When asked what I was going to do in my retirement, I said I wanted to really enjoy all that Melbourne has to offer. And over the year I’ve done just that. None more so than during October – November. I’ve exhausted myself, and, of course Joe who, as I jocularly remark (but I mean it) remains working so that I can continue to be kept in the style I’m accustomed to! How he has had the stamina to join me in this endeavour while working full time is a mystery to me. Here’s what we have been doing lately.
18 October 2017; Anna Netrebko & Yusif Eyvazov in concert
She has been described as the reigning prima donna of the 21st century and was performing in Australia for the first time. Hamer Hall was packed with devotees. I didn’t know anything about her until I read this interview in Limelight magazine (now behind a paywall, but this gives you the flavour). According to the interview she is working at an amazing pace because she wants to challenge herself and make the most of her career, so she is performing in opera houses around the world, and in between times, doing these sorts of concerts. She was terrific, and so was her husband the tenor Yusif Eyvazov. I love this photo of them both on the program. They were joined by a baritone, Elchin Azizov who sported a walking stick, having fallen just outside the arts centre shortly before the performance began.
Anna was incredibly charismatic with great stage presence striding back and forth the whole length of the stage in flowing dresses and incredibly high shoes. It was the tone of her voice that struck me; incredibly warm even on the high notes. She was incredibly versatile; always in complete control and imparting emotional resonance as well. She didn’t say much but was very responsive to the audience, smiling broadly every time she came on stage and responding appreciatively to the applause. Husband Yusif was cute; looking a bit nervous at the start but relaxing into his music and looking very pleased with himself at journey’s end. Whilst the audience may have come primarily to see his wife, his songs were all warmly received. All of the performers were greeted with loud applause. They all looked as though they were having a great time and there was nice chemistry between them all. Especially a romantic duet between husband and wife, which left him with lots of red lipstick on his lips that he tried surreptitiously to remove. Since this performance Mr Netrebko has received rave reviews after performing at La Scala in Andrea Chenier, once again opposite his wife, prompting suggestions he has moved up the ranks to become an A-List singer.
All in all, it was a pretty extraordinary occasion. Great singing accompanied by a fine orchestra and a responsive audience It was a great night. Here are the performers taking their curtain call (picture courtesy of Paul Selar via twitter). Here is a great review of the concert.
26 October 2017; Kevin Rudd and Kerry O’Brien
We went to the Athenaeum to Kevin in conversation with Kerry; both Queensland boys. Kevin is out selling his book, Not For The Faint Hearted. The theatre was packed. Another very hot night in Melbourne. Here is an overview of the evening. I enjoyed it enormously. Kevin was at his best, and so was Kerry. The book finishes before the coup, so there was no focus on that great betrayal. Instead Kevin spent a lot of time persuasively re-prosecuting his case against John Howard. He is outraged that Howard has not been held to account for the Iraq war in the same way that Blair and Bush have been. No inquiries, no reviewing the facts on which decisions were made etc. It was good to recall the high points of his Prime Ministership; the Apology and the response to the Global Financial Crisis. He stated his strong support for the Uluru Statement. He was also robust in defending himself from claims that he is responsible for the current situation on Manus Island. Kevin argues that he signed up to a one year contract with strict controls that were then never met by the new Abbott Government. Not something people want to hear, but an important recalibration. It doesn’t, of course, nor did he argue it, excuse the ALP from the position it has held since the Manus option came into operation. Kerry gently prodded him to be a little bit introspective, but that is not Kevin’s strength and his answers were all pretty well polished. So it was all pretty familiar. But nice to remember the glory days of Kevin 07. People who have read the book, including Kerry, like it, although more ruthless editing would have improved it according to reviews. I’m going to give it to people for Christmas. You can see the whole interview here.
27 October 2017; Valhalla Wines at Project Forty Nine
The next night we joined friends at a wine night at the restaurant Project Forty Nine in Collingwood. We had a meal accompanied by wine as set out here. The food was exceptionally good. We are quite keen to go to the restaurant again, having never been there before. It’s at 107 Cambridge Street and it’s quite a scene down there among all the old, now refurbished, shoe, clothing and textile factories. As you can see we got plenty of wine. Too much in fact! But the night was made special by the generosity of the winemaker who was very open with us about all aspects of the wine making process, how he came to establish his winery and his expert comments on the wines we were tasting which were all very good. A great evening, but I am now sworn off wine tasting events for the foreseeable future!
10 November 2017; Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe
I went to this during the day by myself at ACMI. I love ACMI and have been going a bit. Joe had accompanied me to a members event in the evening on 6 October,
a Japanese film, Her Love Boils Water which was disappointing. I loved Stefan Zweig’s autobiography The World of Yesterday: Memories of a European and was pleased to get the chance to see this film which I had heard about but which doesn’t look like coming to any mainstream cinema. Which is a pity, because I loved it, although perhaps you needed to know something about the man and his life to get the most out of it. I thoroughly recommend his book, as well as a biography by George Prochnick, The Impossible Exile. I think this film does justice to the life. Directed by the German director, Maria Schrader, it tells his story through small vignettes, all taken from his autobiography, and perfectly chosen to illustrate the important bits. We see the famous author pressured to comment on what was happening in Germany (which he considered cowardly from the safety of America), being feted in Brazil by high society and ordinary people and we get a good sense of the pressure he felt being opportuned on all sides to help people get out of Europe. We meet his lovely, very young, new wife and his strong and capable former wife with whom he remained on good terms. Both are sympathetically portrayed, as is Zweig himself. The characters, and their actions, are left to speak for themselves. The film makes no judgements. Whilst sympathetic to Zweig, it doesn’t shy away from the contemporary criticism of him. The end, when it comes, as in real life, is sudden and unexpected. It too is sympathetically portrayed; at a distance, through a bedroom door and in a wardrobe mirror. An effective way of illustrating that it remains a mystery. There’s no attempt to provide answers to the much debated question about why he committed suicide, shockingly taking his much younger wife with him. I think the answer is pretty clear from the autobiography; but it’s good the film doesn’t go there. All of it is beautifully filmed in vibrant colours. You feel the heat of Brazil looking at their sweat stained faces. And you feel the cold of an American winter looking at snow through misted windows. Just beautiful. Here is an interview with the director in the Guardian. And here is the trailer. Read about him, in his own words or in George Prochnick’s then see the film, or vice versa.
11 November 2017; The Testament of Mary
Having heard great things about ColmToibin’s book, The Testament of Mary I was keen to see his stage play of the same material especially with Pamela Rabe performing. The set was modern; according to the program in order to emphasise the contemporary relevance of the ideas expressed. I’m not sure about that, but the austere setting certainly left the focus on the actor and her words. The play’s conceit is to have Mary to give what she says is the truthful account of what happened, as opposed to the versions given by those who went on to record it in the various New Testaments that have come down to us. These authors, the disciples, have confined Mary to this place and are in the process of drafting their sanitised versions of events involving her son. They are absent while she is giving us her account and it’s not clear whether she is being imprisoned or protected. There are hints of oppressive state surveillance when she peers out of her windows from time to time. Surveillance of her or of the disciples? Nothing is clear.
Pamela, as expected, was amazing. Her diction so clear, her movements imbued with meaning. She lets us into Mary’s emotional state; anger, fear, scorn, horror. Her memories of famous episodes from the Bible are at variance with what has been handed down. Was the resurrection of Lazarus a good thing or not? A familial betrayal at the wedding feast of Cana but not the son betraying a mother. Family connections and personal relationships are recalled as having a bearing on events. Her memory of the crucifixion was compelling. You could hear a pin drop in the theatre as she recounted the horror and her response to it. That remembered horror comes to dominate her story and she calls on the old gods to protect her from whatever the disciples have in mind for the future.
A stimulating and rewarding experience. Quite a short play but big impact. Here is Pamela taking her curtain call (curtesy of Paul Selar via Twitter). She makes the role her own. To perform at the level of intensity that she does must be exhausting. It shows, I think, in her fierce demeanour in this photo.
And here is another perspective from a review in TimeOut that gives some background to the development of the play that I didn’t know – monologue, novel and now play. I don’t agree that the crucifixion scene was a disappointment. That’s the beauty of live theatre: so many individual responses to the material. And possibly different each night.
14 November 2017; Robert Deveraux
Melbourne Opera’s staging of the opera Robert Deveraux was another great night. We were back in the Athenaeum which apparently is a bit deadly acoustic wise but it’s such a lovely old theatre. I knew nothing about the opera, or the opera company, beforehand. It was another hot night in Melbourne and there was no let up in the evening. This opera is the third in Donizetti’s Tudor trilogy. And this production is the first time it has been performed in Melbourne. Melbourne Opera had staged the other two previously. It takes as its starting point the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Deveraux, the Earl of Essex. It’s historically true that she, in her old age, was besotted with him. It’s also true that he was executed on her order, for treason. But the opera’s action revolves around an imagined romance between Robert and the Queen’s maidservant Sara who is wife of the Duke of Nottingham. The Australian singer Helena Dix was, as promised by the reviews, tremendous as the Queen. Her singing was so powerful! And she looked fantastic, as did everyone, in costumes from Opera Australia. Here she is with the doomed Robert, Henry Choo. My photos are courtesy of the Simon Parris review to which I link below.
And I was surprised and delighted to find that my former hairdresser, Phillip (So Haircutters, Clifton Hill) was the Duke of Nottingham, the second biggest male role. This character we was originally Robert’s great friend and strongest defender against charges of treason. That is, until he discovered his wife’s infidelity. A husband scorned is a threat indeed. Phillip’s singing was superb. And his acting was also emotionally true. As recounted in the program Phillip spent a year a while ago studying and performing in Italy. It was then that I left his salon. I’m so pleased his audacious move has resulted in operatic recognition and success. All of the reviews praised his performance. Here is he is with the Queen. Note his resplendent attire and distinguished greying hair – genuine or fake I don’t know.
In a dramatic moment at the end of the opera, having signed her great love’s death warrant, the Queen removes the wig that has hitherto disguised the ravages of age. So this is how Helena Dix received the resounding applause for her performance.
Here is a glowing review, which praise was pretty universal in all of the reviews. I’m going to make sure I get to more Melbourne Opera performances next year.