Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ring Cycle holiday

Watching Harry Kupfer's Ring Cycle: what could be a better way to spend the days between Christmas and New Year. I have a Wagner-loving friend staying and we are spending our afternoons with the Ring, . Our mornings are spent at the local library or drinking wonderful coffee (Allpress) at the Soul Food Cafe. I can't think of a better recipe for a holiday.

It was such a pleasure in particular watching the Kupfer Rhinegold. I could feel the images of the recent Melbourne mardi-gras Ring (that I had so disliked) being overwritten in my brain ...

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hidden treasure: sculptures in Wanganui

Figures at a gate : Sculpture s at the Wintergarden
I had a Christmas picnic in the Virginia Lake Wintergarden, a magical spot you could so easily overlook  as it is hidden behind the building at the top of the hill. It is definately worth a visit if you are in the area. There is an art school in Wanganui and it is leaving it's mark on the town. The walls at the local backpackers are hung with local artwork and I am sure many others are as well.
Face sculpture

Pukekos and ducks forage in the 'swamp' area at Virginia Lake

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Wanganui Christmas

Black sands at Wanganui beach
On a cold and very windy Christmas Day a picnic on the beach in Wanganui (after delivering visitors to the airport) was not such a good idea. It was so windy you could hardly stand up. Black sand blown horizontally along the beach soon filled your socks and the small family scampering about on the water's edge were soon forced back into their car.

Virgina Gardens Wintergarden
Virginia Gardens looked more promising. On the hillside near the car park stands an art deco structure that looks for all the world like a toilet block but walk inside and you find the Wintergarden,.a small fantastical wonderland.

Masses of red flowers in a well tended greenhouse, a fern house and sculpture garden. There was hardly a soul there on Christmas morning so all the colourful chairs were empty. It was the perfect spot for a picnic.
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

'tis the season

 Seasons greetings from the hills of Taihape!
Hills behind Taihape at dusk

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hunterville church

The small town of Hunterville in New Zealand's north island was my mother's home town. On a hill behind the township hidden among large trees stands a red roofed church. The gate was shut but the grass is mown so it is probably still in use. There is no indication of which denomination it serves.

The photograph reminds me of an Edward Hopper painting..
Hunterville church .... reminds one of Edward Hopper's images

Friday, December 20, 2013

1920's Christening robe

Back among the roses in my Mother's garden, my days are spent sorting.

Today I found a wonderful surprise right at the bottom of her camphor chest. It is, I think, my Mother's own christening dress complete with long cotton petticoat (*see addendum). Perhaps her own children were christened in it as well. This 1920's treasure says so much about the lives of my mother's generation.

Christening robe, 1920.

Addendum: It turns out the Christening gown was my fathers. This morning I found a note in the chest that had been with the robe.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Love hearts

Is the party only for adults?
Yes it's only for adults.
Will it just be boring talking?
Yes, it will just be boring talking.
Okay, but can I have a face like yours anyway, with curly lines on the cheeks?
Yes you can. Just wait until I have finished my face then I'll do yours.
And can I have flowers? I want flowers too and a love heart just like yours.
Yes, you can have a love heart and flowers. What colour do you want them?
I want red on the outside and black on the inside. And I want red on the outside and yellow on the inside.And I want stripey lips too.
Hold still then.
Mother and Daughter

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lost Gypsy Gallery - video

The Lost Gypsy Gallery in Papatowai, southern New Zealand, is a place that, once visited, you will never forget.  I have discovered a little video about the charm of this little gallery, founded and run by Blair Sommerville.

Lost and found gallery

...and more here.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Nelson Mandela in his own words

"Tread softly
Breathe peacefully
Laugh hysterically"
Nelson Mandela
I can't put it better than the ABC: Nelson Mandela seduced audiences with his wit, then often confronted them with his observations. Take a look below at some of his most memorable quotes:
Nelson Mandela: in his own words

Such a remarkable man.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Melbourne Ring Cycle Broadcasts

Das Rheingold (Photo from ABC website)
Listen to the Melbourne Ring Cycle! Broadcasts are available for 48 hours after being aired on the ABC. Das Rheingold was on this evening.

Wonderful singing and playing ... have a listen.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Portrait of Deborah (II)

Deborah Humble: new portrait
 In Melbourne recently Deborah Humble told me she liked one of the sketches I did of her a few months ago but not the portrait that resulted. 'I think it looks like Samantha with the twitchy nose in the TV show Bewitched', she said, grasping her own nose with a comical expression.

When I painted the portrait (last winter) I was so pleased with the flesh tones that I didn't really consider whether it was a very true likeness. However, when I came back from Melbourne I decided Deborah was right - it did look like Samantha.  So I took out my brushes again and each day as I passed the painting on the easel, I changed it a bit more. Now it looks like Deborah instead of Samantha.
(Deborah has a wonderful rich mezzo voice. Listen to her sing here.)
(Photo from artshub)

Looking like Samantha
Samantha from Bewitched

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Dunedin folk

From: Otago Daily Times

The Goddess of Good Fortune must have been guiding me when I decided to go to Dunedin in New Zealand to study art. Not only is the Dunedin School of Art exceptional but the people of Dunedin are as well.  They are friendly without being intrusive and helpful without making you feel indebted (as the article in the Otago Daily Times to the right shows).  

Like many others who study in Dunedin making the decision to leave was very difficult and my time there is fondly remembered.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Richard Tognetti's words

Richard Tognetti
I am most amused to read the blurb by Richard Tognetti in the 2014 Australian Chamber Orchestra brochure. He writes: "...we will play music that aims to remove impurities from your soul, raise spirits in troubled times,offer aspirations to the distressed, honour the departed,suggest an alternative to mainstream religious dogma, motivate courageous exploits, give strength to the forlorn, bring maturity to errant teenagers, and alter the course of rivers...".
I subscribed, of course.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Tall poppies

Push down the barriers and you are bound to get bad press. A review of the Yoko Ono Exhibition by a Sydney art critic listed her accomplishments but sounded bored. Yoko Ono and her work are wonderfully passionate and very human, quite the opposite of boring (just as Nietzsche and Wagner were fun although you'd never know it reading the critics).  I was at the Yoko Ono exhibition again today (it is on at the Museum of Contemporary Art until February) and once again it was full of thoughtful or smiling faces. Or laughing faces, those worn by people trying to play chess at the tables laid out in the the first room. All of the pieces were white, so there were no losers.

From the Exhibition:
We're all Water  by Yoko Ono.

A very long line of identical bottles part filled with plain water and with names on the bottles.

You read along the line. Next to Socrates is Marlene Dietrich, ...

Frieda Kahlo .... Mary Shelley ... Osama bin Laden ...

Monday, December 02, 2013

Yoko Ono: War is Over (If You Want It)

Yesterday I saw the Yoko Ono exhibition War is Over (If you want it) at the MCA in Sydney. I can usually only last half an hour at art exhibitions but Yoko Ono's show was so interesting and so moving I stayed for most of an hour.

Yoko Ono requires her audience to think for themselves, that's what is so wonderful about it. She leads you by the hand, shows you her vision, then asks you to think about it. So you do. You stand there in front of something that might seem quite mundane and search through your soul's thoughts. You get into conversations with your next door neighbour, standing as you are wordless and pondering.

In one room there was a plastic maze in the center of which was a desk with a phone. As you go in you are requested to remove your shoes and informed that  the phone may ring while you are in the maze. If so please answer it as Yoko is ringing regularly to speak to her audience. She will speak to you for 10 minutes. I found myself standing in the maze, wishing that she would ring so I could tell her how moved I was by her art and how lucky I felt being able to experience it.

Like a lot of exceptional art, you can't just read about it in a book, you have to be there and experience it yourself. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Oysters no more

Photo from the train: Hawkesbury River with oyster stakes
Photo from the train: Hawkesbury River, looking south
Travelling by train north from Sydney takes you along the lovely Hawkesbury River. It is a train trip I make frequently and as we roll past the  oyster farming structures that poke out of the water at low tide I wonder about the future of humanity.

Ten years ago 28 oyster farmers farmed Sydney Rock Oysters in these waters but they were destroyed  by QX disease in 2004. Eight farmers started again farming pacific oysters. The number grew and grew and by last year there were 15 oyster businesses operating in the area and there were always boats out among the wooden stakes harvesting oysters. Earlier this year Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome wiped the oysters out and now the boats are gone.

The Hawkesbury oyster industry is one example of many that illustrates what happens when we create imbalances in nature. Are we capable of learning the lessons nature is trying to teach us?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Golly gosh

Melbourne shop display
They are back, the gollies of yesteryear. So is it politically correct to have a golly again? I have a very lovable boy golly made by a gifted aunt. He was just too nice to discard, so he has been in hiding.  Now I wonder where he is.

Memory lapses

A rose in my mother's garden
It is interesting how the brain reacts when you are in shock or overwhelmed. I am still not sure if it was shock,  jet lag or perhaps just tiredness, but several days in early November have escaped my memory and are only reluctantly being dredged up.

My mother died suddenly (but peacefully) on the evening of Thursday 31 October and on Friday I was on the plane to New Zealand to join in the family farewell. It was a precious time in so many ways. Death opens you up in a way that nothing else does (or perhaps only Wagner's music!) and you find yourself sharing information and experiences that have been long buried or forgotten. Thanks to Maori traditions, New Zealanders have found their way back to having the dead with them during this time and my mother was with us, in her open casket in an adjoining room with the door open. We felt her presence in the house that she loved and we often stopped during our conversations to say that she would be enjoying our conversation, or we would remark on what she would have said. Over the four days we all had lots of chances to be with her, to bring flowers in from her lovely garden which was in full spring bloom and to say our last goodbyes. My Mother much preferred family gatherings to large crowds and she would have approved of the 20 people, almost all direct descendants, who attended her farewell before finally carrying the casket out to the hearse (a grey car now, not the forbidding black of yesteryear).

I flew back to Australia on Tuesday, spent three nights at home then flew on to Melbourne. It is those three days that have gone missing. I had not been aware of my memory lapse until I started telling a close friend about the farewell. She reminded me that I had already told her about it. Had I sent an email, I wondered but she said no, we had had coffee and a long conversation on the day before I left for Melbourne. I remember it now, and our the table at the cafe,  but I had to pull out several of my minds drawers to discover the memory of our meeting.

It is not quite as bad as jet-lag which I suffer from badly and which leaves whole days completely inaccessible to my memory, but still it is disconcerting.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Australia's first Ring Cyclist: Elke Neidhardt

Wunder Bar and Valkyries in Heidhardt's 2004 Adelaide Ring Cycle
Elke Neidhardt, director of the first Australian Ring Cycle,  has died at 72.  A noted opera and theatre director, she produced the acclaimed 2004 Adelaide production of Wagner's Ring Cycle with the State Opera of South Australia. It was a fabulous production from beginning to end. I loved it and was one of the many who were very sorry it was never revived.

When Opera Australia  announced they would be putting on the Ring Cycle in Melbourne, they gave a talk to the Wagner Society of NSW about their plans. Not once during the rather long talk did they mention Elke Neidhardt's production in South Australia but instead spoke as if there had never been a Ring Cycle in Australia. (The Melbourne Ring Cycle is the first by Opera Australia.) Wagner society members were a bit flummoxed and one of the first questions afterwards was "What about the Adelaide Ring?"

Monday, November 25, 2013

Melbourne Ring Cycle ...a story of lost magic

The singing and orchestration was exceptional … so why was the magic missing?

Australian Wagnerian singers were gathered from across the globe to perform in the Melbourne Ring Cycle 2013 and they, together with the orchestra under the baton of Pietari Inkinen, gave remarkable performances. I would have happily paid to see them perform unstaged. You would think that wonderful music is all you need to produce Ring Cycle magic, but the Melbourne Ring proved otherwise for me and it took me a little while to understand why.

As I wrote in previous posts, I very much liked Die Walküre and Siegfried and if those had been the only two opera's presented I would have come away with a bounce in my step.

Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung were a different story, populated as they were with caricatures rather than characters. All the strong women were undermined by their portrayal. Fricka, in her unflattering beige dress and granny shoes was a frump (although Jacqueline Dark gave a fine performance); Erda, also in beige, was simply an old blind lady with a stick who developed into a wheelchair bound woman with the carer singing the role – there was not much mezzo Deborah Humble could do with that. Brünnhilde was feisty and fun in Die Walküre but by Götterdämmerung, she was bound in an unbecoming wedding dress and denied her final majestic flourish, forced to simply stand next to the dead (but standing) Siegfried in a circle of plastic wrapped flowers like those you buy at Aldi, as the structure of the house they stood in flamed and the fluffy-feathered Rhinemaidens removed the ring from Siegfried's finger. Brünnhilde as heroine was gone; instead we had Wagner as show-time revue. Vulnerable Freya was the only woman not dressed in beige with granny shoes or army greens. Sung by Hyeseoung Kwon, she the only Asian in the cast of Das Rheingold and was dressed in golden sparkly dress and high heeled shoes. You had to wince.

The strong women were emasculated (if I may use that term for women), but the male characters lost their complexity as well. Wotan was cranky from the start, Fasolt and Faffner were interchangeable (both treated Freya with disdain) and Siegfried, instead of being a spoilt brat was likable and fun, turning Götterdämmerung into a boy and girl thing, a bit of hanky-panky that went astray with naughty Hagen shooting the likable lad.

The music was similarly caricatured. If the music indicated Wotan was lurking, you would see him lurking, when the sword leitmotif appeared the sword swirled around with the turning stage to distraction. During music intended for scene changes where one often enters a meditative state, streams of extras poured onto the stage and enacted iconic Aussie scenes, horse racing carnivals or swimming competitions that made the audience titter. It was as if we had to be reminded that we were in Australia every so often. When the singers or actors beat time to the music with their hands or their feathers, well I just had to close my eyes.

The glorious singing and playing was so undermined by presentation that I came out of the final opera feeling cross and dispossessed. What a shame, what a shame, what a shame.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The other Wotan

Looks suspiciously like Wotan's staff....

As the Melbourne Ring Cycle continues, we look at a Wotan a bit further south.

New Zealand .... You gotta love it!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Invisible wall

The Ring Cycle begins today in Melbourne (my thoughts on the Melbourne Ring coming soon) but I flew back to Sydney, having spent 10 music/art related days in Melbourne. I am feeling a bit shell-shocked, as if I have been away six months not three weeks. The past weeks have been a hurdy gurdy, travel to NZ to farewell my Mother, then a day home to recoup before racing south to Melbourne.
Now I am home again and I am wondering if I am going to hit some invisible wall. I think a good sleep will help.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Melbourne Climate Action Rally

Climate action rally in Melbourne
Eighty thousand people demonstrated for climate action in Australia today.  People of all ages from many different community groups converged on Treasury Gardens in Melbourne, including the baby below.  

Melbourne Ring technie stuff

Techie stuff, Melbourne State Theatre
The Melbourne Ring Cycle is not being filmed, but it is being taped for broadcast by the ABC in December.

In the dress rehearsals the two prime seating rows were full of techie stuff  ... perhaps for the broadcast?

There is little techie stuff happening on stage in any of the four operas, no video and only a modicum of lighting effects.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Cold weather for the Ring

Wrapped in wool
Melbourne is cold. I brought woollen jumpers and jacket but still I froze when I arrived so I bought a wonderful bright blue woollen coat/wrap from the retro op-shop Lost and Found around the corner. I have been wrapped in it ever since. A warmer spell is forecast. Let's hope it arrives in time for the Ring Cycle opening on Monday.

Chilly Melbourne skies with tram/electricity lines

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Big Raspberry

Melbourne Arts Centre
The Melbourne Arts Centre, venue for the Melbourne Ring Cycle, is called the Big Raspberry by locals and you do indeed feel as if you are in a raspberry as you decend into its depths. Most of the wall space is occupied by a permanent collection of very large works by aboriginal artists and the likes of Sydney Nolan, but even they have a hard time competing with the acres of red and brass/copper.

Paintings with sound installation
My Grane pictures now hang on what little space remained. We had to be inventive to hang anything at all and some of the pictures simply didn't fit. 

The remainder of works in the WagnerLicht Exhibition are being installed today, ready for the media event and opening tomorrow.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stefan Vinke's Siegfried

Stefan Vinke (photo from
Bravo to German tenor Stefan Vinke who sings Siegfried in the Melbourne Ring Cycle.

He sang the role in the dress rehearsal last night with verve and passion. That someone can sing over an orchestra for five hours on end and then finish with a wonderful love duet passes all imagination, but that is what Stefan Vinke did, and with great aplomb.

He was a wonderful hero, still in good voice at the end of this remarkable marathon performance. Bravo Stefan Vinke, I am so happy to have heard you sing!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Die Walküre in Melbourne

Inside Melbourne's State Theatre
Miriam Gordon-Stewart (Sieglinde) and Stuart Skelton (Siegmund) opened last night's dress rehearsal of Die Walküre at the Melbourne State Theatre with a vocally stunning and utterly convincing performance, melting the audience into a state of overwhelmed bliss. The rest of the cast was extraordinarily good as well. Jud Arthur a suitably threatening Hunding, Jacqueline Dark a convincing Fricka (despite the awful beige dress and granny shoes she had to wear) and Terje Stensvold a strong though vulnerable Wotan. Susan Bullock sang a Brünnhilde I'll not forget. She was wonderful, vibrant and fun. The orchestra under the capable baton of Pietari Inkinen really supported the cast and received a big ovation from the delighted audience.
This time the staging also supported the story and music. A few nights ago Rhinegold, all feathers and beige granny shoes, had left me underwhelmed despite strong performances from the singers and orchestra and obviously expert stagecraft. It felt misogynist and racist to me, the magic of the music almost entirely lost. But congratulations to Opera Australia for Die Walküre. I wait with baited breath for the next instalment of the story ...

Addendum: Today (Wednesday) I spoke to a woman for whom this Ring Cycle is her first Wagner experience.  She said she had liked Rhinegold best so far and when I asked what part in particular she said 'the cigarette ladies with their coloured feathers.' So there you go, everyone sees through different eyes