A week in Sydney

We have had a visitor, JK, a Korean long-term resident of Shanghai, for the past week.

What do you take a visitor to in Sydney?

It depends, of course on the visitor. D’s reluctance (which I share to a lesser extent) to rise early also proscribed some choices.

We were lucky that the weather turned out so well.

We went for walks at Coogee (lots of black cockatoos in evidence as they have been a number of times I have ventured that way this year) and Balgowlah Heights. (If we’d got up earlier I would have suggested West Head.) We strolled briefly around Kiribilli en route to Balgowlah. Another day JK and D went to Bondi and Lady Jane Beach. Another day (whilst I worked) D and JK went to the Blue Mountains. They failed to see any kangaroos – you need to go further or rise earlier than that. The word is that Euroka clearing, in from the Glenbrook entrance to the Blue Mountains National Park, is the place for that near Sydney, but D would not have relished the few kilometres of dirt road.

Another night we dined Korean at Strathfield. I wouldn’t count this a tourist highlight, though on the night we were there there was a striking sight of some hundreds of rainbow lorikeets restively roosting in the half-dozen or so trees in the Piazza on the southern side of the station.

I suggested a ferry to Cockatoo Island, where the Biennale is on, but I couldn’t get them to do that. I do think that a ferry trip is an indispensible part of a visit to Sydney.

Oxford Street and 357 “Sauna” (we call it “Sanwuqi” in honour of its large Chinese clientele) on Sussex Street were on the agenda. I don’t claim to cut a good figure in either context, and left that to D and JK.

Lunch at the Sydney Fish Markets was essential. When you go there, it’s clear that this has a particular attraction for East/North Asians. JK had heard about it from friends who visited us back in January. JK could probably have done that more than once, time permitting.

JK also wanted to eat Australian steak. We did that once at home and later he managed this dining out. We wheeled out a few of our domestic cooking set-pieces.

There was some shopping. D and JK rode the monorail.

On Saturday (his last day) JK finally determined to sally forth on his own. His destination was The Rocks but I took him first to Newtown, where I was going to Campos Coffee to stock up on supplies. JK loved Newtown. Even if it is more subdued and Singaporified than it was a few years ago, the eclectic mix of people (and numerous gay couples on the street to JK’s delight) was a lively sight for him – one which we take for granted given that it is our local “street.” Later JK rang us from the Rocks and said that he preferred Newtown and was returning there for the rest of the afternoon.

Of course, we went to the Opera House. We sat in the front row for “Pearl Fishers” on Monday night. This was JK’s first opera and it was fun to hear D’s explanations of various matters, including the differences between French and Italian operas. It’s great in the front row but in a way you don’t really get the true theatrical experience there of sharing something with the rest of the audience. Of course, this has its pluses as you don’t need to share their coughs and conversation either.

PF really is a sweet opera, however creaky its plot is or slightly wonky the “opera-within-an-opera” concept of the production is. Despite its reputation, it has quite a lot more than the one tune, even if this looms large. The chorus was great, Henry Choo was well cast as was Nicole Car (apart from the coloratura in the first act): Christopher Hillier had stepped up for most of the run in the face of the indisposition of Andrew Jones and did quite a good job as Zurga if just a little under-voltaged in the final act trio and when darker baritonal intensity was called for.

On Saturday night, I went with the Dulwich Hill gang to hear the SSO with Nicholas Angelich play the Brahms Piano Concerto No 1, followed by a slightly superfluous Dvorak Carnival Overture and then Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances. This was a program put together with showpieces for Tugan Sokhiev, who has also collaborated before with Angelich in the Brahms. Jakub Hrusa stepped in at short notice when Sokhiev called in sick.

It was good that the SSO had gone to the effort to get Natalie Chee in as concertmaster in Dene Olding’s absence – he’s lately been in Cairns for the chamber music festival but he doesn’t seem to have had much time for the SSO for a while.

I was a bit disappointed with the Brahms, but that is probably because my expectations of the work are unrealistically high. My disappointment started with the very opening notes of the piano part, which quite lacked the lilt I had hoped for. I liked Angelich (who really needs a more up-to-date publicity photo) when he was soft but not so much when he was loud, and there didn’t really seem to be much of an inbetween. Some of the orchestra-piano ensemble was a bit astray and shifts of mood (especially in the last movement) seemed undercharacterized. I wonder if some of this was down to the loss of the collaboration with Sokhiev – I expect this was a harder thing for Hrusa to step into than for the more obvious show-off stuff. Certainly the second-half showpieces fared better – especially the Rachmaninov, at least up to the last two or three minutes when the piece seemed to revert rather to formula.

Meanwhile, JK and D went back to Newtown for dinner and then a quiet night at home before D put him on the plane this (Sunday) morning.

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