New Zealand - te Kanawa - part Maori. Then it wasn't her Mum said. This one was blond.

Which raises an important issue. This is no ordinary marriage breakup (not that I mean most marriages are ordinary). But I had an aunt who used to say that getting and staying married meant you might just as well go down to the bus stop at Double Bay (think: same socio-economic group), find someone you liked the look off (think: stir the loins a bit) and from then on it's all hard work. She had a point.

But there are some marriages that transcend the usual (for want of a better expression) and raise eyebrows. Gay marriage, often, still. Inter-racial, sometimes, still.  Inter-religious, sometimes, still. The marriage in question in Otello, and the marriage that is destroyed purely because of its specialness, is exactly that - unusually special. He is a black Moor, she is a fair skinned Holy Mary saying Christian. each further isolated from their group by the very marriage itself and all the more interdependent therefore. There can never be one without the other now, no going back after 'crossing over'.

So, for me, a production which doesn't play this card, not necessarily black face and blond wig, but delineate the intensity and specialness of this union misses out on highlighting just how it gets derailed and the enormous tragedy, and impact, of the end.

We've got the 10 year old Kupfer production, the one Simone Young was involved with, I think, and frankly, I've never really liked it. It doesn't deliver what matters most.

It's the set that doesn't work for me. In trying too hard to symbolise the whole nightmare, it ends up cluttering the stage and looking choked, wasting two thirds of it, ensuring half the singing is half way up or worse with heads in the flys singing to ropes. And it's noisy. Set in the 30's or 40's, the women clunk up and down in clunky shoes, and the men are brown shirts, of ranked medalling, in boots.

And all this upping and downing happens on something no more solid than a choir stand. But good for hiding under and eavesdropping and strangling your wife. What's more, it's a few degrees of horizontal. And it's boobie trapped. It's bombed out and the gapes are roped off with old movie palace ropes. It's all snakes and ladders. Yes, got it. More importantly, time spent negotiating the metaphor was time lost in developing dramatic credibility. Despite one of the most beautiful love duets ever, it takes more than silhouetting against Venus to set up this heartbreak.

                                           (Lianna Haroutuonian taking a curtain in the green nightie)

Anyway, all bitching aside, the set is fine in itself I suppose. It just needs to be in a theatre with a much much bigger stage, a pit with a big orchestra, and air to breath. What you could make out of this fabulous score sounded good, but pinched. It's these mighty works where you cry out for lucid sound, and perhaps less electronic thunder? 

Simon O'Neill is big. Maybe faced with having to get physical (it's like a step class), he did just that. And threw(sic) himself into it. The voice is large, and of great breath and phrasing, and penetrating. I don't care so much for the nasal quality, purely personal taste. His thundering entrance was something much lost in the melee and the upper stairs. Neil Armfield spoke of the letting the singers get it out. Downstage works wonders.

Lianna Haroutounian had better placement on the stage and perfect placement in the voice. Careful but not cautious, she poured it out with a young clean rounded tone with enough warmth to reach into your heart with ever increasing despair. While the voice may not be fully unfurled at the moment, she gave a hint of the future with an Emilia, addio that had her whole night compressed into it and released with an urgency in the most thrilling combination of resolution and fear. I felt lucky to be hearing her now, with a little pitter patter in the heart at last.

After the Ave Marie, the first natural pause really, the crowd erupted into sustained clapping and cheering, a thank you for coming at such short notice, for not being the other one, and most of all for nailing it, beautifully. When Otello appeared through the rear high shutters to make his entrance just as the applause started to fade, the volume and cheering picked up again in a not-finished-with-her-yet statement, and he had to stand and wait. Good moment.

Iago's primal slime doesn't come all that easily. There's the need to get into very dark territory, the darkest corners of the ego. Claudio Sgura didn't get there for me. He has a good and at times lovely baritone, too lovely perhaps, and up against this big Otello, he has to come out the winner. Most others liked him, but I kept thinking of Jonathan Summers, and more lately, Warwick Fife whose surprise Alberich is last years Ring was the talk of the town.

Jacqui Dark comfortably reprised her fine Emilia. All the guys were fine. The chorus was good, blown about by storms and scuffles, but lessened by much of the time being stuck up high and back.

I like this one too: