An opera-lover writes

February 23, 2017

My friendship with ST was forged in the mid 1980s at Newtown taxi base over our shared interest in opera and classical music.  In fact we had been students together a few years earlier in the Arts faculty at Sydney Uni and were in some common courses.  He was a slightly older student and shy and retiring; I was a bit of a youthful show-off.  So he already knew who I was.

ST devoted much more energy to the opera than I did.  I was a weekend night driver.  ST drove nights full-time – doubtless with some nights off to go to the opera though I wouldn’t put it past him to have sometimes left his cab for the duration of a performance.  A fellow barrister who in an earlier life doubled up cab driving with gigs as an opera extra tells me he used to leave his cab at the rank and slip in to do his stint as an animal in The Magic Flute.  Things were more relaxed in those now-olden days.

ST naturally knew when the opera came out on any given night and if he was nearby he would be there to work the Opera House rank.  Over the years he overheard quite a few conversations between company members who might have been more discreet if they’d realised how well-informed their driver already was.

ST gave up opera-going about eight years ago when he devoted himself totally to the care of his mother. She died in the middle of last year.

After allowing for a period of grieving, this summer season I tried to coax ST back to the opera.  The following, with one omission as indicated, is his response:

Greetings & Happy St Scholastica’s Day.

I’m not exactly fired up for recondite musical tableaux at the moment so I may end up giving the Polish offering a miss.  Not sure I know either Honeyman or Gore so that angle doesn’t help either [….] Even checking the brochure for dates enrages me as I see the highly good-natured, not to say personable in any of its misapplications, Jonas Kaufmann so misused, indeed abused, on its cover.

In Spring I was all for “Come back Moffatt, all is forgiven” but am currently reading his book, or at least constantly dropping off (after sleepless nights) over its pages.  Many productions go past with no mention at all, even singers like Eva Marton are completely ignored BUT there were EIGHT productions in the Concert Hall, the most surprising for me being Otello & Romeo & Juliette – why none this year?  The SSO has ‘squeezed’ dates before and one-offs should use the State.  Britten was sometimes used to ‘double’ Concert Hall shows & except for Dream they would all fit in the State,  There was much less destroyed in the Ultimo fire than I thought, so sex up some Kalmans, Lehars & Sullivans & use the Royal.  The opera theatre’s been closed before for Summer!  Mastersingers, Don Giovanni and Boheme have been done in English!  Grace was here in 1991 (recession time!) for Turandot. I can’t believe it – did I see her live?!  If I need to calm down I boil the kettle & recall that there’s a recital of Rachmaninov & Mussorgsky at Angel Place – but in the mid 70s there was a whole series of recitals in the Opera Theatre – the youth crowd getting Ewer & John Winther.  Cheers.

It doesn’t look as though he will be going back.


Last nights at the opera

February 23, 2017

Last Saturday night to Opera Australia’s La Traviata.

This production dates from 1994 or so.  It used to return roughly every three years.  Under the present management it has been returning every second year, and there’s been a Traviata on the harbour as well.

My friend, Ub, with whom I last went to this production in 2015, had been on Thursday.  “That woman’s amazing!” she told me.  She meant Ermonela Jaho , who was Violetta.  Ub was right: it was an amazing performance, and elicited a standing ovation from a full house which it is fair to say had probably come to see her.  Is it quibbling to ask if it crossed the line between acting and over-acting?  High-voltage acting is a bit like playing loud and fast, it mostly pleases.  If Violetta were really a woman who lived so much on the edge, why should the assembled party-goers be so shocked when Alfredo throws the money at her feet?

This was Jaho’s last performance for this run.  Maybe it is also the last time I need see this production, usually referred to as a “Moshinsky” production though I’d say a very big part of the credit goes to Michael Yeargan’s terrific sets.  The costumes are also good but it’s the set which really makes it.

As I’m not a critic I shan’t do a roll-call of the cast, other than to say that Ho-Yoon Chung was fine as Alfredo if a little mousey at first – hard for him to measure up against such a woman on the edge as Violetta.  What could she have seen in him?

Jose Carbo is still not for my money nasty enough as Germont.  Well, when I say nasty, I mean an insidious kind of sanctimoniousness.  I know the story requires him eventually to respect Violetta, but surely that’s only after she has agreed to do what he wants, and any sweetness before that need only be by way of persuasion.  After all, he does tell Violetta that her looks will fade and then because she is not married to Alfredo naturally he will leave her. That’s not very nice even if, were one to take the story seriously, it could hardly pose much of a threat to a woman dying of consumption (though she seemed to be doing better during her months in the country).

Footage on Youtube of a previous outing of this production shows three becostumed bullfighters who are dancing extras in Act II Scene ii.  We only had one who was banished to the back of the stage like a lost pony.  The dancing is the one point when the production flags a bit. To an extent that is inherent in the work: we need a bit of time to pass and the party atmosphere needs to be established before it can be disrupted.  I could easily get this scene mixed up with Act IV of Manon.

Violetta threw (and smashed) a glass in Act I.

There wasn’t very much if any of the blood-spotted handkerchief- more persistent coughing in the audience than on stage – well two persistent and more noisy than evidently ill shockers.  At the end I found I half-expected Alfredo to sing something over the final chords – “Mimi!” maybe?

On the Wednesday before I went to the last night of King Roger.  That made four times altogether.  In other operas I have seen four times in the one run – Masked Ball, Simon Boccanegra – the fourth time has been a bit of an anticlimax.  That wasn’t the case for KR because I was still on a learning curve and there was so much to get out of the music – especially the orchestration.  There was so much going on.

The house was pretty well full, though the tell-tale queue at the Opera Australia service desk before hand showed that the free-list were well in attendance.  Earlier performances had not been so full and I think there is something in Stuart Skelton’s criticism that when OA puts on a modern or difficult work it just sits back and waits for the the audience to come.  (That link includes a response/refutation by OA of some of his points, but I’d say you have to watch out for the fine print in that.)

Late in January I went with D to Cav and Pag.  I’ve left it too long to make any really detailed comments about it. I remember thinking that one was much stronger than the other but ironically I cannot now remember which.  Of course I enjoyed them, how could you not?

I wasn’t as moved as I have sometimes been by the intermezzo in Cav, and I wonder if that is because of all the business that was going on.

Diego Torres took both tenor roles more than creditably.

Pag is much more “Wagnerian” than Cav – which probably mostly means more lower brass.   Jose Carbo has not effaced my memories of Jonathan Summers whom I saw last time.

D didn’t twig that there was a kind of nightmare sequence going on towards the end.  The price of this and the elaborate parish hall for the play was that the denouement happened a bit further back on the stage and this reduced its dramatic impact.

And that wraps up my Opera-Australia-going for this year.






All stand for the judge – or else!

February 11, 2017

In 2013, by means of telephone intercepts, the AFP became aware that Hamdi Alqudsi was involved in assisting people to travel to Syria to join ISIS in its fight against the Syrian government.

That is an offence under s 7(1)(e) of the Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act 1978 of which Mr Alqudsi was ultimately found guilty in 2016 after a jury trial before Justice Christine Adamson.  Details of the various telephone intercepts are set out in her sentencing remarks: R v Alqudsi [2016] NSWSC 1227He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 8 years, with a non-parole period of 6 years.

Alqudsi’s role, or at least the conduct that was detected and for which he was convicted, involved putting people in Australia in touch with an Islamic State recruiter, Baryalei, advising the would-be fighters about how to get there and liaising with the Islamic State people who were expecting them.  He planned to go at least to Turkey himself but was ultimately stopped from leaving Australia in September 2013.

On the morning of 18 September 2014, police in Australia carried out the biggest counter-terrorism operation in the nation’s history, with over 800 heavily armed officers targeting households in Sydney and Brisbane.

The immediate catalyst was an intercepted call from an ISIS operative to a younger sympathizer relaying instructions to commit a terror beheading against a random Australian target. The younger sympathizer said that he knew there were people ready to carry this out. Alqudi was presumably a target because of his known ISIS involvement (including with the operative).

Notoriously, very few charges were ultimately brought and none against Mr Alqudsi in relation to the plan to behead someone.

These were the classic dawn raids though this is a misnomer since such raids are generally conducted shortly before dawn.  The aim is to surprise people when they are asleep with maximum force to prevent resistance to arrest or, as in this case, to prevent any resistance and preempt any attempt to destroy evidence which may be in the premises which are authorised to be searched by a search warrant.

Seven heavily armed and balaclava’d police battered the door down and secured the premises.  The violence of their armed incursion into the house was justified on the basis that the execution of the warrant was investigation of a “terrorist” offence.  Then 4 AFP officers, who had been waited inside, entered and executed the warrant.

Mr Alqudsi, his wife Moutia Elzahed and her two teenage sons (then aged 14 and 16) sued the police for what they said was mistreatment in the course of the raid.  They said in their statement of claim:

The First Plaintiff [Elzahed] was punched in the ear, eye and head, was held and moved in a brutal manner; was handcuffed in an aggressive and hurtful manner, her ear bled, she was mentally and physically abused; she was screamed at and was humiliated. She suffered bodily and mental pain.

The Second Plaintiff’s [Mr Alqudsi’s] head was held by the officers who pushed his head down on the ground injuring it and his nose and preventing him from breathing, talking or calling out. He was wounded and punched on the back thereby aggravating a previous back condition. He was handcuffed in a brutal manner and his arms and wrists became sore and cramped; The Second Plaintiff suffered bodily and mental pain.

The Third Plaintiff was pushed down on the floor with violence by officers and handcuffed in an aggressive manner injuring his arms and wrists. He suffered bodily and mental pain on seeing and witnessing the assault and battery of his mother.

The Fourth Plaintiff was slammed on a cupboard and still has marks on his stomach. He also was pushed on the floor in a violent manner and handcuffed. He suffered bodily and mental pain as well as physical injury aggravated by the officer’s treatment of his mother.

8   At the said time and place referred to above the four Plaintiffs were wrongfully arrested and imprisoned by the officers who impeded their liberty by handcuffing and restraining them from moving freely and by keeping them under strict and constant control.

9    Further and in addition the officers intimidated the Plaintiffs by aggressively calling the Third and Fourth Plaintiffs terrorists, by aggressively calling the First Plaintiff a bitch and by beating and assaulting them, wearing balaclavas and carrying firearms and weapons and their general conduct in handling and by bullying and frightening them.

Mr Alqudsi’s claim was settled. That left Moutia Elzahed and the two sons.  The trial was heard by District Court judge Audrey Balla.

Ms Elzhahed refused to remove her niqab to give evidence.  Judge Balla refused to permit her to give evidence with her head covered, because she said this would deprive her of the means of assessing the witness’s credibility by seeing her face – [2016] NSWDC 327

You have to wonder about this.  If that were so, a blind or short-sighted person would be incompetent to act as a judge. Let’s not even go into those cases where judges or jurors have dozed off. People can keep a bold face or likewise be uncomfortable and look shifty according to their talents or nervousness.  Actual responses to questions and hesitations in giving answers are much more likely to be telling.  This is how Judge Balla dealt with this:

I am well aware that the demeanour of a witness and the viewing of their face is not the only way in which credibility is assessed.  In some cases the demeanour of a witness may be misleading.  However, neither of those considerations can, in my view, mean that I should be completely deprived of having the assistance of seeing her face to assess her credibility.

Largely as a result of this, she then dismissed the claims – [2016] NSWDC 353 .  (Other aspects of the claim had already been struck out by Judge Judith (“Judge Judy”) Gibson  – [2015] NSWDC 271. )

Judge Balla had another bone to pick with Ms Elzahed.  She had observed that Ms Elzahed had not stood when she entered and left the courtroom.  It is customary that all present in the court should do so, as a mark of respect.  She raised it with Ms Elzahed’s counsel, the redoubtable Clive Evatt (not QC).  Evatt told her that his client did not stand because she only stands for Allah.  Judge Balla drew his attention to section 200A of the District Court Act.  This section (recently introduced as a response to defiance by various Islamic “terror-related” defendants) provides:

A person is guilty of an offence against this section if:

(a) the person is an accused person or defendant in, or a party to, proceedings before the Court or has been called to give evidence in proceedings before the Court, and

(b) the person intentionally engages in behaviour in the Court during the proceedings, and

(c) that behaviour is disrespectful to the Court or the Judge presiding over the proceedings (according to established court practice and convention).

Maximum penalty: 14 days imprisonment or 10 penalty units, or both.

Judge Balla said:

“The law reflects community’s expectation that everyone who comes before a court should show respect for the judge and court. [….Possible ellipsis here as my source is the Daily Telegraph] Not standing up in court or refusing to follow a reasonable request fits that category.”

I expect Judge Balla was drawing on the second reading speech made on introduction of this law, as well as the definition of “behaviour” as “any act or failure to act.”

Ms Elzahed is now to be charged with an offence under that section – presumably for every occasion on which she failed to stand, the fact conveniently placed on the record by Judge Balla by raising the issue.

It will be an interesting question whether a failure to show a customary respect will amount to a positive act of disrespect according to custom.

My own feeling is that the essence of showing such respect is that it is voluntarily offered.  To say that it must be offered under pain of criminal prosecution robs it of that element.  There is already a law of contempt, although I am unaware of prosecutions being brought for merely failing to stand when the judge enters or leaves the court, or to offer the customary little bow when entering or leaving a court when it is in session.  If the law is as Judge Balla says it is you could be compelled to give evidence (by a subpoena), have your evidence rejected if you do not uncover your face and also be charged with an offence.

Is this necessary?  Did  Judge Balla need to raise the issue?  Even if ostensibly she was offering Ms Elzahed an opportunity to explain her failure to stand (bereft as it happens of the usual safeguards of right to silence when charged), it looks very much to me as though her Honour was stitching Ms Elzahed up.

Judge Balla’s behaviour in this case has not increased my respect for her.


February 6, 2017

On Saturday night with D to OA’s King Roger for the third time – I had been for a second time on Tuesday with my old friend Ub.

Ub’s husband couldn’t go and, at the last minute she asked a friend, Nt.  Ub thought Nt might be interested because Nt’s father was a musician and was Polish.  Those proved to be tenuous grounds for an affinity: Nt left at interval, citing sciatica and declining my offer (in my opinion generous given that their days as an OTC remedy are numbered) of some codeine-enhanced paracetamol.

Ub thought the opera very dark.  She didn’t mean the lighting.  For most of the opera, King Roger seems to be chronically depressed and bewildered, much given to calling out the name of his wife, Roxana (initially  just to shut her up but later as more of a cry for help).  This was a bit odd, given that we also learn he hasn’t been, um, Rogering her [sorry, couldn’t help that] for a while and that didn’t look like Roxana’s decision.

Both of them (Rog and Rox) and the crowd are seduced by the mysterious shepherd, who turns out in the end to be Dionysus – not that that is particularly clear in this production.  Male pole-dancers in rather brief trunks rise up and down the various levels of the Act II set which represents Roger’s mind.  This in turn is a allegory/proxy for Szymanowski’s and indeed for all of our minds.  It’s the human condition (Apollonian/Dionysian) but with added homoerotic overtones.  At the end of the opera Roger has ostensibly confronted all of these dark desires and overcome them but it doesn’t look like he’ll be returning to Roxana’s bed any time soon.  Ub didn’t find the ending very convincing: she’s an author and perhaps she could sense some “tell” of Szymanowski’s rewrite (in his original Rog ran away with the shepherd).

I’m making fun of it all a bit here.  The virtue of the production is that these themes (in human nature, the hero and the composer) are all laid out pretty clearly – if anything too clearly and schematically.

In Act III, the shepherd appears, supposedly (according to the libretto) as Dionysus but here dressed rather as Roger had been dressed at the beginning.   There was probably a point to this – but it entailed a sacrifice of what the libretto says should be the opera’s grandest moment.

On the Tuesday I sat next to an [even] older [than I] gay (I assumed) gentleman who told me that My Fair Lady had been terrific and that he wasn’t really so keen on these “discordant” operas. I attempted to demur on the grounds that diatonic notions of discord and resolution were superseded in the musical language adopted, but I knew what he meant. In fact, the more I recognise the various melodic motifs on repeated hearings the less discordant the music seems.  This must be linear harmony at work.

On Saturday, D and I sat next to a woman from a small town (1200 residents, she said) in Arkansas.  She had just spent 3 days pre-cruise in Sydney and this was her first opera, ever.  She stayed to the end.

I have warmed to Saimir Pirgu (the shepherd) and Michael Honeyman continues to impress.  It’s a terrific workout for the orchestra.

There’s been a bit of price-cutting for the remaining performances and I’ve snapped up one more ticket for the last night.


King Roger

January 29, 2017

Last night to Opera Australia’s production of this work by Szymanowski.  It’s an obscurity: the recording that I was able to borrow from the Con library was made in Warsaw in 1965 – I suspect in association with a concert performance rather than a staged performance.

The opera is set in Sicily at the time of the Norman King Roger.  The libretto contains very detailed stage directions for first a Byzantine church, secondly the King’s palace and thirdly an ancient Greek amphitheatre by the sea: it is clear that Szymanowski was inspired by specific locales experienced by him when chasing the sun and (presumably) a Sicilian lad or two.  This production ditches all that and instead makes plain that the action is pretty much all inside the protagonist’s head: a massive head (front exterior view, then rear internal view) and, for the third act, a stylised “amphitheatre” which seems more like the Coliseum turned inside out than any Greek model.

That means that the music carries the exoticist burden.  It’s meant to be in three different flavours – almost one for each act, but once the orchestra started playing (everything starts in the dark with some gong strokes and a quasi-Orthodox church choir) I can’t say that the differences struck me so much as a tremendous kind of dream world.  It was rich stuff.  The text books talk about Scriabin and Stravinsky but mostly I felt reminiscences of Pelleas & M.  Orchestration is luscious and complicated – I spotted the double basses having a little confab at the end which suggests there are still some details to iron out.

Michael Honeyman was particularly impressive in the title role.

Bachtrack and Limelight carry the most comprehensive reviews (freedom from print means freedom from word limits) so I will leave the rest of the critical work to them. Good luck finding those $23 tickets Clive Paget talks of in the latter.

House was maybe 75%, with some conspicuous gaps in the expensive areas. Nevertheless, the sense of engrossment was palpable and applause at the end was enthusiastic.

I sat in a cheap seat on the side and will do so again before finishing off in the front row.  Perhaps by then I will be able to distinguish more between the parts and make more sense of the whole.

It’s something of a coup for OA to mount this production, though that statement must be qualified by the fact that the production has been bought in from Covent Garden, as was the double bill of Cav/Pag which I saw the night before.

At interval, sharing a table with someone who introduced herself as having sat behind me for the last few years at the SSO “Emirates” series, I learnt that about a third of the OA staff were made redundant towards the end of last year – she had a niece who was affected. I guess there’s lots of people you don’t need when you are hardly putting on any operas (eg, in a year when the Opera Theatre went dark, it turns out that about half the time that OA had the Capitol Theatre is being turned over to a final run of My Fair Lady) and most of what you are putting on is either a revival or a “co-production.” Neither of us was enthused by the recent news that Lyndon Terracini’s contract has just been extended for another 3 years.


Fate worse than death!

December 3, 2016

Last night to the second night of Pinchgut’s production of Handel’s Theodora.

For the first time, as far as I can make out, Pinchgut are doing a run of 5 performances – up from the 4 in a week which has been the pattern for many years.  That’s got to be a milestone of sorts for which they deserve congratulation.  I see they propose to repeat that for their December performance next year.

I’ve always thought of “fate worse than death” as a bit of a joke phrase, probably because I was most familiar with it as a parodic usage in Have some Madeira M’dear.  The OED traces “fate worse than death” to 1810.  The libretto for Theodora anticipates that by about 60 years though without the collocation with “fate.”

Theodora is one of a bunch of Christians in Antioch who have refused to sacrifice to Jove.

Here is the context.  Septimius is a sympathetic soldier; Didymus a chaste admirer of Theodora and Valens is the governor who has ordered that Theodora be punished.  Septimius breaks the news to Theodora:

Death is not yet thy doom:
But worse than death to such a virtuous mind,
Which Didymus wants eloquence to praise.
Lady, these guards are order’d to convey you
To the vile place, a prostitute, to whom
Valens thinks proper to devote your charms.

23. Accompagnato

Oh, worse than death indeed! Lead me, ye guards,
Lead me, or to the rack, or to the flames,
I’ll thank your gracious mercy.

24. Air

Angels, ever bright and fair,
Take, oh take me to your care;
Speed to your own courts my flight,
Clad in robes of virgin white.
Angels. . . da capo

Exit Theodora with Septimius

This is a “well-known” air.  Together with the accompagnato (orchestrally accompanied recitative) which comes before, it is something of a triumph for Leo when he sings it (a triumph of course pregnant with impending disaster) in LP Hartley’s novel The G0-Between.  In the novel Leo sings AEBAF as a follow-up to The Minstrel Boy. In the film it is just the Handel.

In the novel, a staple year 11 text for teaching symbolism when I was an English teacher, Hartley makes rather a lot out of the fate worse than death (not strictly a phrase in the song or the recit).

That made a kind of double-whammy: original and serious “worse than death” usage, and the original context of Leo’s song.

Coincidentally or not, it was at around about this point that the story got moving (in both senses really) and the music became more emotionally engaging for me (actually that started a bit before).  The word which comes to mind is eloquent.  I was moved to tears at points.

I’m not sure if the staging is entirely successful (there was this big table on one side of the stage which dominated proceedings in a rather awkward way), and Andrew Collis had a rather thankless task as Valens.

The chorus was great – if anything the men were a bit strong, which is a welcome change from the usual. The orchestra also acquitted itself well – I thought the violins in particular carried off their ripieno obbligatos with great elan and, in an improvement from previous years, the oboes were up to scratch.  And then there was the monster contra-bassoon!  Just occasionally, in very quiet moments, I wondered if Erin Helyard could have made his continuo organ quieter.

In his review for the SMH et al, Peter McCallum concludes:

“Of all the Pinchgut productions to date, this was the most rewarding for its restrained, purposeful drama and seraphic musical refinement.”

I’m still not quite sure what this means – does he mean that Theodora was most rewarding provided you were measuring rewards of “restrained, purposeful drama and seraphic musical refinement” or does he mean most rewarding generally, by reason of those integers?   I suppose this sort of judicious statement is why PMcC is a music critic and I am not. I’ve seen 14 of Pinchgut’s 18 productions since 2002.  In the early years I might have been able to apprehend improvement and consolidation but I would be hard put by now to say of any one “it’s the best yet.”

I enjoyed it very much – more than I expected to, in fact.  Maybe it went on a bit, in terms of the narrative, towards the end – but who would want to stop the music?  (apart from Pinchgut itself which apparently imposed a few cuts.)  By then I was really into the groove.

I would love the chance to go again but expect to be away, so Sunday’s broadcast on ABC “Classic” FM will have to suffice.

Porgy and Bess

November 27, 2016

On Saturday, which is still tonight, to the SSO’s performance of “The Gershwins'” “Porgy and Bess.”

It should have been a triumph but instead much of it was an ordeal because of the extraordinarily heavy-handed approach to amplification of the (many, gifted, visiting) principal singers.

If it weren’t for the price I had paid, the unlikelihood that I would have another opportunity to hear/see this work, and the large number of people I would have had to climb over, I would have walked out long before interval or gone home at half time.

Had I done so, I believe I would have been fully entitled to ask for my money back. Even having stayed, I resent having been held hostage by my regard for the work and still feel very much short-changed and, yes, insulted.

I would have preferred no amplification at all of the singing. I can see a case for it for some of the dialogue. But if there is to be amplification, there needs to be some discrimination and proportion. In the first half, at least, there seemed to be none. All vocalists were brought up to a kind of super-forte, and a generally unremitting loudness prevailed. That is the insult – to us, the audience, to the work and to Art.

There were long faces in the foyers at interval and quite a few people did not return.

It is possible that some words were spoken at interval. Actually I know words were spoken at interval and likely at an earlier stage. It is possible they were now heeded.

Things were marginally better in the second half and there were even a few precious moments of remission or near remission from the electric wall of sound or noise.

For the sake of those going to the remaining performances, I hope there is some further moderation and discrimination in this direction.

Which will be too late for me.

As to how things came to be as bad as they were (in the first half especially tonight though the second half was far from out of the woods), for the time being words fail me but I believe there needs to be some pretty serious soul-searching by all responsible at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, starting from the top and definitely including the people at the sound desk. What were they trying to achieve? Do they know? Do they have any idea?

I guess I may rewrite this in more moderate terms later but right now I am very very disappointed.

Damn statistics

November 20, 2016

Poisonous little story in The Australian by Rick Morton, purporting to show “data clusters” for over-representation of people born in certain overseas countries for receipt of the dole, carers payment, old age pension and invalid pension.  Does this by comparing the percentage of recipients of each benefit as at 1 July 2016 by country of birth (newly obtained DSS statistics) with the percentage of Australia’s population by country of birth in July 2015 (ABS statistics).

Source of this presumably is a Jeremy Sammut from the Centre for Independent Studies.

There may well be such clusters, for all sorts of reasons (eg: refugees suffering mental health problems after long-term detention) but I doubt that, without some adjustment for the age of each group, it is possible to reach very meaningful conclusions.

At least one comparison cries out for further explanation/comment:

Australians are more likely to be on welfare than New ­Zealanders living here as permanent residents.

Kiwis make up 2.6 per cent of the population but are under-­represented in all the major ­welfare categories.

Two observations: (1) ABS definition of “permanent residents” is not the immigration definition or one which translates into welfare eligibility;  in particular, (2) no-one should be surprised that New Zealanders are under-represented given the treatment for welfare-eligibiity of New Zealanders who came here after 26 February 2001.

In my opinion the story is rubbish but rubbish calculated to push all the right Oz hot buttons.  Predictable comment thread though a couple of people have taken the trouble to point out some of the obvious factual considerations.

Bartered Bride in Rockdale

November 15, 2016

On Saturday to Rockdale Town Hall to see the Rockdale Opera’s production of Smetana‘s second-most famous work – assuming Ma Vlast to be the most famous.

This is only the third time I have been to a Rockdale Opera production.

The first was Donizetti’s La Favorita in 2002. Andrew Byrne gives an accurate-enough account here .   As Byrne said, “somehow it ‘worked’, despite serious limitations in several areas.”

D always cites that production and my going to it as proof that I am mad (for opera).

The second time I went alone.  It was G&S and it was a bit of an epiphany: amateur G&S, like four-handed piano works, is more rewarding for the participants than for the spectator/auditor.  The fact that others obviously enjoyed it only made it worse for me.  I can quote the croaking chorus from the Frogs of Aristophanes and much more beside from the G&S corpus but I now have the anti-zeal of the apostate.  Even professional G&S is these days a stretch for me.

Back to Smetana and last Saturday.

In many respects, a trip to Rockdale Opera is like a trip back in time, to an earlier, more participatory era.  A more detailed account can be found in Leonie Bell’s history of the company.

There are some trends.

First, the chorus.  Even in the 1990s David Gyger commented that its numbers were decreasing as its average age increased, and that seems still to be the trend.  I imagine it is hard to gather together a group of amateurs who will gather for all the necessary rehearsals with no greater ambition than being in the chorus.  It is a big commitment.

The orchestra, described by Andrew Byrne in 2002 as numbering about 20 and “valiant” is now even more valiant, at about 12, made up of strings 2:1:1:1:1 (vln 1:vln 2:vla:vc:cb) and one each of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and percussion.

The town hall has been renovated.  The main noticeable improvement for the audience is that the rear portion of the seating is elevated on risers.  As Leonie Bell’s history recounts, the renovation of the Town Hall was preceded by a disaster where the entire accumulated costume stock of the company, mostly sewn by its long-time director, was by misadventure destroyed as asbestos-contaminated.

Tickets, $30 in 2002, are now $45.

It is obvious that the company has a very loyal and longstanding audience – by no means confined to relatives of the performers, though possibly made up of former performers and their friends.  At interval I had a momentary double-take when I heard a very familiar voice: Silvio Rivier, SBS personality and long-time ubiquitous voice over man, is an alumnus of the company.

The main principals acquitted themselves well, sometimes in the face of some adversity.  I most liked Blake Parham as Vašek, the “village idiot” (in the original – there was a thin attempt to veneer this in this productionn with a marginally less politically incorrect approach) to whom the bride is initially proposed to be married.  His part is vocally not the most demanding, but what made his performance more enjoyable to me was that, because his numbers incorporate his “idiotic” stutter, they were rhythmically better articulated than some of the other numbers.

In her history of the company, Leonie Bell writes:

In 1992 the 24 piece orchestra was significantly smaller than the 53 members of the 1940s ensemble. In the nineties they were paid students and retired professionals, earning $25 per rehearsal call. If critics complained occasionally of a lack of cohesion in the orchestra, no doubt this was a result of the company only having the finances to pay for two rehearsals of three-hours each.

Hopefully the amount has gone up from $25 since then, but I expect the principle remains the same, save that the orchestra has now become about as small as it could possibly be.

On Saturday, in any number where the tempo was not a brisk one, it seemed as though conductor Julia de Plater was scooping up the orchestra – especially the strings – to gather it/them forward into and from just about every beat.  Archimedes famously said that he could move the earth with a firm place to stand on. In this case, each beat became a kind of wobbly morass.  That the players were not far on from sight-reading probably contributed to this.

This is the adversity I referred to which must surely have made life hard for the principals.

Things were better when the music became brisker, more “rhythmic” or more familiar to the musicians. The Comedians’ Dance was even exhilarating, though I could have done without the children in the chorus punctuating this with party blowers.  (Memo to director: this is opera and the orchestra is playing cheerful music.  Enough!)

There were dancers, acrobats, children.  Everyone had a good time, some younger up-and-coming singers had a chance to get experience on stage with an orchestra. No animals were harmed in the production (the bear was played as Kevin the Koala in a chugger suit).

The company has been through some lean times.  They are working towards their 70th anniversary in 2018. I hope they get there and beyond.

Usually the company alternates lighter works with a more substantial work. The Smetana counts in this scheme as a substantial work.  When it comes to the more substantial works I do very much wish the company could find a bit more money for the orchestra – for either more rehearsals or even just one or two higher class players.  Of course both would be nice.

I suppose that really means it would be better to go on the second weekend when the orchestra will be on their fourth and fifth reads-through.

Next show is The Gondoliers. I’m happy to let the Plaza-Toros manage in my absence with the short-form band.



Sunset on Canterbury Road

November 12, 2016


Businesses all gone, apparently empty, this building roughly opposite Canterbury Station looks unlikely to make its 2020 centenary.

Meanwhile, across the road, nest to the station, a monster rises:



Lit up for aerial-drone spruiking photography:


And more to come: