Is this Journalism?

July 29, 2015

On Lateline on Monday night (my emphases added):

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: He’s the man who was responsible for, of all things, enforcing standards in Britain’s House of Lords. Lord Sewell was previously a minister under Tony Blair, but now his career and probably his marriage are in tatters after a tabloid newspaper filmed him allegedly snorting cocaine from a prostitute’s breasts. The peer is facing a police inquiry after The Sun on Sunday released images also showing him allegedly smoking drugs while wearing a woman’s bra. The tabloid sting reveals a less-than-wholesome side to Lord Sewell’s after-hours activities. He’s recorded making racist and sexist remarks. At one point on the video, he’s asked about parliamentary allowances.



Now here’s the latest article, or front page in The Sun. As you can see, not the sort of picture you’d want to see of anyone on the front page, particularly the Deputy Speaker, sitting there having a cigarette in a bra. And if you see this little inset here, allegedly snorting cocaine. So, yeah, not a pretty picture, especially given his exalted position in the House of Lords.

EMMA ALBERICI: And not for his family either. He’s a married man, I understand.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Yes, he’s a married man and apparently, we’re told by The Sun that when he had these young ladies around at his house in Dolphin Square, which incidentally is the scene of allegedly serious allegations of child abuse, not connected to him at all, but that particular place, that when he had those young ladies, when he was entertaining them or perhaps they were entertaining him, he put the photo of his wife down, face-down, presumably so perhaps she couldn’t see what was going on or he couldn’t see her face looking at him while those goings-on were happening. We don’t know about that.

Precisely, he didn’t and we don’t know about that.

Philip Williams has a bit of an excuse for picking on the cigarettes and the bra picture because just before PW was talking about the Labour party attempting to distance itself and in that context the picture is the story. But I think we could have done without Emma Alberici’s harping on about Lord Sewel’s marriage.

It should be possible to report on a red-top sting without assuming a red-top voice yourself.

John Alexander (ironically) said something like this years ago: there’s far too much comment insinuating itself into news reports. Of course every news story implicitly and pretty much of necessity comments by what it chooses to report and not to report. but that is unavoidable and is at least governed by some (pretty minimal) requirements of fairness.

For my part the bra and the cigarettes are an almost endearing and definitely humanising touch – Sewell was obviously on an orgy of naughtiness (if not just on an orgy) and what I like is how that extended to his truth-telling (in the sense of stating opinions he would never say out loud in public) about his political colleagues. Just because he is a bad apple doesn’t mean that some of these opinions mightn’t be spot on.

Don Carlos 2

July 27, 2015

On Saturday to Opera Australia’s Don Carlos for the second time.

I sat closer, which for me is much better.

There were still some noticeable patches of emptiness in the circle. Is it the work (a bit obscure) or the price which is the problem? It could of course be the length which bodes a late finish – the last performance, which is a matinee starting at noon, is sold out in the circle.

Because I don’t buy a program at the opera or regularly read press releases, the big news from sitting up close was the appearance, which I now see is the appointment, of Jun Yi Ma as concertmaster of the AOBO. He has also been appointed artistic advisor. This must be a FIFO role as he remains concertmaster of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

I wonder how this works exactly. As well as a separate concert-master’s entrance, Ma made a separate exit at the end – something I don’t recall seeing previous leaders doing. Maybe he has a plane to catch. (Obviously not literally unless he leaves after curfew by private jet.) At least the current and likely to continue abbreviation of the OA Sydney season will reduce the demands on his availability. There’s a silver lining in everything provided you can find the right perspective.

When Don Carlos was first heard in Paris people spoke of Verdi going down the path of Wagner. In many ways this is simply ridiculous, but you can see what they were reacting to, especially in the relatively heavy and dark orchestral textures. The most famous example of this is the scene between Philip and the Grand Inquisitor but there is a mood which imbues the whole piece which is a counterpart to what has sometimes been called (defensively, usually to dismiss it) the “black legend” of Spain, which at the point of the events of this drama coincided with the still-being-shaken-off-Italy rule of the Hapsburgs.

The exact contribution the concertmaster makes is always a bit of a mystery to me.  Whatever Ma’s particular contribution  was  the orchestra was in fine and augmented form. Things must get pretty loud down in that concrete pit and I spotted some players putting in ear-plugs from time to time. It is always good to spot a cimbasso. I felt a bit sorry for the violas, who were squeezed as far back in the pit as I have ever seen them.  The banda was put in a box above one the loges, the angelic voice and accompaniment on the opposite side.

Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip is the biggest treat in the cast. I’m sure OA will be tempted to put him up for a Helpmann, though in my opinion the use of Helpmanns to give gongs to touring acts or performers is to be deprecated. It’s a bit like knighting Prince Philip. I’m warming to Diego Torres in the title role. As Elizabeth, Lationa Moore sings with vocal amplitude though she risked overpowering the others in the quartet. “Don fatale” was a bit of a stretch at the top for Milijana Nikolic as Princess Eboli. If she could risk breaking her legato line with a few more consonants I think she would be even better.

The one scene which still mystified me a bit was the early part of Act I (in the score Act II because of the missing French Act I) scene ii with the Princess Eboli and the other ladies before Elisabeth arrives ready for Rodrigo to pass her the note from Carlos. It doesn’t really advance the plot much and is more of a foil for the rest of the action.  I suppose in a way it is a bit of a filler – the plot can’t get moving too quickly straight away. The ladies chorus seemed rather listless and half-hearted at the outset. Couldn’t they sing a bit louder? Or was the point meant to be to indicate a kind of sterile decorum? If so I would rather that were not taken out on the music.

There is spectacle in the auto-da-fé scene though why a bunch of nuns sported actual spectacles eludes me – perhaps someone in the artistic team went to a convent school.

I knew it was coming but I still jumped when Rodrigo/Posa was shot.

I’m going again next Saturday so this isn’t the last word.

Winter season

July 23, 2015

Opera Australia is here for its winter season.

Perversely or obstinately, despite the good cast, I swapped out of Turandot. I’m prepared to leave oft- and recently-seen Puccini to Mr Terracini’s non-“opera club” target audience. By the time I had second thoughts on account of the reputedly strong first cast there were no suitable tickets and so I am letting it pass.

In D’s absence I went on Saturday 11/7 with my old friend Ub to La Traviata. Ub thinks the story is cruel – I wonder if that is a gendered reaction – I just think, yes, that’s the way it was. Ub said she enjoyed it a lot. I sensed she was transfixed by the immersive experience of sitting up close. In comparison to Ub I fear that I have now seen this production enough. It’s not that I have tired of it but rather I take too much of it for granted.

Rame Lahaj was a visually and vocally handsome Alfredo, if perhaps sometimes a bit too placid. Compared to last time, José Carbó was more convincing as his father in terms of looking his age. He is singing better than ever and my only reservation is that, once again possibly because I have seen him so often, he seems nearly always (last act of Masked Ball excepted) to be the same fairly reasonable altogether nice person. I was a bit non-plussed by Lorina Gore. She has been a coloratura soprano and so you would naturally expect her to shine in the Act I stuff, but in fact it was her later acts which impressed far more. I have good memories of Elvyra Fatikhova as a more fragile Violetta – she still features in OA’s poster for this production.

The next Tuesday I went to the opening night of Don Carlos, albeit in a cheap seat. It was a far from full house. There was a kind of bald spot in the front half of the circle on the right hand side as you look to the stage and a smaller gap to the left side. Had the empty seats been set aside for a corporate gang that just didn’t show? The cheapest seats were well filled.

Opera Australia managed with just one interval, which makes the first half a bit of a stretch. The most famous bits are in the second half and I enjoyed it more than the first. It helped that the woman in front of me with the restless child on her lap left at interval.

Earlier this year I went to a rather improbable (though beautifully made) film about the young Schiller. Its hypothesis was that he married one sister but was in love with the other. The big set piece of the film was Schiller delivering his inaugural lecture on universal history but prior to that there was a bit of stuff about Schiller reading from his historical writings, so I’d done a bit of boning up on his take on Spanish Netherlands in the sixteenth century. The conceit of the original play is to attribute to royalty personal feelings from a later age of affective marriage and to attribute to the protestants all the virtues of the enlightenment as they seemed on the eve of the French revolution.

As a result, Carlos, and even more his chum Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa (José Carbó being too reasonable again) are impossibly anachronistically reasonable kinds of chap – a sort of wish fulfilment cake-and-eat it for the audience not unlike the incredibly and incredibly implausibly enlightened Inspector George Gently in the TV program of that name set in 60s and 70s Northumberland. Similarly it is hard to believe that Phillip II of Spain ever harboured any illusions that any of his royal consorts might actually love him – which tends to pull the rug out of his biggest number.

To return to Don Carlos himself, it is hard to warm to a character who as far as I can make out just keeps putting his foot in it again and again.

Princess Eboli’s changes of heart are simply inexplicable.

Doubtless some of that is the necessary simplification of the opera over the original play. I shall try to go with the flow more when I see this again.

When I originally planned my opera going for this year, I decided to see Don Carlos three times. That was on the principle that you have to make the most of rareties (for Sydney) when they arrive and made possible without undue extravagance by the inclusion of a number of works in my set subscription which I was content to forego and exchange. The premium pricing adopted by OA imposed some constraint on that so I was perched in a loge for the first night. If I am to see an opera more than once I always prefer to go from inferior to superior seat. I can’t bear an anticlimax.

Once is enough for D, but as he is away, I was left with a spare ticket for the second outing. Ub was unavailable. I toyed with exchanging the ticket to go myself to Don C a fourth time but hesitated because of my experience last year when a fourth viewing of Masked Ball suffered from the law of diminishing returns. Then came a fortuitous development. I have exchanged sight unseen (but on the strength of last year’s Don G) for a second performance of Marriage of Figaro. This will leave a small credit which I will put towards the now mercifully Alan-Jones-free Anything Goes.

That’s hardly a big finish to the winter season, but approached in the right spirit and with suitably tempered expectations I hope to avoid any anticlimax. Who knows, I could even be pleasantly surprised.

Brumal wanderings

July 23, 2015

D is away.

It is winter, or what passes for it in Sydney.

Parsnips and porridge are in. The dishes pile up and are intermittently scraped, soaked and washed.

It is my first complete winter in the Ashfield house. The house is all electric and I am dreading the electricity bill when it comes.

On the weekend June tipped into July I made a trip to Canberra to see my father. We went together to an NT Live screening of Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman at Canberra’s Dendy cinema, which lives atop a Westfield shopping centre in Civic.

It is easy to feel like Rip van Winkle whenever I go to Canberra. When I lived there in the early eighties the site of the Dendy was mostly open air carparks, save for the Griffin Centre, home of various community organisations including the Canberra Recorded Music Society which I suspect may now be defunct judging from the date (2004) of its latest web presence – though I note it is still at least listed as a tenant of the new Griffin Centre.

The screening was at 1pm on a Sunday. Driving towards the enormous carpark I spotted an archetypically Canberran elderly couple in the car next to me. I bet to my father that they too were going to the screening and sure enough when we had finally navigated the carpark and found the cinema (both new to me) so they were.

I looked around at the rest of the audience.

“I think I may be the youngest person here” I commented to my father. Right at that moment someone younger than me sat in front of me but she was just about the only one I could spot.

“Well I’m probably the oldest,” replied my father, just a touch triumphantly. He is 88.

I wasn’t so sure. There were quite a few who could have at least given him a run for his money and I suspect there may have been a few people there in their nineties. I put it down to the combination of old-fashioned high culture (for which a certain class and generation of Canberrans have a particular enthusiasm) and the matinee time. The couple next to us (who had booked seats on the aisle) brought out a thermos of tea at interval and they weren’t the only ones who had brought their own refreshments. I sensed a self-reliant spirit of days gone by – something which in a way the Recorded Music Society also manifested.

By contemporary standards, Man and Superman is an impossibly wordy play. Indeed, even by the standards of its time it was wordy to the point that the wordiness of the protagonist (played in this production by Ralph Fiennes) becomes of necessity a kind of running gag in itself. It came in at over 3 hours even with substantial cuts.

Some of the most substantial cuts were within a dream sequence, which has often either been cut or performed separately, where Don Juan (ie, Don Giovanni) goes to hell. There is a bit of a literary tradition of philosophical riffing on the Don (ETA Hoffmann and Kierkegaard, for starters). Nowadays the libertine figure he cuts is generally depicted as less attractive and more rapacious. Femininism may have something to do with it but I suspect, looking at Shaw’s approach, that it is also because the conventional morality the Don defies is no longer felt to have such stultifying force.

It was almost dark by the time we drove home round Lake B-G, past Black Mountain and catching the last of sunset over the Brindabellas.

Back at my father’s house I looked in vain for the Complete Works of George Bernard Shaw which my parents used to have. I knew that the book (in a way a monument to GBS’s fame at its height) had been left with my parents along with a portable typewriter (on which we all learnt to type) by a friend who left Adelaide in the early 1950s leaving these with them for safekeeping and who never retrieved them.

I asked my father more about this mysterious person. Apparently the book and typewriter owner, Jim Wright, had a friend who was a non-English speaker (necessarily at that time a European; if anything else that would have been remarkable). Somehow my mother had got involved teaching that man English (she was at least a teacher though without any special ESL skills). Not long after, Jim left Adelaide for Europe (my father thought Italy). A couple of years after that my parents moved to Sydney.

I suppose it is possible, depending on exactly how this teaching arrangement had arisen, that Jim might have returned to Adelaide and been unable to trace my parents to Sydney. If they had any acquaintances in common, though, he could have traced them. More likely, he did not return, at least until the trail went cold.

I mean no disrespect to JW to say that this tickled my historical gaydar. Single man with European friend travels to Europe in the 1950s and does not return. Makes you wonder.

Singing up a storm

July 6, 2015

Last night to Pinchgut opera’s production of Bajazet.

The title character is Bayezid I, a Sultan of the Ottoman empire, who was defeated at the battle of Ankara in 1402 by Timur, aka Tambourlaine the Great. Bajazet wants his (fictional) daughter, Asteria, to marry a (fictional) Greek prince, Andronicus. Conveniently they are in love after catching each other’s eyes when Andronicus spared her in the fray (I think: I wasn’t always following the surtitles closely enough). Tamerlano also has fallen for Asteria, although he was previously due to marry another princess, Irene. The solution he proposes is to marry Irene off to Andronicus, whom he will make king of Bajazet’s former domains, and to spare Bajazet’s life provided Asteria marries him (that is, marries Tamerlano). Tamerlano sends Andronicus to Asteria to propose to her on his behalf.

Bajazet isn’t happy. Andronicus isn’t happy but seems to go along with it at first – what choice does he have? Asteria isn’t happy, especially with Andronicus. Irene turns up and she isn’t happy. There are lots of twists and turns and even Tamerlano isn’t too happy about some of them.

This is a “pasticcio” put together by Vivaldi from his own and other composer’s works. What that means is that apart from the recitatives it is a medley of his own and other people’s hits. Ironically, the most well-known aria from the opera is by one of the other people.

Given that Tambourlaine was a bit of a byword as a mighty and brutal conqueror and given the tempestuousness of the emotions expounded by the plot, it is probably not surprising that rather a lot of the arias were of the rage and lots of notes type. Loud and fast was obviously a crowd pleaser. We got some relief from this after interval, including my own favourite, invoking a timid little deer, with violin solo and plucked accompaniment.

Some of the rather unrelieved vigour seemed to be matter of the style adopted by Erin Helyard as conductor/harpsichordist. You sometimes get the impression (though it is rather dated) that there is a school of thought in some “authentic” bands that you show how authentic you are by throwing yourself into it. I would have appreciated a bit more refinement at times and rhythmic spring even when the dial turned to tempest/rage.

I enjoyed it, if more in particular parts than the whole.

There is a pretty comprehensive review by Clive Paget in Limelight which I mostly agree with. (Warning: plot spoiler spoiler alert!)  That’s my lazy way of getting around commenting on individual singers.  I can do that because I am not a critic.  But they did, collectively, sing up a storm.

Leaflets around the place announced that next year’s Pinchgut season is to comprise Haydn’s Armida and Handel’s Theodora. It seems that Antony Walker will be back to conduct one of them though unless I missed it they did not say which.

Tristan AND Isolde  (2)

July 1, 2015

A fellow blogger has made the “AND’ point already, and it is one which Isolde herself makes when Tristan carelessly refers in Act II to “Tristan’s love.”

Contrary to my original intention, I made a last-minute booking on Friday for Monday’s second performance by the SSO of Tristan and Isolde.  I secured a seat at the end of row T.  I say that in homage to David Gyger of Opera Opera who used always to qualify critical statements about balance etc with a disclosure of where he was sitting.

My seat was one of only 4 seats described as “available” in the stalls for this performance.  Interest in these performances has been high.

On Saturday night there was a festive mood.  I rode the lift from the car park (necessitated by City Circle track work) with a gentleman sporting a fur collar and a horned helmet. I shared a table at interval with the chief justice of Australia – who (jocularly) called me a cheapskate for having brought my own sandwich from home.  – Not that I actually recognised him until a passing friend of his introduced him to her friend.

Monday was a little more subdued and, once inside the hall, businesslike. Sydney’s Wagner-music-drama drought had been broken (to the extent that a concert performance can do so). There seemed to be a more matter-of-fact approach to getting through it. I felt that came from the stage although I can’t put my finger on anything in particular. And a Monday public is different from a Saturday one, even for a special do like this. There was no track work so I was able to take the train in.

I still managed to observe my own special festive rule which is engaged whenever a work involves the imbibing of a potion. It only requires a hip flask and a little forethought.

At interval, talk turned to the rather literal video art representation of Tristan and Isolde, which most felt was too literal. “I want to imagine them for myself,” said someone, rather plaintively. I remonstrated that if it were an actual opera performance that wouldn’t be an option, but allowed that then it would be the actual singers you were relying on.

Second time round, I didn’t find the T and I figures so distracting. The damage had been done, if you think it so: I now accepted/expected that T & I looked like that – at least on screen. It helped that on a second time through within 2-3 days (almost a third as I’d listened on Sunday to most of the broadcast save for a chunk of Act II when I could not refuse my sister’s phone call from the UK) I did not need to follow the surtitles so closely. I found myself more free to concentrate on the singers. I could choose to look at the video stuff when I felt like it, and at least one moment – Tristan’s death, was actually quite gorgeously and memorably executed.

I wonder if some of the things which qualified my experience on the Saturday were really to do with expectations, because on Monday I had adjusted to the balance better as well, though I still feel that putting the singers behind the orchestra put a burden on them and detracted from the effect they could have had if placed more to the fore.

It’s easy to be a critic, isn’t it?

Obviously I really enjoyed it, even if second time round King Mark’s reproaches made me a bit impatient. In the last act, as Tristan asked after the ship, a mobile phone somewhere had a little gurgle. Fortunately, the music was loud enough that few can have been seriously distracted. I was in such a good mood I didn’t need to respond with any kind of fury. “That’s Isolde,” I imagined. “She’s just been held up a bit. She’ll be here soon.”

Music Education in Australia

July 1, 2015

Read this job advert and weep (emphasis in bold is mine):

Music Teacher (Keyboard/Guitar/Other)

Excel Music is currently seeking a suitably qualified/experienced instrumental music teacher to teach students generally during normal school hours. The successful applicant will have:

· an excellent knowledge and passion for music

· excellent communication and time-management skills

· a willingness to work in a team environment and be flexible when required

· a willingness to work in a school environment and have an affinity with children

· excellent attention to detail

All applicants must have own car and have playing skills equivalent to AMEB Grade 5.

Excel Music will provide ongoing training and support.
Hourly rate per hour is $30.

Applications should be forwarded by Thursday 23rd July 2015.

To be eligible for this position you must have an appropriate visa to work in Australia/New Zealand

Apply Now!

Aux armes, citoyens!

June 21, 2015


That’s the rallying cry of the chorus to La Marseillaise, but these days in Australia it’s not quite as simple as that.

Of course, you can join the Australian armed forces, if they accept you.  There doesn’t even seem to be much of a problem if you serve in the armed forces of some other nation state of which you are also a citizen (most commonly for Australians, I expect, Israel, though there are probably also dual nationals serving in the British armed forces) or even one where you are not (such as, say, the French Foreign Legion).  What becomes more problematic is if you get involved in something more irregular, such as not fighting for a government, or fighting against a government.

Australia enacted its own legislation against getting involved in that sort of thing back in 1978.  The legislation included a prohibition on recruiting for foreign government armed forces in Australia.  That Act has now been repealed and its provisions, augmented as part of the “Foreign Fighters” suite of legislation, folded into part 5.5 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code .

Currently it’s all about those Australians who have rushed off to Syria and Iraq to fight for (and in at least two cases, against) “ISIS”/ISIL. This is prescribed as a “terrorist organisation” by the Australian Government, which makes it an offence to fight for it or to support it. In addition, there are offences for even travelling to the area where the fighting is going on unless you can prove (the onus is on you) that your sole reason was some valid, non-fighting reason set out in the legislation. Returned fighters can also be subjected to control orders. David Hicks was subjected to these on his return to Australia following his release from prison.

The week before last our prime minister and Peter Dutton, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (just have to add that because you may not know who he is otherwise) made the following joint announcement:

The Commonwealth Government intends to update the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 so dual nationals who engage in terrorism can lose their citizenship.

The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection will be able to exercise these powers in the national interest where a dual citizen betrays our country by participating in serious terrorist-related activities.

The new powers will apply to dual citizens who fight with or support groups such as ISIL, or Daesh, as well as so-called ‘lone wolves’, whether in Australia or on foreign soil.

The changes will be consistent with our international legal obligation not to leave a person stateless. There will also be safeguards, including judicial review, to balance these powers.

Orwellianly, the headline to the announcement was “New measures to strengthen Australian citizenship” – because apparently citizenship is strengthened by making it easier to take away by administrative fiat.  Dutton later made clear that any judicial review proposed would go to the process, not the merits, of any deprivation. More bizarrely, it bore the legend: “E&OE.” For those not in the know, this stands for “Errors and omissions excepted” and is commonly encountered as a kind of arse-covering catch-all on solicitor’s bills, surveyors’ reports, and the like. When did this sort of thing creep into ministerial announcements?

The announcement went on to offer a rationale for the proposed changes (my numbers added):

[1] Since 1949, Australians with dual citizenship who fight for a country at war with Australia have forfeited their citizenship.

[2]There should be no difference in how we treat Australians who join a hostile army and those engaged in terrorism – both are betraying our country and don’t deserve to be citizens of Australia.

[3] Regardless of how we gain our citizenship, it is an extraordinary privilege with rights and responsibilities for all of us.

(1) is at least literally true.

There was no such thing as Australian citizenship until 1949.

Citizenship in Australia is a creature of statute. Historically and I think at international law it is probably still more accurate to speak of nationality rather than citizenship. At federation, Australians were either aliens or British subjects. Other than naturalisation, this was a matter of common law until in the UK it was codified by legislation in 1915 (I suspect motivated by issues arising from WWI) which was largely adopted or mirrored by the Australian Nationality Act 1920.

Following World War II, there was a rethinking of nationality and citizenship within the British Empire. In Australia this led to the enactment of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 . That Act also (as was so often the way at the time) still mirrored UK legislation in many respects. One of these was section 18 of that Act, which contained a new provision which in a slightly modernised form survives as section 35 of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007:

Service in armed forces of enemy country

(1) A person ceases to be an Australian citizen if the person:

(a) is a national or citizen of a foreign country; and

(b) serves in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia.

(2) The person ceases to be an Australian citizen at the time the person commences to so serve.

Both the previous UK and Australian legislation provided for revocation of a grant of naturalization where somebody had aided the enemy in time of war (and for other reasons such as conviction of a crime or fraud in obtaining the grant).

It is worth noting that at that time this section could only apply in 1949 to those with dual citizenship by birth because otherwise those obtaining the citizenship of another country automatically lost their Australian citizenship.  (This only changed in 2002.)  So this section was really just another form of election for people who elected (actually they could have been conscripted) to act upon their allegiance to another state.  It operated by operation of law on facts which were assumed to be juridically clear-cut – a bit like, for example, the way in which your will would automatically be revoked if you subsequently married.  There might be a tussle about the facts in their application to a particular circumstance (did a person serve in the armed forces? It was probably assumed that it would be more clear-cut whether the country was at war with Australia at the time.) but once they were established the consequence followed independent of any ministerial determination – even though a decision to refuse the grant of a passport or admittance to Australia would necessarily be administrative.  (PS: the latest proposal looks like being for something like this for “foreign fighters” which begs the question still as to how organisations or regions are proclaimed – will it be subject to parliamentary disallowance?)

(2) Is more questionable.

First of all, it totally misunderstands the basis on which the precursor to section 35 operated.  Betraying one’s country was not the issue when the section was enacted and still is not, for the reasons set out already.  (By the way, such a point was expressly not taken in the rather amazing English case of Prince Ernest of Hanover – but then he was a toff.)

Secondly, where does this idea of “deserving” to be an Australian citizen come into things?

Thirdly, things are really getting murky when we start saying that a terrorist necessarily betrays Australia.  What exactly is a terrorist?  Who decides?  Different countries make different decisions; one man’s [sic] terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, after all, and not all terrorists are engaged in terror against Australia.

Fourthly, if betraying our country is the issue, aren’t such people traitors?  The normal recourse of a nation state against traitors is to catch them and punish them, judicially, even if that involves the occasional over-reach, as most people now agree occurred in the case of William Joyce (aka Lord Haw-Haw).

(3) is the most insidious.

Is citizenship really a privilege? Surely not in the sense that it is some kind of optional extra benefit that can be withdrawn.  It is a status which in turn is a springboard to all sorts of rights – most importantly not to be turned away if returning here and to be allowed to stay here.

It is true that governments have always maintained that being given a passport is almost an optional extra (for example, back in the 70s, Ananda Marga members were refused passports) but that is an assertion which can only survive politically by being sparingly asserted even if the cancellation of passports has become more commonplace in recent years.

Back in the cold-war years we used to hear of Eastern-bloc countries depriving dissidents (and, actually I now discover, Jewish emigrants) of their citizenship and refusing them passports and thought: how could a state treat its people so oppressively, so scandalously a.t odds with its high [ha!] ideals.  Oh how the times have changed!

It’s not as if the “me, too” Labor Party is covering itself in glory on this issue any more than our beloved government.


This is an incomplete post which has been sitting here in draft for a while.  Plenty more have written more cogently at length on this topic.  So I’ll stop here and leave it to, for example, Sangeetha Pillai.

Tristan and the beautiful people

June 21, 2015


On Saturday night to the SSO’s Tristan und Isolde, conducted by David Robertson.

I have always found this a difficult opera to approach.

First is to do with the story: there are a few such works, such as King Lear and Otello (the play more than the opera), which you know from the start are not going to end up well, which I have to drag myself to with an anticipatory heavy heart. Tristan is one of those.

Second is to do with the context and the concept. I think I am a bit over romantic love, and I am especially over romantic love evangelized by a man who dumped his own wife and made a bit of a profession of going for other men’s. I know that is very old-fashioned of me. Further, though romantic love may be a good means of getting people to latch on to one another, I’m not sure what sort of a predictor it is of long-term happiness. That’s more who is kind and considerate; who does the washing up; who takes the garbage out. Oh, I forgot. I’m sure Cosima and Richard had people to do those sorts of things for them. (Maybe Minna was a bit of a nagger on that front.)

Look, it was good. Almost necessarily so because it is a great work. (To explain: usefully deployed when speaking to friends who have been involved in performances one has just heard and ask you afterwards “How was it?”, I mean by that a piece that is worth hearing/seeing for itself, regardless of the standard of performance – within bounds.) Contrary to my original plans, I shall go again, and I will listen again when it is on the ABC “Classic” FM tonight or when it is subsequently streamed on the internet. (There is an oboe entry in Act III that I want to check in the score.)

[checked – link in anticipation of streaming, still to come Monday am]

Tristan Act III

But I do have a beef with the concept.

The problem is: what to do about an opera in concert, especially (but not so especially, because large orchestral forces apparently now mandate a concert performance or none at all for Wagner) by a composer who proclaimed the Gesamtkunstwerk?

David Robertson has had three goes in Sydney now. First was The Flying Dutchman, with the digital images projected on a sail behind the stage. Second was Elektra, with some dancers on the stage and a certain degree of dramatization by the singers. This is the third, which has reverted to the projected images on a sail-like screen masking the organ which looks rather as though it has been recycled from the Dutchman.

Such images can contribute a lot, and together with lighting and other atmospherics can lift things way above the rather academic sterility of a concert performance with everybody dutifully following the text in their programs.

In the first act I was distracted somewhat by the whirring of the fans of the computer operating them, mere centimetres from my ears in the seat behind. This cast a bit of a shadow over my experience of the first act. I just couldn’t hear soft pizzicato bass sounds and the opening of the prelude was masked by the local white noise. Fortunately, I was able to move away. That’s a beef with management for selling me the ticket without warning and pretty personal to me and them.  Now I’ve got it off my chest we can move on.

My real beef was the use of models to depict Tristan and Isolde. You can get an idea from the picture at the head of this post, pinched from Peter McCallum’s review in the SMH.  The picture captures the moment when, dejectedly, the dead Tristan/Lance Ryan left the stage (which is why the image of Tristan is obscured). I found them almost jejune – like the use of similar models rather than singers in Opera Australia’s posters in recent years – and also quite distracting. I had to look away.

Perhaps some of my discomfort was because I’m not really accepting the dramatic premiss as I mentioned at the start. Arguably there should be a focus on Tristan and Isolde since the whole point of the drama is that they are focused so very much on each other. Part of the problem for me was that their beauty seemed (inevitably; it always is) too much of the here and now. From time to time when there was a reference to greetings from Isolde, she would say something that looked very much like “Hi.” OK, it could have been “Heil dir, Sonne” (OK, wrong Wagner) but it didn’t look like it. The style, for me, didn’t fit.

These images also detracted from the work of the singers, once again placed by Robertson at the rear of the orchestra. A conductor is necessarily an egotist and it may be argued that the orchestra is the true hero of Tristan [and Isolde], but to reduce the singers to tiny figures beneath superhuman projections really rubbed that in. If the problem of a concert performance is that the singers can no longer act, a solution which seems to deny almost any possibility of singerly acting is to me the wrong way to go.

Weak at the knee

June 16, 2015

Owing to an injury to my knee, I’m less mobile than usual just now. D has been driving me in to concerts in the city.

Faced with the various road closures and public transport disruptions associated with the Vivid Festival, I chose to drive myself in and park in the Sydney Opera House’s double helix carpark for the Sydney Symphony’s concert titled “My Country, My Life.”

If you book in advance on the internet it is $4.50 cheaper, by the way.

The car park was full of families with strollers going to Vivid, and though I was early, I had to go right to the bottom (it really is a “Tiefgarage”) and up again a bit before I found a spot.

As I came out of the lift from the car park I met an orchestra member with whom I have a speaking acquaintance – struck up only recently at a piano recital when he recognised me from our days outside concert halls as members of the smokers’ club. That he struck up a conversation at the recital I put down to my being on crutches: this is a bit like having a dog or possibly (I wouldn’t know) a child when it comes to provoking conversation.

“You might want to leave at interval,” he said.

It wasn’t clear at first whether that was intended as a reflection of his taste or what he thought mine might be – maybe a bit of both.

The program was:

DVOŘÁK Symphony No.7
SMETANA The High Castle from Má Vlast
MACKEY Beautiful Passing – Violin Concerto
SMETANA The Moldau from Má Vlast

On one level I think he meant simply that the “big finish” (ie, the Symphony) was in the first half. Wouldn’t one want to go home after it? As we spoke further (there was plenty of time and I wasn’t moving fast) it emerged that he wasn’t all that keen on the Mackey (though he conceded it to be well written) and a little dismissive of finishing the concert with “The Moldau” – “a piece Czech orchestras do on tour as an encore.”

As to the order of the halves, I agree with him. I would have rather left the concert with the exaltation of the symphonic finale resonating within me than the popularism of the Smetana, well-played though that undoubtedly was.

On the other hand I liked the Mackey more than my orchestral acquaintance seemed to. To be fair, he did make the point to me that it was a piece with a program. With that program in mind (Mackey’s mother’s “good death” – lucky her) I found it quite rewarding. There were some muted strings towards the end for which I am always a sucker.

Maybe I am becoming more receptive to such stuff than I once was, on account of my present infirmity, my age and the age of my parents’ generation.

Anthony Marwood was the violinist. David Robertson conducted.

Robertson is in town for a sustained period. I expect that’s been lined up to allow time to prepare Tristan und Isolde, scheduled for 20 and 22 June.

So it was that the next Friday I fronted at the SOH to see David Robertson conduct with the SSO’s Brangane, Katarina Karnéus, as the soloist in a concert titled “Summer Nights.”

Vivid now over and its crowds dispersed, and D out of the country, I got myself to the courtesy bus which waits at one end of Circular Quay station to transport less mobile attendees to the Opera House now that no public buses run there. It is a good service though the steps up to the bus must be a bit tricky for some of the clientele.

It was a pleasant surprise when my onetime history lecturer, J, and his wife, G, also boarded the bus. Happily, J always remembers the course in which he felt I did particularly well rather than the course I took the next year where he got a bit semiotic and which proved a bit beyond me. About 15 years after I took it (probably coinciding with a pre-retirement clearout of his office, I now realise) he even posted me the course materials from a later year of basically the same course as the one I had done well in. (We didn’t have “course materials” when I went through – we had to buy, borrow or occasionally photocopy books and articles for ourselves.)

We parted at the SOH as they were off to the preconcert talk in the northern foyer. This was too many steps for me. I had a snack at the Bistro Mozart to accompany some non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.

And so to the concert. The program was delightful:

HAYDN Symphony No.31 (Horn Signal)
BERLIOZ Les Nuits d’été (Summer Nights)
SCHUBERT Symphony No.4 (Tragic)

My Australia-Ensemble-going companion, P, complains that not enough Haydn is done these days. In context, I suppose she has Haydn’s string quartets most in mind (nobody grieves very much over the neglect of his baryton trios), but on the strength of the SSO’s performance on this occasion I’m inclined to the same view about the symphonies.

The problem is that Haydn wrote so many symphonies: even if the SSO did two a year it would take more than 50 years to get through the lot. That is a bit of a straw-mannish way of putting things. It is not necessary to play every symphony, but there is a lot of good stuff there.

It just makes you realise how much recordings and radio have crowded the repertoire. There is these days so much (well-known) music which, from simple numbers of other contenders rather than any particular esoteric or extravagant musical forces, we can only rarely hear live.

Still [going on a bit, now, I know] I’d be happy to hear more Haydn symphonies from the SSO, and not just (in fact especially not just) London symphonies. I especially liked the bright HIP-ish violin sound at the outset (the size of the orchestra beefed up a bit to match 4 modern horns). I liked still, but less, the last movement – a rare example in Haydn of a last movement based on variations. Rare for a reason, I’d say. Not because the variations were bad, but because his more exuberant finales are better. (OK, there is the Farewell Symphony but that’s a special case.)

The Berlioz is another example of a work very well known in recordings and often broadcast, but not so often heard live here. The issue here is probably that big-Berlioz crowds out little or medium Berlioz. It was great to hear it.

I would like to hear from the SSO more non-Symph-Fant Berlioz, and not just overtures. What about The Death of Cleopatra?

Having mugged up on the text furiously before the concert began, I glanced from time at it in the program booklet. I feel it is a waste of a live performance to keep your head buried in the text to slavishly follow it.

Afterwards, my neighbour, a European student visiting Australia, asked me surprisedly “Could you follow the words?” I gathered she didn’t have a very high opinion of Katarina Karnéus’s French. I’m not sure or even convinced KK’s French was totally Gallic, but she projected the gist (which was all that I was after and which I told my neighbour was all I could or sought to follow anyway) very well and over a very wide vocal range – it seemed at one point to go right down to an E below the stave.

The Schubert 4 was another rarity on the Sydney concert stage. Predictably, I enjoyed the second movement the most. Predictably because it is a slow movement (could there also have been some muted strings?) and also because my subsequent research reveals that it is most people’s favourite.

I met J and G at the courtesy bus stop but in the end we did not travel back to Circular Quay together. The bus had just gone and J wanted to strike out on foot to catch the train. Instead I found myself talking to Ph, to whom I had been previously introduced by my concert-going acquaintance Co. Once again, the crutch was a great conversation starter, especially when I disclosed that I had a knee problem. Ph revealed he is about to have a total knee replacement after an unsatisfactory partial replacement. We swapped notes about medication and surgeons. More generally, he reflected “That’s the thing about getting old.”

That’s all very well for him to say. Ph must be at least 10 and more like 15 years older than I.

We also discussed the upcoming Tristan. Ph said that Co said to him: “Go to see it twice. We’ll never hear it again in Sydney.” So he is going to both performances, as is Co.

I hope time is on my side for that one, because I have only booked to go once.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63 other followers