Archive for July, 2015

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!