Archive for November, 2016

Porgy and Bess

November 27, 2016

On Saturday, which is still tonight, to the SSO’s performance of “The Gershwins'” “Porgy and Bess.”

It should have been a triumph but instead much of it was an ordeal because of the extraordinarily heavy-handed approach to amplification of the (many, gifted, visiting) principal singers.

If it weren’t for the price I had paid, the unlikelihood that I would have another opportunity to hear/see this work, and the large number of people I would have had to climb over, I would have walked out long before interval or gone home at half time.

Had I done so, I believe I would have been fully entitled to ask for my money back. Even having stayed, I resent having been held hostage by my regard for the work and still feel very much short-changed and, yes, insulted.

I would have preferred no amplification at all of the singing. I can see a case for it for some of the dialogue. But if there is to be amplification, there needs to be some discrimination and proportion. In the first half, at least, there seemed to be none. All vocalists were brought up to a kind of super-forte, and a generally unremitting loudness prevailed. That is the insult – to us, the audience, to the work and to Art.

There were long faces in the foyers at interval and quite a few people did not return.

It is possible that some words were spoken at interval. Actually I know words were spoken at interval and likely at an earlier stage. It is possible they were now heeded.

Things were marginally better in the second half and there were even a few precious moments of remission or near remission from the electric wall of sound or noise.

For the sake of those going to the remaining performances, I hope there is some further moderation and discrimination in this direction.

Which will be too late for me.

As to how things came to be as bad as they were (in the first half especially tonight though the second half was far from out of the woods), for the time being words fail me but I believe there needs to be some pretty serious soul-searching by all responsible at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, starting from the top and definitely including the people at the sound desk. What were they trying to achieve? Do they know? Do they have any idea?

I guess I may rewrite this in more moderate terms later but right now I am very very disappointed.

Damn statistics

November 20, 2016

Poisonous little story in The Australian by Rick Morton, purporting to show “data clusters” for over-representation of people born in certain overseas countries for receipt of the dole, carers payment, old age pension and invalid pension.  Does this by comparing the percentage of recipients of each benefit as at 1 July 2016 by country of birth (newly obtained DSS statistics) with the percentage of Australia’s population by country of birth in July 2015 (ABS statistics).

Source of this presumably is a Jeremy Sammut from the Centre for Independent Studies.

There may well be such clusters, for all sorts of reasons (eg: refugees suffering mental health problems after long-term detention) but I doubt that, without some adjustment for the age of each group, it is possible to reach very meaningful conclusions.

At least one comparison cries out for further explanation/comment:

Australians are more likely to be on welfare than New ­Zealanders living here as permanent residents.

Kiwis make up 2.6 per cent of the population but are under-­represented in all the major ­welfare categories.

Two observations: (1) ABS definition of “permanent residents” is not the immigration definition or one which translates into welfare eligibility;  in particular, (2) no-one should be surprised that New Zealanders are under-represented given the treatment for welfare-eligibiity of New Zealanders who came here after 26 February 2001.

In my opinion the story is rubbish but rubbish calculated to push all the right Oz hot buttons.  Predictable comment thread though a couple of people have taken the trouble to point out some of the obvious factual considerations.

Bartered Bride in Rockdale

November 15, 2016

On Saturday to Rockdale Town Hall to see the Rockdale Opera’s production of Smetana‘s second-most famous work – assuming Ma Vlast to be the most famous.

This is only the third time I have been to a Rockdale Opera production.

The first was Donizetti’s La Favorita in 2002. Andrew Byrne gives an accurate-enough account here .   As Byrne said, “somehow it ‘worked’, despite serious limitations in several areas.”

D always cites that production and my going to it as proof that I am mad (for opera).

The second time I went alone.  It was G&S and it was a bit of an epiphany: amateur G&S, like four-handed piano works, is more rewarding for the participants than for the spectator/auditor.  The fact that others obviously enjoyed it only made it worse for me.  I can quote the croaking chorus from the Frogs of Aristophanes and much more beside from the G&S corpus but I now have the anti-zeal of the apostate.  Even professional G&S is these days a stretch for me.

Back to Smetana and last Saturday.

In many respects, a trip to Rockdale Opera is like a trip back in time, to an earlier, more participatory era.  A more detailed account can be found in Leonie Bell’s history of the company.

There are some trends.

First, the chorus.  Even in the 1990s David Gyger commented that its numbers were decreasing as its average age increased, and that seems still to be the trend.  I imagine it is hard to gather together a group of amateurs who will gather for all the necessary rehearsals with no greater ambition than being in the chorus.  It is a big commitment.

The orchestra, described by Andrew Byrne in 2002 as numbering about 20 and “valiant” is now even more valiant, at about 12, made up of strings 2:1:1:1:1 (vln 1:vln 2:vla:vc:cb) and one each of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and percussion.

The town hall has been renovated.  The main noticeable improvement for the audience is that the rear portion of the seating is elevated on risers.  As Leonie Bell’s history recounts, the renovation of the Town Hall was preceded by a disaster where the entire accumulated costume stock of the company, mostly sewn by its long-time director, was by misadventure destroyed as asbestos-contaminated.

Tickets, $30 in 2002, are now $45.

It is obvious that the company has a very loyal and longstanding audience – by no means confined to relatives of the performers, though possibly made up of former performers and their friends.  At interval I had a momentary double-take when I heard a very familiar voice: Silvio Rivier, SBS personality and long-time ubiquitous voice over man, is an alumnus of the company.

The main principals acquitted themselves well, sometimes in the face of some adversity.  I most liked Blake Parham as Vašek, the “village idiot” (in the original – there was a thin attempt to veneer this in this productionn with a marginally less politically incorrect approach) to whom the bride is initially proposed to be married.  His part is vocally not the most demanding, but what made his performance more enjoyable to me was that, because his numbers incorporate his “idiotic” stutter, they were rhythmically better articulated than some of the other numbers.

In her history of the company, Leonie Bell writes:

In 1992 the 24 piece orchestra was significantly smaller than the 53 members of the 1940s ensemble. In the nineties they were paid students and retired professionals, earning $25 per rehearsal call. If critics complained occasionally of a lack of cohesion in the orchestra, no doubt this was a result of the company only having the finances to pay for two rehearsals of three-hours each.

Hopefully the amount has gone up from $25 since then, but I expect the principle remains the same, save that the orchestra has now become about as small as it could possibly be.

On Saturday, in any number where the tempo was not a brisk one, it seemed as though conductor Julia de Plater was scooping up the orchestra – especially the strings – to gather it/them forward into and from just about every beat.  Archimedes famously said that he could move the earth with a firm place to stand on. In this case, each beat became a kind of wobbly morass.  That the players were not far on from sight-reading probably contributed to this.

This is the adversity I referred to which must surely have made life hard for the principals.

Things were better when the music became brisker, more “rhythmic” or more familiar to the musicians. The Comedians’ Dance was even exhilarating, though I could have done without the children in the chorus punctuating this with party blowers.  (Memo to director: this is opera and the orchestra is playing cheerful music.  Enough!)

There were dancers, acrobats, children.  Everyone had a good time, some younger up-and-coming singers had a chance to get experience on stage with an orchestra. No animals were harmed in the production (the bear was played as Kevin the Koala in a chugger suit).

The company has been through some lean times.  They are working towards their 70th anniversary in 2018. I hope they get there and beyond.

Usually the company alternates lighter works with a more substantial work. The Smetana counts in this scheme as a substantial work.  When it comes to the more substantial works I do very much wish the company could find a bit more money for the orchestra – for either more rehearsals or even just one or two higher class players.  Of course both would be nice.

I suppose that really means it would be better to go on the second weekend when the orchestra will be on their fourth and fifth reads-through.

Next show is The Gondoliers. I’m happy to let the Plaza-Toros manage in my absence with the short-form band.



Sunset on Canterbury Road

November 12, 2016


Businesses all gone, apparently empty, this building roughly opposite Canterbury Station looks unlikely to make its 2020 centenary.

Meanwhile, across the road, nest to the station, a monster rises:



Lit up for aerial-drone spruiking photography:


And more to come:



November 10, 2016


Secret commissions and bribes

November 9, 2016

Matthew Gill Doepel was chief technology officer for the Catholic Education Office in Parramatta Diocese (CEOP) from 2008 to 2013.  This is a big organisation – it effectively (or not, as you will see) administers 56 primary and 22 secondary schools in western Sydney as well as four early learning centres. It employs over 6,000 staff.

This was a period which coincided with a fairly massive roll-out of IT to schools, including the Commonwealth-funded “Digital Education Revolution.”  A lot of money was spent, and CEOP was probably awash with it.

In fact there was enough money sloshing around for Mr Doepel to solicit and receive $750,200 in bribes from one supplier in the period 2008-2012 (at which point Doepel and the supplier appear to have fallen out) and $566,200 from a second supplier.  I say “enough money” because presumably the suppliers expected these amounts to be more than covered by profits they could make in return from CEOP.

Somehow, eventually, CEOP got wind of this and commenced proceedings, in 2014, against Doepel.  They also claimed against the principal of the first supplier and the supplier, though that claim was settled.

Last week the CEOP’s claim against Doepel, who by then had gone bankrupt, was determined by Justice Beech-Jones in Trustees of the Roman Catholic Church for the Diocese of Parramatta v Doepel [2016] NSWSC 1566.

I am afraid I am showing my age a bit, because what I recall from law school as being a rather tricky problem in relation to bribes was treated by His Honour as now being comfortably resolved.  Where an employee has received a bribe (the technical term here is “fiduciary” but surely anyone worth bribing in a commercial context is a fiduciary to the extent of whatever they are being bribed for), you can either recover the bribe (or “secret commission”) from them, or you can claim compensation for the loss you have sustained as a result of their acting on the bribe.  Obviously you will only do the latter if you can prove that your loss is greater than the bribe.  But unless the bribers were also taken for a ride it ought to be – if you could only prove it.

In this case, CEOP elected to claim the bribe in relation to the second provider.  In relation to the first supplier, CEOP claimed compensation for loss, measured by what the first supplier had been able to overcharge it.  CEOP did this by having an accountant analyse how much higher the supplier’s profit margin was with Parramatta Diocese as opposed to other dioceses, and inviting the court to conclude that this was the measure of the overcharging permitted by Doepel conniving with that supplier.

It’s a bit of a broad brush but (to mix metaphors) Beech-Jones took the bait.  It helped that there was no contradictor – Mr Doepel did not turn up to defend the claim, and nor did the first supplier need to, having already settled.  The court held that the first supplier had overcharged CEOP and Mr Doepel by taking the bribes had caused CEOP to lose over $6.3 million dollars.

Pause for [not] audible intake of breath.

First observation – staying away from a losing case always gives the other side a free kick – other examples posted about on this blog include Kathy Jackson and the HSU and young Andrew Farley and the Mrs Mickle music centre at Orange High School.

Second observation, if the first supplier, EDC, really overcharged the CEOP by over $6.3 million, then EDC and its principal, Mr Lowy, got off pretty lightly by settling with CEOP for only $75,000.

Thirdly, what most astounded me, though maybe it shouldn’t have, is that the CEOP has managed to keep pretty quiet the fact that it was so spectacularly ripped off by its employee. Google searches of selected keywords by me have so far drawn a total blank on any press mention of this affair.