Saturday, December 24, 2016


It's Christmas Eve. After a pretty frantic day, the city increasingly looks evacuated and has slipped into a gentle urban torpor. Beyond the immediate stillness there's storms around and the sounds of distant thunder.

We've just swung some old fashioned coloured carnival style lights through the frangipani out the front.

Here's a few happy snaps from the last few weeks There's the lunch and a spin around the harbour a colleague kindly puts on every year; a St Andrew's Cross spider at the back gate; an evening mist in the country softening my new gardens; bees busy at the flower spike of a Xanthorrhoea; and the dogs are helping open the mail.

Thursday, December 8, 2016


                                                                 (the good ship lady nelson)

What a strange thing -- the great living exponents of Tristan and Isolde (Stuart Skelton and Nina Stemme) hot from the Met stage popping up in Tassie for a one night stand with the best bits of Wagner's great meditation on Sex Love and Death. What's to think about?

Let's see - well, I'm a bit of a Skelton groupie (that would be the Skelton who got crook, like real crook, and couldn't debut his Tristan in Sydney); Nina Stemme's Brünnhilde remains a very compelling memory; there's friends to catch up with; the flight is 90 mins and on points; there's heaps of other local Wagner Nutters going down; and speaking of sex and death and stuff, there's MONA. So we were off - dogs in the kennels, lightly packed, breakfast in Sydney, and now fish and chips for lunch by the Lady Nelson in Hobart under that wonderful deep south sky. Chatting (one does chat) to our same table neighbours it turns out there's a chorus (yo ho steersmen), and he's a baritone, and she's a sculptor, and they live (separately) way down the river, and commute to Hobart by boat, where moorings are cheaper than Sydney parking, and for a minute or two I'm wildly envious.

It was quite a buzzy night - locals and out-of- towers, the small and acoustically very forward Federation Hall whose entrance is from the lobby of a large and unattractive hotel (and that's being kind - Hobart is scarred with a couple of completely gross late 20C monsters, oh that they had been more thoughtful), the very fine Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra with a very fine cor anglaisist, the maestro chief conductor from Slovenia Marko Letonja who arranged the abridgement, and of course the glamour stars plus Monika Bohinec's (yep, Slovenian) Brangäne. And the Steersmen, and my new best friend, heard but not seen from offstage.

No. It's not the way it's meant to be heard. It's meant to go forever, and then some. Till death do we part, drained of breath and life, them and us, I'm dead already. While the journey was lost, the story held up well enough with surtitles filling in some gaps across the very good job that Mr Letonja had done in stitching it all together. Moi would have preferred a little less Act 1 and a little more Act 3, but with Ms Bohinec having flown really quite a long way (and back again the very next day to Vienna for Aunty rehearsals in Grimes) then the luxury of her luxurious pulsing messo was compensation enough.

So what we got was really a brilliant night of full-on full-throttle in your face in your bathroom singing from these great vocalists, the need to save or hold off or do much else other than sing the hell out of it left in New York.

                                                           (letonja, bohenic, skelton, stemme)

I don't mean to suggest it was unsubtle. I mean to mean the clarity was amazing, the voices bright and clean, and right 'there' and yes, it had all the nuance, the colours, the shading these great singers are capable of wedded to (what was very apparent) complete familiarity with each other and the work. Stuart Skelton was sounding especially golden, with beautiful finessing of his quite moments (the 'O sink herneider was just gorgeous), and a ringing halo around his highs. And Ms Stemme was so completely capable that it was frankly gobsmacking to be so close and watch and hear her pour it out.

The night went long.

Come Sunday and came Sex and Death part II - MONA for the afternoon after a BBQ in the suburbs under the mountain where friends have settled into a new life, next to a house still empty since the German man next door died years ago and where a kangaroo now lives in the long grass of the unkept backyard. No kidding. P (of the amazing collection and vast knowledge department) drove us up and steered us around, our very own guide, and he knows a thing. He's there at least weekly.

                                       (the james turrell installation designed for sunset and sunrise)

The temporary exhibition is On The Origin Of Art, and worthy of much more than our couple of hours, escorted notwithstanding, with each of the four guest curators, 'bio-cultural science-philosophers, with a room of their own. Some very non-representative snaps, a few hurried memories:

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Spurred on by rave notices (Limelight and Harry) and the forecast of a perfect Friday night, I snapped up some good seats at shortish notice and off we went - idling into town on a perfect (and I mean perfect) balmy Sydney evening to see 'Sydney Opera House - The Opera - The Eighth Wonder' (cast and production details) which used to be, and forever should be, known simply as 'The Eighth Wonder.'

The set-up was brilliant. It is a grand space and surely one of the great public spaces of the world with those monumental Aztec inspired stairs (on which the opera would play out) with the great arcs of the roof like some hypnotic pinnacles entrancing you in. The seating was as good as it gets; the food outlets many and varied and well sorted with tables and chairs and bibs and bobs - we ate with holidaying Dutch; the bathroom facilities immaculately clean and lit and mirrored and carpeted, and the vibe friendly and infused with great expectation for if nothing else, to sit there, just sit there, as the day slipped away and the night brought its own magic would have more than sufficed.

(sea gulls)

There is a great story here and it begins mid last Century. It is a story that I said to the English woman directly in front as we stood at the end, both teary eyed, that is in many respects the story of my life, in that it spans my existence to a very real extent and a story I followed closely in the city I love most dearly. And more importantly it is a story of democracy, and of its imperfections, of its weaknesses, of its great failures, and wherein lie its great strengths: answerable to the people, to the process, to the egos, to the deceits, to the half truths. Mussolini might have got it right. 

And the story is a great and living lesson in the difference in attitude to the Arts between our two major political parties. It didn't set out to give it; it didn't overplay it; but the story is the story and the Libs and Nats are bastards when it comes to much anything other than shortsightedness and profit.

But you know, one is left to wonder that actually and finally we still got more than we deserved - something approaching sacred - and the two names to remember are John Joseph Cahill (I share both of those given names in my three) and Jorn Utzon. 

And what was so moving about the opera is simply that -- it told the story. Each character was finely fleshed out, each circumstance brilliantly defined, each period beautifully evoked, each conflict chillingly enacted, and each triumph gloriously celebrated, and all underpinned with a musical composition that was, how to say, friendly contemporary, never intrusive and always ready to accent and build up emotional reflexes. 

                                                             (utzon in the danish forest)

Now I've left the biggest gushy rave till last. The sound system. The orchestra was in the Playhouse (I believe), the singers close miked, and all was run from the huge control tower with conductor video et al at the rear up against the great sandstone wall.

The mix was brilliant, and in a move of genius, the sound was sent wi-fi to individual head phones connected to round-your-neck receivers which were given out and tested by ever friendly (and always enough of them) young techies. While there were subtitles, and yes I did read them on and off, it wouldn't have mattered that much if there weren't. The clarity was excellent, every word and note coming cleanly and  with timbre intact. If this technology is to be used for the Handa Opera on the Harbour, then that will solve one of the major problems with that set up once and for all.

Well done OA. The whole experience was completely satisfying.