Archive for July, 2009

From today’s news

July 21, 2009

1. Don’t taser the suspected petrol sniffer carrying a suspected fuel container. He may catch fire. In which case, I suppose it is just as well that the man in question was running away from police.

2. From this report:

An unborn child has become the second swine flu-related death in Queensland.

Palm Island mayor Alf Lacey said a pregnant 19-year-old woman lost her 36-week-old baby at the weekend because of swine flu complications.

At first I thought it odd that news like this came from a mayor. On further reading, I see why. We all know about the terrible state of indigenous health in Australia. So it’s not surprising that it should show up in vulnerability to swine flu, and talking about it fairly enough has a political component. Hence the mayor. There is also something else odd about the above extract which I think I should leave my few readers to spot for themselves if they choose.

Luxury life

July 19, 2009

Last Saturday to hear the SSO with Victoria Mullova and Donald Runnicles, Brahms violin concerto and Strauss Symphonia Domestica.  I’ve really left it too late to be able to say anything either accurate or intelligent about this occasion. VM and DR both made a good impression.

During the week, an interlude of uncharacteristic luxury (there is a gfc, you know).

On Wednesday, to Aida.  D is going away before our otherwise scheduled date so I found him a seat earlier in the season (supplies were limited) and on the day picked up a (for me) marginal seat on the end of row M in the stalls. I was told this was the last seat.  Judging from the state of the house, that was possibly true, at least of the seats which were to be sold.

It is directed by Graeme Murphy. I know why they brought him in. They thought: spectacle! colour and movement! Turandot! Graeme Murphy!

I’ve always had mixed feelings about GM’s production of Turandot.   I have mixed feelings also about Aida.  Both require spectacle and pomp which are difficult to achieve on the Opera Theatre stage .  They require it because in each opera the spectacle, principally of the might of the state (or in Turandot, the oriental despot by his princess), is the counterpoise to the love drama and the force against which the love heroes struggle.

Because this Aida is an Opera Conference production, Murphy has also had to conceive it to fit the capabilities of the least of the theatres to which those productions may tour.  I wonder if this in some way at a level of sheer technical necessity lies behind his use of the “travelator” at the front of the stage rather than, for example, a revolve stage.  Quite frankly, it’s not an easy brief.

I share some of Sarah‘s reservations about the pomp and grandeur scenes.  They’re inventively done but the invention involves an element of ingenuity which at the same time leaves everything looking at times a bit like a parody of grand opera at its slightly shabby clunkiest.  The last act was better but I expect that even at the grandest opera houses it always is, because it is inherent in the design of the work.

Dongwon Shin, our Radames, was clearly struggling (though quite well) with vocal indisposition.  He’s obviously a good singer – you could tell that from how nevertheless he managed to nail the last high note in Celeste Aida. I don’t blame him from bailing out at the second interval.  He had to be able to come back and sing the role again. His replacement (whose exact name, I, like others, did not catch) did his best and quite well in the circumstances. I am next going on 8 August, so whether I hear DS on that occasion depends on what Opera Australia means by saying that he is Radames “until 8 August” and that otherwise it is (without time qualification) Rosario La Spina.

It’s clear that the public wants to see Aida. It’s odd then that it isn’t done more frequently in Australia.

Perhaps it really is because it is difficult to do. As I’ve said, there was lots that was ingenious about the production; Claire Rutter Tamara Wilson sang Aida at a level which in Sydney we certainly cannot complain about, though Michael Lewis’s appearance as Amonasro definitely raised the stakes so far as witnessing someone really at home in the style and knowing what to do with it.

Anyway, I’m going to see it again, and I hope next time to be more moved by it – I have certainly been more moved by this opera than I was on Wednesday, when the overall effect was mildly dispiriting – however much, of course, it remained a great work. D gave it two-and-a-half stars.

On Thursday, a further night of luxury (even at two and a half stars, Aida remains incontrovertibly a luxury) with the first night of Manon Lescaut. This is Puccini’s first big hit. It’s a bit of an odd opera because, spanning the action of a novel, it relies on you to join the dots between the episodes shown on the stage.

The production was cast pretty much at Opera Australia’s top level. If I hadn’t already gone on at more than adequate length about Aida I might try to say why the result in ML was reassuringly satisfactory in the way that Aida was not: I suspect a lot of it came down to a production which attempted comfortably and securely something which it actually could achieve.

The performance was also billed as being dedicated to the memory of former Australian Opera musical director, Edward Downes, and there were leaflets to that effect on the armrests. I thought it might have been possible for something to have been said at the end of the performance. I don’t know exactly how it filtered through the musical folk-memory-sphere to me but the message I’ve always had is that Downes was very “well-respected” (the quotes because that was the actual phrase which instantly came to mind and I have also seen something like it in print) for what he achieved when in Sydney in the early seventies. I suspect this was transmitted with a certain emphasis because of the decided lack of respect he was shown when the time came to welcome Richard Bonynge back with Joan Sutherland.

Wanderer writes eloquently of the first Australian season of Jenufa, which we owe to Downes. This I also saw, albeit at a more tender and differently impressionable age. The ticket was my collateral gain from the divorce of some friends of my parents, which goes to show that there are few clouds which do not have a silver lining for someone.

Megaphone litigation

July 17, 2009

I have written about the sad case of Dr Angus MacKinnon before.

Since then, the judgment of Acting Justice Patten has been overturned by the Court of Appeal, which has ordered a new trial.  This was the outcome MacKinnon sought.

It’s clear from today’s column by Richard Ackland in the SMH that Mr MacKinnon and his lawyers are now looking to be paid without the need for a trial at all.  Here’s the final passage in that article:

BlueScope is now going to the High Court, seeking special leave to appeal. Among the grounds advanced by the company’s lawyers is one that says, “the trial has already involved considerable judicial time … The costs incurred are over $15 million. Intervention by this court at this stage could have the effect of avoiding a retrial.”

One interpretation of that submission might be: “Whatever the Court of Appeal says about the trial judge’s flawed reasons, we’ve spent enough money on this, and now we think it’s time to turn the tap off.” (1)

Five formal settlement offers were made in the case between 2002 and 2006 (three from Mackinnon’s lawyers and two from BlueScope).

The talk around Phillip Street is that BlueScope could have got out of it for a settlement of $2.5 million all up, including costs. This would have left the plaintiff with about $800,000 clear. (2)

Instead, on it plugs.

Keddies partners funded close to $1 million to run the trial and appeal. The firm says it will continue to fund the High Court appeal and any retrial. (3)

About $2 million in plaintiff barrister fees are outstanding. In all about 18 barristers have been involved. (4)

The Mackinnons sold their home to put in $300,000 for disbursements. They now live with Mrs Mackinnon’s parents at Clovelly with two young children.

Perhaps, like Dickens’s Jarndyce and Jarndyce, one day someone will run of out money and the whole thing will stop. (5)

Angus Mackinnon says: “Basically, I would like an apology. That’s what I would like.” (6)

I don’t think this is Ackland’s finest hour.  Taking up the points flagged above by the numbers in parentheses:

  1. That’s very cute of Ackland to say “one interpretation of that submission might be,” since it allows him to put forward an interpretation without adopting it.  And Ackland himself should know that the point of the submission is that, if the Court of Appeal was wrong and the High Court found that to be the case (and so restored the verdict at trial) this would save a lengthy fresh trial.  It’s an argument to say why the High Court should give special leave (the High Court does not hear every appeal to it)  and not an argument as to why or why not the Court of Appeal was right or wrong.
  2. “Talk around Phillip Street” is again rather cute.  It always has to be someone talking and you can tell from the tenor of the whole article that it’s Dr MacKinnon’s lawyers (who clearly have a lot hanging on the outcome of this trial) who have been making the most noise round Phillip St.  Note that the offer mentioned (which must have been before the trial) involves $800K to Dr K and a cool $1.7M of costs and expenses, and of course Bluescope would also have been up for its own legal costs.  How did Keddies manage to spend or incur $1.7M costs on a case which they were prepared to settle for only $800K?
  3. and (with 4)
  4. Unsurprising that Keddies, having sunk so much money in the case, plan to stick by it to the end.  They must stand to gain even more if successful (as well, of course, as repayment of the $1M sunk by them into the case – assuming that to be actual cash and not one of those talked up contributions in kind comparable to much of Australia’s international aid program). 
  5. Ah, Jarndyce!  The legal columnist’s equivalent to the High School debater’s Hitler.   Jarndyce is the classic dispute over a fund which consumes the fund itself because one side at least gets its costs as trustee out of the fund – that is, it is a dispute which ends up eating up what was argued over.  The problem with this case is the other way round: as the thing gets bigger and bigger there is a more and more enormous costs tail wagging the dog of the substantive legal dispute.  This is no fund – it is a liability which, at the end, will be owed by one side to the other, albeit a liability which Dr MacKinnon, if he loses, is unlikely ever to pay. 
  6. Puhlease!  I very much doubt if Keddies is investing all this money just for someone to get an apology.  If Angus MacKinnon only wanted an apology, I bet he could have one tomorrow.  But there’d still be the question of who should be paying all the legal costs incurred in fighting over his claim to monetary compensation.

Paddington Reservoir park

July 14, 2009

Reservoir at night

Encountered on Sunday night when going to the Chauvel to see Wake in Fright. The park on the site of the old Paddington reservoir seems to have been completed for a few months now. With so much running water, I still couldn’t spot a toilet. Public authorities hate providing them these days. To paraphrase Cat Stevens, “Where will the children pee?”

Alhambra on Oxford St

Unreliable historian

July 14, 2009

I am worried that I have been stalking Charles Waterstreet, Sydney criminal defence barrister, writer, man-about-town, film producer, etc etc.

I have been reading his columns from the Sun Herald with interest tinged with fascination.

He’s not shy with details of his life when it suits him, though he’s also had some unwelcome exposure to the public gaze. You can read the whole grisly tale of the ravelling and unravelling of his and Kate Fitzpatrick’s financial affairs here (link broken, try here), at least so far as the details of it concerned the Court of Appeal.

Waterstreet is a great raconteur. He can tell a tale against himself, and there are plenty.

One crops up in the course of his unburdening himself over the sorry tale of his falling out with his landlord, none other than disgraced prosecutor (for once the over-worked “disgraced” seems unavoidable), Patrick Power.

Waterstreet starts off by saying that he hates moving, though you can’t help noticing that he’s nevertheless moved rather a lot of times.

Waterstreet had dealt with Power professionally in a case where Waterstreet’s client confessed to him but in which she was nevertheless acquitted because she was an “unreliable historian.” That is, she was someone whose confession was inaccurate so as to suggest that her confession was not a true confession.

At some point, then, Waterstreet moved in as Power’s tenant.

But in the meantime Waterstreet was also supposed to have provided a reference for Mr Power at his sentencing. He had drafted it, but not sent it.

If only he had! Those who provided references were subsequently pilloried, defamed and ultimately (at least sixteen of them), relatively handsomely compensated by the Daily Telegraph (to the tune of about $30K each). A little unreliability of his own meant that Waterstreet missed out.

But back to the stalking. Contemplating going to see Wake in Fright at the Chauvel, I was almost deterred from going by the fear that a favourable reference by Waterstreet in Sunday’s paper might provoke a rush on the cinema. I need not have worried – there was plenty of room at the 6.15 session anyway.

I was too young to see this film on its first release but old enough to hear my parents and my father’s mother (who went to it with them) talking about it. It’s been hard to see since. It’s now been digitally restored.

Waterstreet was old enough to see it, but instead (he tells us) spent that season lounging around Patrick White’s place (another Fitzpatrick connection) and behaving badly (liquor, bikes, airguns indoors) while White and Lascaris were away for six months. Ah! Old queens; young men: the susceptibility! I bet White was disappointed in Waterstreet in the end, but that’s an easy bet in White’s case about almost everyone.

All of which is ironic on a number of levels, including that Wake in Fright has its own Twybornish moment.


July 9, 2009

On Tuesday night to see the Bell Shakespeare’s production of Pericles at the Drama Theatre. This was billed as a co-production with the percussion group Taikoz. I don’t know if this is always the case, but I noted that the membership of Taikoz was differently billed for Sydney and the ensuing Melbourne season.

It was a wet night and there didn’t seem to be anything else on at the Opera House. This felt odd on the way in, and even odder after as we forlornly (as in forlorn hope) retreated in the wind and rain from the vast and almost dark mass of the House.

The production has received almost universally mixed reviews. One advantage of this is that it is difficult to be disappointed.

As to the “concept” of the production (exoticism; references to I think Japanese theatrical style which went beyond the music, which eclectically went as far as Gamelan pastiches), this snippet from Wikipedia has subsequently caught my eye:

Adrian Noble’s 2002 production at the Roundhouse (his last before leaving the RSC) stressed diversity in another way. Responding to critical interest in Orientalism, Noble accentuated the multicultural aspects of the play’s setting…. In an echo of the music played during the interval of the 1619 Whitehall performance, Noble featured belly dancing and drumming during the intermission of his production.

Others claimed to appreciate the shift to quality in the second half, which is usually thought to contain a higher proportion of William S’s own work. I personally found it the other way around. The first half, while clunky, was made bearable by the narrative mode and in particular the added attraction of Taikoz’s live music which was an integral part of the production (and, proportionate to the number of actors, a substantial part). In the second half, the plot just seemed to stretch on and on and towards the end the musical elements became attenuated. Intense longeur was punctuated by forced guffaws. Forced, that is, by necessity. We were there. There was some silly and funny business (funny voices; funny walks; smut). We’d paid our money. We might as well laugh. Well, that’s how I felt.

Because this is the Bell Shakespeare, everyone except for Marcus Graham in the title role played multiple parts.

John Gaden had the most of this. He can be funny (as another has commented) reciting the telephone directory, but I felt that he was hardly taxed by a kind of hammish comedy which he can lay on by the yard as a funny old gent. He is capable of more interesting work than this. He did carry off a very silly hat with memorable aplomb.

Everyone’s had sport with Marcus Graham, who at the end of the play, whether by reason of grief or age, all of a sudden bungs on a totally new accent. Some have mentioned Olivier, others Peter O’Toole as the original: I thought it was Edward Fox (in his apparently type-cast from life blimpish ancient mode).

It’s early in the season, which probably means it is too early to judge the effect of reviews from the attendance, which struck me as pretty healthy for a Tuesday night. I was also struck by the proportion of the audience which seemed to be made up of groups of women rather nicely dressed up for a night at the theatre. I didn’t spot any equivalent male groups.

On holiday

July 7, 2009


D and I have made a country jaunt. We didn’t manage to get away until almost 2pm on Saturday, so only ended up getting as far as Maitland that night, though we then drove into Newcastle to catch the night life, or at least to have dinner out.

On Sunday we drove as far as we could into the Gloucester Tops (via Dungog) and stayed the night at Gloucester. On Monday we returned to Sydney via Seal Rocks and Raymond Terrace. I can’t say that Raymond Terrace lives up in any way to its prominence on destination signs and maps.

Pictured above, D’s first experience negotiating a ford. Pictured below: the sideways view from the passenger window of another ford.


A propos recent critical commentary on Opera Australia’s Acis & Galatea, I don’t accept that the pastoral should be abandoned or worked against in a production just because modern opera-goers are unlikely to be able to throw a sheep.