Archive for August, 2018

Rondo alla Turca

August 31, 2018

OA Turk In Italy

Opera Australia’s winter season ends tomorrow.

Earlier in the month, I went to the first night of Rossini’s The Turk in Italy. Last night, to celebrate D’s return from China the day before, I went again with D.

Aside from the celebration, I wanted to take D because I enjoyed the first night so much. I thought that D had not seen it in 2014 when this production was first staged.

I should be more careful in my practice of adding “with D” in this blog because in this I was mistaken. Still, no harm done.

Simon Phillips’ production is a slapstick one, set at a ‘fifties beach resort. I don’t think I have given such a high ratio of my attention to the stage business over activity in the orchestra for a long time. When I saw it the first time and again on the first night, there were lots of laugh-out-aloud moments, and not a few beach-themed jokes, such as when all of the gentlemen in the chorus wrestled with their deck chairs in the overture.

I’m not so convinced with the Ockerisms in the surtitles or a few other touches. Surely this is a vein well-mined in Phillips’ previous production of The Elixir of Love where at least it was integral to the whole production. Here it was at odds with the wonderful Italian set.

The problem with a joke can be that once it is told, you’ve heard it. One such joke is in the last act, when there is a masquerade party. In this production, all the men, bar one, turn up (entirely by coincidence) as Elvis Presley and all the women as Marilyn Monroe. The joke does not sustain the scene.

At interval I overheard Robert Gay, lecturer about town (and father of the now more famous Virgina) saying that he enjoyed it more the first time he had seen it and I wouldn’t be surprised if the joke-told factor accounted for that.

One piece of business, involving a phallicly-placed and shaken champagne bottle (far from the only phallic joke of the evening) and popped cork, did not survive the first night. The “cork,” in reality thrown by one or other of Selim (the Turk) and Fiorila landed in the orchestra pit and struck the principal viola. People could have been hurt; more likely, valuable instruments could have been damaged; but it’s also a matter of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. – the musicians hate it when that sort of thing happens. You’d have thought that would have been sorted out in 2014. Instead next time round Stacey Alleume as Fiorila wrenched the cork off and stowed it in her cleavage. A bit lame if you had seen the original and a pity that they couldn’t have mastered throw to the rear of the stage. The problem is I suppose that if it has gone wrong a repetition would be unforgiveable and so a risk not to be taken.

Stacey Alleaume is being touted as the next big thing after her appearance earlier this year in The Merry Widow. Next year she will have a number of prominent roles. I wouldn’t say she yet fills the shoes of Emma Matthews, the 2014 Fiorila.

Last night didn’t get quite such a warm reception as the first night. I guess that’s the first night “home crowd” advantage. Nor was it as full as it deserved to be. Could it be people are less willing to pay top dollar for something so slight and silly?

(picture above Keith Saunders; filched from Fairfax)

Homeless express

August 22, 2018

D has been in China for the past four or so weeks seeing his family.  I have been practising living alone.

I can watch as many Nazi and WWII-themed programs as I wish.

Instead, last week I watched some of SBS’s three-part “special” Filthy Rich and Homeless.  This is devised to expose the predicament of homeless people by sending a group of “celebrities” out on the street for a “Prince and the Pauper”-like experience as a street person/homeless person.  Last year it was filmed in winter in Melbourne; earlier this year in summer in Sydney.

I lack the patience to watch these programs all the way through.  Much of the voice-over narrative is tedious and repetitive; the media-stuntism (not unlike those real estate one-day makeovers) involves a wearyingly synthetic drama.  Even if I am being manipulated for a good cause, I bridle at it.

One luxury which I lazily and too often avail myself of is to get D to drive in to the city and pick me up.  In his absence I’m thrown back on the unreliable and infrequent evening trains.

At about 8.10 pm last  Friday (relatively early for me), I walked out to Martin Place from my place of under-employment dressed in my usual soft-fabrics winter commuting garb: beanie, scarf, jumper, shorts, woollen tights, sneakers. As  I had some library books to return to Fisher Library on the weekend, my bag was humped high and full on my back.

A man  in his own soft-fabric winter ensemble heading in the opposite direction gave me a thumbs-up sign.  I realised straight away that he had come from the collection of vans parked at the Phillip Street end of Martin Place which provide nightly assistance to the homeless, and that he assumed I was headed there.

This is not the first time I have been so recognized.  Once I was offered a cup of coffee by the good folk from St V de P.  For some years I was on chatting terms with a homeless man, P.  I’m sure P only came up to talk to me because he assumed I was in a similar situation

At the time, P was living on the street, sometimes staying in shelters.  His story was that he had moved out of home because he couldn’t agree with his wife on how to treat his teenage son (he wanted to be stricter).  I’m sure it was more complex than that and probably had a mental health element to it as well. Nevertheless  P struck me as pretty resilient and resourceful.  P filled me in on aspects of the street life: the night commutes to the furthest reaches of the public transport system for the sake of a warm sleep; places to have a shower, keep your stuff.  I haven’t remembered all the details.

When P first told me he was going to be assigned a flat I wasn’t sure whether to believe him but eventually that happened.  It’s possible that there were some false starts on the way.  I also saw P move up a kind of social level in the street-sector as he got involved in helping to collect the surplus lunches from cafes for distribution in the evening.  I know it gave him pleasure when, one day, I asked him for and he gave me a cigarette – not that our acquaintance was ever based on him cadging them from me (I don’t think he ever asked me for one).

I haven’t seen P for a year or so now.  Hopefully that’s because he’s settled in his new, housed, life.

Over the years, the provision of assistance on Martin Place has grown.  Whilst the choice of spot is sometimes supposed to be symbolic (the head office of the Reserve Bank is there, Parliament House is just up the hill: this is the “big end of town”) I expect it has more pragmatic origins.  People sleeping on the street gravitate to the city because the city-scape offers shelter; the inner city has a concentration of helping facilities and there is also some safety/amenity in numbers.  Food charity is available from the unsold food from the city lunch trade which is collected from many city outlets and then distributed in the evening.  Phillip Street itself has little through traffic and the area of Martin Place just uphill from it is a convenient spot for people to gather and vans to park.

Judging from the crowd of people and vehicles, Friday is a big night.  This is understandable because the luncheon trade then stops until Monday so it is time to stock up if possible.

I had nothing to eat at home.  I toyed with putting my downmarket garb to account.  I know I would not have been turned away.

That was only toying, of course.  One aspect of the SBS program that I was really uncomfortable with was the celebrities faking indigence and receiving charity as a result.  Did the producers and camera crew ensure that any such falsely-received benefits were returned/repaid?  I went down into the station to catch a train.  Great!  It was due in 3 minutes.

The platform was crowded.  Then I realised that a sizeable part of the crowd was men (it was only men I detected) who had come from collecting whatever they had to collect and were now going to wherever they had to go.

I got into the same carriage as three of them.

Two were together.  They sat upstairs.  I sat downstairs.  I saw them get off at Central.

The third sat in the end compartment, surrounded by chatting groups and couples heading to a night out.  With greasy hair, bulky rough clothing and two bulging carrier bags (a toothbrush and toothpaste kit poking out of one) he seemed a very lonely figure.

We both got off at Sydenham, where he changed for the Bankstown line.

Opera Australia, Sydney, 2019

August 15, 2018

Breaking news.

The brochure for next year’s season thumped into my letterbox today.  Atypically Australia Post excelled itself. According to OA’s plans this was a day early.

There are:

10 mainstage operas.

Of these:

5 are new productions, to Opera Australia at least.

2 of these are brought/bought in:

Wozzeck coproduction with Salzburg et al (6 performances)

Il Viaggio a Rheims –from the Netherlands and Denmark  (5)

The other 3 are running together in July-August using the new digital technology featured this year for Aida:

Butterfly (23)

Anna Bolena (8) and

Whiteley – new work by Kats-Chernin, libretto Justin Fleming (6)

The revivals are:

Boheme (this has been on sale for a while because of the NYE start) (20)

Turandot (22)

Werther (6)

Salome  (7) and

Marriage of Figaro (10)

By my reckoning that means the 3 operas by Puccini account for 65 of 113 mainstage opera performances.

An eleventh opera, Ghost Sonata (Reimann, 1984) billed as a chamber opera, has 4 performances at the Scenery Workshop at the Opera Centre in Surry Hills.

There are 2 concert performances of Andrea Chenier in the Concert Hall in August  featuring Jonas Kauffmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek (if she can make it)

There are 2 different productions of West Side Story – one on the Harbour (26) and the other in the Opera Theatre (56) sandwiched between the main winter season and an October/November coda (Viaggio, Figaro) – together making up 82 of 195 music-theatre performances (stretching things just a bit to include Chenier in that).

There are also some recitals.

Within the constraints that Opera Australia has set itself, it is a reasonable effort by them. That is a pretty big proviso. The long-term trend, especially re musicals and Puccini, is saddening.

Still, I’m particularly looking forward to Wozzeck, Werther, Il Viaggio (a silly yearning) and Salome and welcome Anna Bolena, billed as the first of three in a Donizetti  “Queens” cycle.  I’m not sure if I’ll go to all three video productions though I can see reasons why each of them has been selected for that mode of production.  Andrea Chenier for me will be a question of whether I can accept the price premium.

A crowded week

August 14, 2018

Motivated by a certain necessary frugality I have cut back on my attendance of live performance this year. And that’s after I had already cut back last year.

I ought to spread things out – like spreading jam thinly but evenly – but now and again, like the IXL Apricot Conserve of yore, there are lumps which defy such discipline.

Things started, relatively impromptu, when D and I headed off to a play, Dresden, at the Kings Cross Theatre on Saturday 30 June.

I had never been to the KXT before.  It is a neat, if cramped, theatre squeezed into the Kings Cross Hotel.   I last paid attention to the building during my taxi-driving youth.  Then it was the distinctly unenticing (to me) Oz Rock Cafe.  Now it seems surprisingly civilized, at least early in the night – especially the rooftop bar.

The play, by Justin Fleming, a kind of lapsed-barrister-about-town, develops a premiss which joins Wagner and Hitler via a  moment when the young Hitler obtained a copy of the score of Rienzi from the then rather old Cosima Wagner.

This is surely fictional, though in the tradition of the best historical romance.

According to my own wanderings in Wikipedia, it was not until 1939, some years after Cosima’s death,  that Hitler received this (I’m guessing, from Winifred).  This is presumed to have perished in the bunker or surrounding circumstances in 1945 and has at any event disappeared.  The performing parts from the original performance in Dresden had been kept there and suffered a similar fate the year before.  Together with its non-admission to the Bayreuth canon this means that the text of the opera will be forever unsettled.

The other “hook” for the play is a claim by an early friend of Hitler that Hitler attended a performance of Rienzi in 1906 or so and much later (by now Fuhrer) said “that’s where it all began.”   The unlikely source of Rienzi is a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.  Its titular hero is a popular Roman leader who leads a revolt against the (Holy) Roman Empire.  Ultimately “the mob” turns on him and he dies in a conflagration.

The play was a diverting working out of parallels between Hitler’s and his idea of Rienzi (the character) and parallels or divergences between Wagner and Hitler.

The overture to Rienzi was not played much for many years after WWII because it had a close association with the National Socialists who used it as a kind of anthem.  It featured quite a lot in the play.

By now it seems to have been rehabilitated.  A snippet featured in on-air promotions for this year’s BBC proms.

I’m not a one for visiting all of the sins of the Nazis on Wagner, but I felt that Fleming lets Wagner off a bit lightly.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the play and admired the way that an awful lot of exposition was so nimbly handled.

Wagner was played by Jeremy Waters.  He has come a long way since he took the title role in a musical version of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole for which I provided the instrumental accompaniment in about 1991.

As we left the punters were lining up for a Keep Sydney Open party.  We were leaving just in time.

The following Monday I went to Angel Place to see/hear Simon Trpčeski in recital (ABC recording at this stage still online.) The program was:

  • Grieg, Holberg Suite
  • Mendelssohn, selected Songs without words; and
  • Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherezade (transcribed for piano by Paul Gilson).

The last pianist to perform a chunk of Songs without Words in Sydney or at least the last I heard was Alicia de Larrocha in 1995.   There came a point in Trpceski’s selection where the song-like form (always the tune in the treble) began to outwear its welcome; the “Hunting” song felt overplayed.  I was beginning to suspect that these are pieces which are more fun to play than to listen to, when  he finished off with a brilliant performance of Op 67 No 2.  This has a serenadish kind of accompaniment figure which turned out to be a foretaste of some of the effects to come in the Rimsky-Korsakov in the second half.

This was brilliant, and the mystery of why the piano was tuned so brightly at the top was solved by an amazing conclusion.

On Tuesday I went to Lucia, already noted.

On Wednesday, to the SOH to hear the SSO with Stephen Hough playing the Rhapsody on a Theme.  That was the main thing I went for.  This was preceeded by Ross Edwards’ Symphony No 2, and followed in the second half by Mendelssohn’s Reformation symphony.  I think I must have been having a bad Mendelssohn week because others enjoyed that more than I did.

On Friday to Rigoletto .

On Sunday we didn’t go anywhere; looking back through my emails I can see I sent one from the office on Thursday at 11.57 pm so I guess I was fitting in a bit of work somewhere along the way.