Archive for July, 2012

Ring foregone

July 24, 2012

The Opera Australia 2013 Melbourne Ring was apparently sold out in the first day of general ticket sales on Monday.

Right up to the last minute, at about 11pm Sunday night, I contemplated going in to work to fax in an application which would enjoy whatever slender advantage I could secure as a subscriber before tickets went on sale to the general public for next year’s Melbourne Ring Cycle.

In the end, I stayed home and watched Downton Abbey on the PVR. Which is really only a step above saying I stayed at home to wash my hair (of which I have little).

I just couldn’t accept spending as much as I spend for a whole year’s concerts and opera (including for D) for just 4 nights just for me – bearing in mind that on top of even the cheapest possible tickets I would have to travel to Melbourne and stay there for 8 nights.

Perhaps I’m stubborn, but I also find it difficult to apply for seats, especially cheaper seats, without knowing what seat I will get, and there would be something odd about spending (my modest estimate) $1500 for a week in Melbourne (leaving aside even my presently extremely modest income lost in the meantime) and then skimping on the tickets. And to tell the truth, I find hotels anywhere, and especially in Australia, dispiriting. That was a bit of a bind really, because it’s not as if, having committed to such an extravagance as “The Ring” I felt I could spring into action to cultivate my few Melbourne acquaintances in the hope of a place to stay.

I could have flown to Dusseldorf this July, stayed with a good friend in the suburbs near Essen and taken the bus and train to an entire Barry Kosky cycle in Essen for less. And then I would also have been to Germany (and seen my friend, honestly!)!

So shoot me: travelling to Melbourne isn’t as alluring to me as all those ads with the big balls of wool are intended to suggest.

I think the accommodation was the killer. That’s a funny Sydney-Melbourne thing isn’t it, that I have more and better friends (possibly also richer) in Germany than I do in Melbourne?

Had I lived in Melbourne, I would happily have signed up for three series at the cheapest price and accepted whatever seat I could get, despite the cast (strong at the top but not so top-dollar at the tail), the scratch orchestra and the conductor (though I hope he rises to the occasion). I could even manage standing room, if there was any.

Complaints by others reported here.

I should laugh at myself: it’s a kind of little-match-girl moment except that I’ve strolled past match girls (figuratively; literally, the homeless Buddhist on Macquarie Street) on my way to my seat at the opera plenty of times, and I’m sure I’ll get over it.


July 21, 2012

The winners for this year’s Sydney International Piano Competition were announced tonight.

They were/are:

6. Tanya Gabrielian (“Janet Jackson” in honour of her outfit in an earlier round.)
5. Hao Zhu
4. Mikhail Berestnev
3. Dmitry Onishchenko (our nickname: “The undertaker” – because of his lugubrious and rather deadpan stage presence)
2. Nikolay Khozyainov (“Cherubino” in honour of his youth, his blond curls and his performance of the Liszt Figaro Fantasy which is based on one song addressed to Cherubino and one sung by him)
1. Avan Yu

As an announcement it was a bit of a schemozzle. The revelation of the various special prizes (I went to the afternoon session but was at home listening on the radio for this) was entrusted to Marian Arnold, the ABC’s announcer.

Before that, Warren Thomson, the chairman of the jury, committed a little Freudian slip which gave the game away. Making some preliminary acknowledgements, when intending (I think) to say “able,” he actually said “Avan.”

“Aha!” D and I said to each other.

However, the cat was totally out of the bag with two special prizes: the Paspaley Pearl awards for best female and male players.

The best female player had to be Tania Gabrelian, because she was the only female finalist. Then Avan Yu was announced as the best male competitor.

Hang on! Unless SIPCA has any intersex competitors, doesn’t that tell us who the winner is?

Indeed it did, though the pretence of some suspense was then maintained right up to the moment of the announcement of first and second prizewinners. Logically the outcome even as to second place was clear once we were told who came third.

Nikolay Khozyainov won the “People’s Choice” award.

I only heard half of the Mozart concerti on the radio and a bit of one from the foyer on the second night (I was at Die tote Stadt next door). D and I went to both of the C19 and C20 rounds on Friday and Saturday. If the competition depended only on these concerti (which it doesn’t), then Avan Yu’s Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini was, at least as a percentage realisation of the work in question, head and shoulders above any of the others’.

From what I heard, from those chosen for the finals, I don’t disagree with the first three places. I’m not so sure about the order of 4,5 and 6.

Back to Bruges

July 19, 2012

Tonight to the last night of Die tote Stadt.

It was an afternoon impulse.

I sat considerably further back than I did last time – in row U. It turns out that the production does work better at a distance. Nestled under the balcony, it felt a bit like being in the mezzanine level of the State Theatre.

Stefan Vinke seemed better than on my previous hearing. It may just be that, further away, I did not need to be concerned with the finer details of vocal strain, which was still (though less so) evident.

On reflection, the parts of Paul and Marie/Mariette make pretty impossible demands in a combination of German and Italianate style, though the demands are more punishing for the tenor. As for Vinke’s acting, there was still a bit too much in the first act of pacing back and forth waving his arms about or grasping the furniture.

The orchestral sound still suffered from the boominess and boxiness, but at a distance this too was less troublesome and by the third act I was largely accustomed to it.

It’s not only distance but familiarity which can lend enchantment. On a second hearing/viewing I could identify more of the patterns and recurrences. And the ending really does work. I’m glad I went again. I still wouldn’t count it as a triumph but I would say it was an estimable achievement.

The house was noticeably fuller – probably because it was the last night of a rarety – though I think I detected signs of some (mild) papering. SSO MD Rory (Prefect) Jeffes was there in preference to his own orchestra’s slightly B-grade (in the strings at least) team fielded for the Sydney Piano Competition Mozart concerti next door. At the first interval in the Concert Hall foyer I caught an improbably fast final movement of K467 from Cherubino-at-the-keyboard Nikolay Khozyainov.

At the end of the opera, the orchestra emerges [/emerged] from the bowels of the Opera House (sans their instruments) for an on-stage curtain call. There was a special presentation (announced by surtitle flash) to Aubrey Murphy, who was taking his final bow after ten years as leader of the orchestra (in fact he had already left save for this production for which he returned specially). That’s more than the SSO was able to manage on the departure of Michael Dauth, and I wonder if Rory Jeffes paused to consider the comparison.

SIPCA 2012 continued and rejigged

July 14, 2012

Since last posting on this topic, I have been to quite a bit of the Sydney International Piano Competition [not Nova Scotia but] Australia. I managed to hear in the flesh all 12 of the semifinalists though not always for both their solo recital and their chamber music performance. Except for Stefano Guarascio I heard all of them in an earlier round even if I did not catch their semifinal recital.

I also listened to some broadcasts but I want to emphasise that broadcasts give a very different impression and fall far short of replicating the experience if you are there in the flesh. You might hear all the notes but you don’t hear the tone, the true volume or, in the chamber music, the true balance. More contentiously and probably less importantly (because one might wonder: why is this relevant?) you are deprived of any visual element. If you are actually there you can also assess the way that the performer holds the attention of the audience. That shared attention is an important part of the live performance experience and also, if you are being evaluative, a kind of double-check on your own response.

The six finalists to play with the orchestra have been announced.

Next Tuesday and Wednesday they will play Mozart concerti. Those will be K 467, 467, 453 and 453, 491 and 467 respectively.

Next Friday night and Saturday afternoon, they will play their nineteenth and twentieth century concerti. This is [correction: was, when first announced – see below] the roster:

Friday 20th July, 8.00pm (19th/20th Century Concerti)
Tanya Gabrielian – Tchaikovsky 1
Nikolay Khozyainov – Rachmaninov 3
Dmitry Onishchenko – Rachmaninov 3

Saturday 21st July, 2.30pm (19th/20th Century Concerti)
Avan Yu – Rachmaninov – Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini
Hao Zhu – Rachmaninov 2
Mikhail Berestnev Rachmaninov – Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini

That’s rather a lot of Rachmaninov, isn’t it? And it’s not as if the sole Tchaikovsky really breaks the pattern.

I would have preferred to have seen in the final one or both of the two Italians, Guarascio and Giulio Biddau, not just because they were down to play Liszt and Brahms 1 respectively (aside from Gabrielian they were the only semifinalists who did not choose Rachmaninov), but because those choices are a proxy for something more. They are both more interesting pianists (to me, anyway) than at least two of those who have been chosen.


There has been a rejig of the order: Berestnev has been moved to the first program and Khozyainov moved to the second program. This avoids two Rachmaninov 3s on Friday and two Paganini Rhapsodies on Saturday. The same could have been achieved by swapping Berestnev or Yu for Onishchenko – if Yu had gone rather than Berestnev this would have avoided 3 K467s on Tuesday.

This gives an advantage to Khozyainov, particularly in relation to voting for the “People’s Choice” prize, since that voting is by those who are present on the Saturday.

In my opinion it would have been better if things had been left as they were.

Eye-rolling moment

July 11, 2012

In today’s SMH, in a story spruiking Lyndon Terracini’s bridge building to a western-suburbs football franchise, he is reported as saying:

I got [ Newcastle Knights coach] Wayne Bennett to come and speak to the orchestra, which he did, about the way to prepare for a performance.

The way a singer prepares for an opening night is very similar to an athlete. Bennett told them they were all professionals and they would know ahead of a performance if they could play their best. If not, they should stay at home.

Die tote Stadt – 2

July 10, 2012

On Saturday with D to see this. It is an opera written in 1920 or thereabouts by Erich Korngold, who subsequently had to leave Europe for the usual reasons at that time and ended up (as we all know) in Hollywood.

We sat in row E. I mention this not only in homage to David Gyngell’s reviews in the former publication Opera Opera but because of the experiment of piping the orchestra (and also the chorus) in electronically through speakers.

Row E was too close for this. The orchestra sounded like film music – not because (as OA have emphasised as a marketing hook) Korngold was subsequently a film composer, but because the music came through speakers placed in the front of the orchestra pit (the stage also came forward a bit over the usual pit). Sometimes this was effective, mostly for lighter woodwind scoring, but orchestral choirs in the alto register in particular came across with a really “canned” sound; I also thought the violins were miked too close so that the sound never really gelled. Sometimes the sound seemed compressed; other times there was a boominess of the bass which reminded me of when you have the “loudness” button turned on. There was not the space and air around the sound – including the brass choirs (though trumpet solos, for example, were fine) that a live orchestra has.

Further back, I would have probably been grateful for the increased volume in comparison to the inadequate sound that escapes from the pit unless (as I do, normally) you sit right up close and maybe the unreality of the sound would not have been so noticeable.

Another feature of the “sound production” was that offstage chorus was piped in with “surround sound.” Along the way, the temptation was yielded to to beef up the volume to improbable levels, particularly with an offstage children’s chorus for the “Corpus Christi” scene in the final act.

People often like to say that film is like opera (the successor of the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk etc etc). I don’t think this comparison works in both directions: opera is not like film. In the Corpus Christi scene it may just have been that we were too close (and you can be too close to the screen at the movies too) because there was something weird about a stage full of silent supernumeraries whilst the protagonist alone was singing. The much-vaunted filmic effects (various projections) didn’t amount to all that much.

The killings, when they came (there were two) were pretty risible. I think the problem was that, despite surrealist touches, so much was presented in a superficially naturalistic way that when it didn’t measure up to that standard there was an incongruity.

The part of Paul, the grieving widower, was taken by Stefan Vinke. He has an international reputation in this role, which made some of the vocal strain that he showed all the more surprising. It must have been something to do with his approach (which has been described as “strident” in relation to this role) and the vocal writing. It was most notable in the first act (which goes almost straight into a pretty high gear) and in some return of the same musical material in the last act. It certainly wasn’t that Vinke lacked stamina, because he most definitely had that, or strength. And the part is extraordinarily demanding. I can’t think of any singer on OA’s local roster who could have handled it. As for Vinke’s acting, D thought that he was not helped at all by his costume; I thought the direction was the problem. It seems Paul is meant to be gloomy and morose and morbid and buttoned-up and religious, but there needs to be a more striking way of presenting that than just having him do almost nothing on the stage.

Cheryl Barker as Marie/Marietta had more to do and didn’t suffer from these acting limitations, aside from looking a little matronly when she and Vink tripped over (as in tripping hither/thither, not fall-and-trip) the staired bridge over the Bruges canal. Jose Carbo was a treat.

The Act II dancing made the stage look even more pitifully small than usual.

The opera is a bit slow to get going (which is what makes the high-octane music in the first act a bit odd) but by the end I did feel despite some creakiness along the way that I’d travelled an emotional journey and in the closing moments I could cast aside my reservations about Vinke’s earlier awkwardnesses. I’d count it an adventurous choice by OA rather than a triumph.

I’d be keener to see the opera again if either I were feeling richer or there were a big enough orchestra pit and stage to do it justice. Melbourne, maybe?

Alternately, while we’re in this operatic neck of the woods, what about Krenek’s Johnny Spielt Auf?

SIPCA 2012 begins

July 7, 2012

The tenth Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia [ie, not Nova Scotia] has started.

This competition has punctuated my adult life since I attended the first one in my final year of school. It makes me think of those fairy stories where the fairy returns every seven years, though in this case the period has settled to 4. Another myth which comes to mind is the Nietzschean eternal recurrence, but I’m conscious that my perspective changes. When I first went, the competitors were all older than I. Now they all seem so young. Conversely, some of the regulars in the audience seem ageless.

My friend, P, with whom I went to much of the very first competition, told me that she recently showed her son a picture of me taken from about that time. He was shocked. Tell him (I said) his time will come.

I have been to one whole session and two half sessions of round 1. So far, in the sessions that I have attended, there has been more piano playing than music. It’s not that, I’m sure, all of the players are not capable of playing music which would give any hearer pleasure, but competition conditions (including the syllabus requirements, the silence between pieces and the 20-minute slots) and the requirement to “game” the competition can militate against that. Mostly this is because they are either playing too many notes (to show that they can) or because they are playing something which is too hard for them also to allow a margin for the beautiful. I’m told (I wasn’t there for it) that there has been at least one spectacular “bomb” and I saw one player severely afflicted by nerves.

The whole thing is being broadcast on ABCFM. Guy Noble, one of their commentators, describing himself as a lapsed pianist, gave voice to a feeling that I myself have when he remarked on the different experience of the competition for those youngsters for whom it is all new and exciting and those at the upper age limit for this (and many other) competitions for whom it is a final throw of the dice.

Why am I going? There’s something a bit compulsive about it – like watching series 2 of Downton Abbey.

I plan to go to more. The longer programs in the later rounds will, I hope, give more of a chance for the music. And despite my reservations about the competitive element, the event has its own cumulative Affekt.

Nice to know that somebody cares

July 2, 2012

– even if not enough to save a link or keep a bookmark.

WordPress gives me a chance to see what web searches bring people (or, I suppose, bots) to my blog.

One today is

“die tote stadt sydney reviews stumbling melons”

It’s probably too late to say to that person, but just in case they [gender-neutral singular/plural] or others check back, I’m not going to Die tote Stadt until next Saturday the 7th.