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

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Springtime in my Mother's garden

Irises on the day of my Mother's farewell
At the end of September winter gardens begin to stir in Taihape. The first daffodils flower but leaves are still furled and the dominant colour is still green/brown. Then in October gardens burst into flower with an unexpected abundance. I had been in my mother's garden in October when it was showing the first signs of life; the very first daffodil was out and the tulips were growing. Three weeks later I was there again to bid my Mother farewell (previous post) and the change in her garden was astonishing. Huge irises, luscious cherry blossom, flowers of all shapes and sizes. Suddenly I realised I had not been there in spring before.

Springtime in my Mother's garden, 1 November 2013.

Cherry blossom on the day of my Mother's farewell

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

My Mother

Frances Ruth Gordon, 1920 - 2013
My mother Frances Ruth Gordon died last Thursday aged 93.  She was a passionate gardener and left behind a trail of wonderful gardens, dug from virgin soil. Her first garden was under the Ruahine Ranges on a Taihape farm that Dad and Grandpa created by clearing native bush (so close are our colonial roots).

Mother and Dad moved closer to town 30 years ago and again she created an extraordinary garden. At 84, mourning the loss of my father, she moved into a town section with an empty back yard and from that she once again fashioned the most beautiful garden. At her farewell on Sunday her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren chose flowers from her lovely springtime garden to lay on her coffin. Vale dear Mother.

My mother's rocking chair in her last garden
Mother's Hydrangeas