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:

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