Archive for November, 2019

The big finish

November 29, 2019

sso tix

That’s the title of an ABC 4 Corners program about someone who seems to be increasingly unremembered by the Sydney Symphony powers that now be. Otherwise you could take it as a reference to the end of the orchestra’s 2019 season and David Robertson’s chief conductorship.

It’s also a reference to the  2  more times I have  left at the Opera House Concert Hall before it shuts down for two years’ worth of improvement.

I listened tonight to the live broadcast of John Adams’  Harmonielehre (the second half of the American Harmonies program and Robertson’s farewell): it’s fascinating to be able to follow the score online.

The kaleidoscopically-shifting patterns in the first and last  movements cry out for some substantial enhancement, if on HIP (Historically Informed Performance) grounds alone.  Oh well, you can’t have everything.

I guess the unusual 5pm time is to allow for some kind of post-concert party for which my invitation seems to have got lost in the post.

I’m  looking forward to the Mahler (almost pre-Mahler in many ways)  next week, even though I’m not so crazy on this tendency to serve up big but not actually very long works as the entire program.  And continuing the theme from the title, there is a bit of a link between the unremembered one and Ms Young.

Door 13 is the best door – rear stalls, keyboard side. There must be something I should do as I leave next Saturday – kiss the lintel? – to signify my hope of a return in due course.



The man in the iron mask

November 19, 2019

A man has been found guilty  and imprisoned in Canberra in secrecy so complete that the prison administrator (if you can believe this) did not even know what he was in gaol for.  He has now been released after what could have been about a year inside or maybe more (it’s a secret, you see).  Likely as not he is still on parole. His identity and details of his crime still cannot be published.   See [2019] ACTSC 311.

I find this pretty disturbing. The judgment mentions  that orders were made about the conditions of the man’s imprisonment with the man’s consent and it seems likely to me that he pleaded guilty to whatever the offence or offences were.  But is his consent (if given: someone claiming to be him on twitter says not) the end of the matter?  What about open justice? What agency is being protected from embarrassment by these secretive acts done in our name?

Postscript: more here.

Opera Notes

November 8, 2019

1. Viaggio

I went to Il viaggio a Reims again.

My friend Ub also came.  She had a lot on and told me she would be leaving at interval because of an early start the next morning. I was shocked.

I toyed with asking Ub if, supposing  she really was going to leave after the first half (I urged her not to),  I could arrange for a frugal friend to take her place.  It is just as well I didn’t because at interval, enthused, she announced her intention to stay.  At the end, exhilarated,  she declared: “I feel like I’ve just been at a coronation!”  She also said she would always follow my advice in the future, but she was only joking about that.

I still can’t say I found Viaggio as funny as many of the audience seemed to – especially so far as much of the laughter seemed to be in response to the characters from the surrealist pictures. To me, laughing at an extra in a costume is a bit like clapping the scenery.  But apart from the odd moment where I felt embarrassed by others’ mirth, I did really enjoy it.

Just a note about standards: notwithstanding a “courageous” High D on the first night (better if a little more cautious on the second), Shanul Sharma is a rising star.  I still cannot imagine he is on the same level as Juan Francisco Gatell, who took the same role in this production at the Netherlands Opera (and who so impressed me as Don Ottavio recently in Rome).  That’s no skin off SS’s nose – it’s Europe vs the Antipodes.

2 The Marriage of Figaro.

To a revival of the David MacVicar production from 2015.  The conductor and many of the cast also returned.

I used to think this my favourite opera. On the strength of this performance I am no longer sure.

I have thought about this since and I think it really comes down to: too fast (other than Barbarina’s little aria and the passage in Act II which I complained about in 2015) and too slapstick.  The set for the last act does not help – acres of open space and recitative owing to the excision of the generally-excised arias.

I missed Taryn Fiebig, who has been a bit of an institution for OA as Susanna.  Justine Nguyen wrote in Limelight  of Stacey Alleume as Susanna that “A magnetic stage presence, the soprano gave a dramatically nuanced portrayal of a character that’s often played as just perky or sassy” but to me perky and sassy are pretty much the first words that come to mind about SA’s performance, though I wouldn’t say just so.

With the slapstick (Paulo Bordogna’s characterization notably broader) everyone was in such a hurry to have a good time that there was an premature outburst of applause in Susanna’s “Deh vieni, non-tardar” (corresponding to 4:52 here) – why wait, indeed?  I know that can just mean a few ignorant people but mostly this sort of thing doesn’t come from nowhere.

To me there should be an almost Shakespearian Rom-Com (but more than those two hence the invocation of the bard) emotional turning in a sixpence in this opera.   I didn’t feel it – for me the Com drove out the Rom and the extra Bardish bit – maybe you could call it heart.

3.  Lyndon Terracini

has had his term as artistic director of Opera Australia extended again, to the end of 2023.  Celebratory interviews have been given.   This interview with him published in 1998 in The Australian set the tone for Terracini’s public outings long ago: talking himself up by talking others down. I can only guess that the movers and shakers on the OA board don’t notice it because that’s the way movers and shakers are.  (This went nowhere, obviously.)

Terracini told Limelight Magazine  “I’ll always argue that pieces like West Side Story are much better pieces than something like L’Elisir d’amore.”    There is something pathological about his combativeness, even if by “always argue” in this case he means advance a proposition rather than pick a fight.   Terracini has also said that in future all new OA productions will be “digital,” which is dispiriting.


Niqab and standing for the judge

November 5, 2019

Back in February 2017  I published a post about a 2016 trial in which Judge Balla of the District Court refused to allow one of the plaintiffs, Ms  Elzahed,  to give evidence with her face covered by a niqab.  In the face of the ruling about how she could give evidence, Ms Elzahed did not give evidence with the inevitable result that the plaintiffs’ case failed.

Judge Balla was also reported to have  made some remarks about Ms Elzahed’s failure to stand for the judge. This is a customary courtesy but a failure to observe it is also now potentially an offence under s 200A of the District Court Act.

Since then there has been a string of further decisions relating to this and to Ms Elzahed’s subsequent prosecution and conviction for her failure to show Judge Balla due respect by refusing to stand when the judge entered or left the court.

I have updated my original post with short details of the published decisions, but given that it is unlikely that anyone will be looking at such an ancient post, I’m also making it a freestanding post.  These are the subsequent related decisions.

Moutia Elzahed & Ors v Commonwealth of Australia and State of New South Wales [2017] NSWDC 160 (30 June 2017)

Judge Balla made a gross sum costs order against the plaintiffs of $158,706.18.

R v Elzahed (No 1) [2018] NSWLC 21 (20 February 2018)

On the second day of the trial of the charges brought against Ms Elzahed, Magistrate Huntsman dismissed a challenge to whether the prosecution had been validly brought. (This related to whether the prosecution had been validly authorised.)

R v Moutiaa Elzahed (No 2) [2018] NSWLC 13 (4 May 2018)

Magistrate Huntsman dismissed a constitutional challenge to the validity of s 200A and convicted Ms Elzahed of 9 offences under section 200A of the District Court Act.  On 11 July 2018 Ms Elzahed was sentenced to 75 hours of community service.

Elzahed v State of New South Wales [2018] NSWCA 103 (18 May 2018)

The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal against Judge Balla’s decision not to permit Ms Elzahed to give evidence wearing the niqab.

Elzahed v Kaban [2019] NSWSC 670 (7 June 2019)

Justice Harrison dismissed Ms Elzahed’s appeal against conviction of the s 200A offences. He stood over the appeal against sentence for further consideration.

Elzahed v Kaban [2019] NSWSC 1466

29 October 2019 – Justice Harrison granted leave to Ms Elzahed to appeal against the sentence and dismissed the appeal.

Half in love

November 2, 2019

I guess it’s the time of year.

With easeful death, in case anyone is wondering about the title. Actually my feelings  are more ambivalent than that: it’s not that I’m indifferent but at present it is more others’ deaths than my own which preoccupy me and I’m not really in either an aestheticizing or religifying mood about it.

Children and party-goers have been on the streets in Halloween costumes.  Is this a third, anthropological way?   I get the impression that nobody can quite decide whether any close weekend will do – which shows that the roots of the festival are still fairly shallow here.

I’m passing on a performance of the Duruflè Requiem by the choir of St James King Street as part of a service this Saturday for All Souls.  If it were just the music, I’d be attracted, but I’m getting a bit over the religion.  Anyway, friends have taken pity on my home-alone status and invited me to dinner.  How often does that happen these days?

But I did go last Friday night to hear the SSO, conducted by Donald Runnicles, perform the Faure Requiem (the advertised headline) and (in the first half, and more importantly, to me) Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration and Four Last Songs.

My neighbour for these to my left seemed a bit wound up.  Having coughed quite liberally to clear her throat after taking her seat, she glared at me quite wildly when I essayed a much more modest (and mouth-closed) precatory throat clear.  Maybe her glare was equally a warning shot, just to make sure.

She had arrived at the last moment and betrayed her age by the difficulty she had in sitting down.  I’d say she was well into her eighties.  After the last (death referencing with the twittering piccolos) song, she sat still.  The two women to my right who had clapped between each song were impatient: “We have to get to the toilet.”   My neighbour was still slumped in her chair, eyes shut.    The man to her left and I exchanged glances.

It occurred to me that she might have timed things: “Wie sind wir wandermuede – ist dies etwa der Tod?” but I dismissed this as melodramatic, as indeed it was.

Neither my neighbour to my left nor the “bathroom”-intent women to my right returned after interval.

Then we had the Faure.  There were some great low organ notes.  Runnicles took a massive but mild approach.  That’s sort of making a virtue of necessity with a big choir and orchestra.  I think I prefer the smaller-forces more direct version, but that did not stop me enjoying it.

This post has been gestating for a while now.

On the actual night of Halloween I escaped any trick-or-treatery by hiding out for a night at The Marriage of Figaro. Afterwards Circular Quay was  abuzz with revellers disembarking from ferries.

For some there would be an extra trick because Sydney Trains was running trackwork on the Bankstown line.  We were advised over the PA to take a train to Central via St James and Museum  and change there to the Eastern Suburbs line before taking a railway replacement bus at Sydenham.  This did not strike me as the best advice since it is much easier to change to the Eastern Suburbs line at Town Hall.

In the wake of my recent European jaunt I have wised up to the possibilities of the smart phone and avoided the train replacement bus nightmare by taking a train to Petersham and then catching a 445 to Canterbury. OK,  I guess this really means that I just took my own replacement bus at my own minor additional expense.   Once I would never have dared something like that because public transport in Sydney was (and still is) so infrequent that you would have to be a bit crazy to add the extra speculative element of a change of mode – especially if you thought you might rely on a bus running to timetable.  Buses still don’t run to timetable much but it can be less of a stab in the dark now that more real-time information is available – at least when the system works.

Meanwhile, the seasons are moving on.  Jacarandas are just passing their Sydney peak.

On Wednesday I heard my first Christmas carols – some a capella numbers sung by a flash crowd of women on Martin Place Station.  It turned out they were a group drawn from the Endeavour Harmony Chorus who had just been performing at the NSW Primary Principals’ Association Conference at the Sofitel Wentworth Hotel.  On the train they filled about half of the downstairs half of a carriage.  A man prevailed upon them to give a further impromptu performance of “I am woman” which he filmed on his phone from the steps at the end.