Saturday, March 28, 2015

Opera at the (Pearl Beach) Arboretum

 Opera in the Arboretum
It was a picture postcard perfect day for the 10th anniversary of the Pearl Beach Opera in the Arboretum, something the organisers and guests knew to appreciate after the rain and storm of last year.

The sell out crowd was convivial. Everyone brought a chair and many brought a picnic. The artists were splendid, their voices soaring up through the trees.

This year there was no kookaburra in competition, though a friendly magpie swooped in low over the crowd for a closer look.

Friday, March 27, 2015

ACO and Gallipoli

ACO Gallipoli concert (from ACO website)
The latest Australian Chamber Orchestra concert, Reflections on Gallipoli, depicts the horrors of first World War so graphically that is is hard to sit through. Soldier's letters are read by two actors, one of them an Australian with Turkish background. (Congratulations Director Neil Armfield.)

The Western and Turkish musical selections accompanying the readings are inspired as is the singing of soprano Taryn Fiebig.

A series of photos from the conflict is projected on a huge screen behind the musicians and as you watch one face after the next, both allied troops and Turkish forces, you can't help remembering the diggers and their refusal to take part in the glorification of war, much to the chagrin of modern war mongers.

We are continually told that the Anzac spirit defines Australia's national identity and we  remember and revere Gallipoli heroes each Anzac day. As a recent twitter post pointed out, it is ironic that we are now told that the current crop of  passionate men who want to fight in foreign lands are a threat to us all.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Der fliegende Holländer - the movie

Pieczonka as Senta (ROH website)
The newest Royal Opera House Covent Garden version of  Der fliegende Holländer didn't get rave reviews in London but luckily I didn't read them before I saw the movie version in Sydney yesterday because, despite Der fliegende Holländer not being my favourite Wagner opera, I loved this production. The lead singers, Bryn Terfel, Adrianne Pieczonk, Michael Koenig and even the purportedly sick Peter Rose (Daland) sang their roles so convincingly that for once I was carried away by the story.

The only thing that rankled (not mentioned by the two UK reviews I read) was the drinking scene. The drunk sailors were not only bawdy but misogynistic (was this a comment on UK society?) After listening to the words of the sailors songs on the ship this felt particularly like a cultural mismatch. (I found a NZ version of the Dutchman last year similarly culturally unbalanced, with the sailors drunk in an antipodean way .... at least the Covent Garden sailors weren't vomiting everywhere.)

Perhaps the overwhelming misogyny of our times (two women are killed by partners or previous partners in Australia every week) has made me particularly sensitive. I couldn't help thinking as I listened to the sailor's song yesterday how wonderful men sound when they are praising women instead of belittling them.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Darcy and Tristan

I am watching the BBC version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice on DVD and reading the book at the same time - or actually after each episode. I find it best to see an episode before reading it as then I enjoy it without fretting that the nuances are being lost.  When I read the episode after seeing it, I enjoy all the parts have been left out of the film while admiring the inventiveness of the film makers in being able to include so much.

Today I discovered a very clever auditory device used in the DVD that of course cannot be in the book. At the end of the penultimate episode, as Elizabeth finally realises she loves Darcy while at the same time recognising that current circumstances make it unlikely that his previous avowal of love will ever be repeated, we see Darcy as she sees him and hear a few notes of the music from Tristan and Isolde. Just those few notes are enough to capture the yearning of the lovers. It makes you realise again just how clever Wagner was and just how much his music permeates our culture.

What Richard Wagner is to music, Jane Austin is to the English novel. Every word is irreplaceable; not one would you leave out, nor yet is there one that you would like to add. That is exactly what has been said about the notes in Wagner's Parsifal.

Darcy and Tristan: what a combination.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Malcolm Fraser

Malcolm Fraser via
 Vale Malcolm Fraser.

"Life wasn't meant to be easy, but take courage child, for it can be delightful."
George Bernard Shaw, popularised by Malcolm Fraser.

Malcolm Fraser, an extraordinary man, head of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister of Australia  in  turbulent times (1975-83). He stuck to his liberal values and when his party turned into a tea party around him he became one of it's most trenchant critics.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Computers are (almost) human

So you think you can tell the difference between a computer and a human?

Take the NY Times Quiz to see if you are right:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Meccano for adults

You'd never guess so many nuts and bolts
are needed to make a table!
What is it about making Ikea furniture that is so appealing? I get a buzz from pushing in the bolts and screwing in the screws. They always fit and the pieces are drilled in a way that makes it hard to make a mistake. (When my kitchen installer was flummoxed by a cupboard attachment last year and suggested drilling extra holes, I insisted instead that we demount it and try again from the beginning. It turned out that one of the pieces was upside down and that if extra holes had been drilled the cupboard swing door would not have worked at all.)

This weekend I made a little table and felt again the thrill I felt as a child with my meccano set. Meccano and Ikea furniture have a lot in common, which is probably why I keep going back for more.

Table and chair

Monday, March 09, 2015

Erik Satie played by mini-Maestros

This is a 'must watch' video. The piece is Erik Satie - Gymnopédie No.1, for those who are wondering...
Conductor at Klara Pre-school

Turkey in Music

Turkish music enthusiasts packed the Capitol Theater in Sydney last Wednesday to hear seven virtuosic 'Masters' of Turkish instruments, the Orchestra of Samsun State Opera and Ballet and several Australian guest artists play and sing.  The delighted crowd gave them a standing ovation after almost two hours of non-stop playing and singing.

Monday, March 02, 2015

David Robertson and Beethoven Nine

David Robertson presenting the
pre-concert talk
Normally pre-concert talks tell you a bit about each piece to be played but nothing much that sticks in your head for very long - at least that is my experience.

The talk on Saturday evening before the Sydney Symphony Gala concert (Berg, Bruckner, Beethoven) was quite different.

The SSO Chief Conductor David Robertson not only conducted the orchestra, he gave the pre-concert talk and it was fascinating and very dense.

Robertson spoke of the links between the pieces by Berg, Bruckner and Beethoven in a way that related it our experiences today. When he said that Beethoven wrote his Ode to Joy (Ninth Symphony) at a time when  people's rights were being suppressed and life was anything but joyful it made me wonder whether some musical genius out there is translating our current travails into joyful music.

The concert was a stunner. Soprano Miriam Gordon-Stewart sang  a heart rending and passionate Maria in Act III of Berg's Wozzeck and Simon O'Neill's tenor voice soared above the orchestra and massed choir in Beethoven's 9th. That is quite a feat in a hall with such underwhelming acoustics as the Sydney Opera House.