Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Peggy Glanville-Hicks premiere

Congratulations Peggy Glanville-Hicks on the premiere this Sunday of the first complete recording of Sappho!!!

I can imagine you on your Greek island in the sixties as you researched and wrote it. I wonder if you ever imagined it would have its world premiere in Lisbon in 2012? And that it would be conducted by a Australian female conductor?

Sappho was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera when Peggy was at the height of her career. The world had just witnessed the triumph of Nausicaa premiered 1961 in Athens and rumour was that Maria Callas would make her comeback as a soprano in Sappho. But the finished work was rejected by the opera house and the work was never premiered. Two years later Peggy was diagnosed with a brain tumour and despite successful operations she never composed again.

Parts of Sappho have been recorded the entire opera had not been performed in public until earlier this year.

Great work Jennifer Condon for organising the whole affair (pictured below at first rehearsal).

And I'm so glad ABC classic FM got in on the action and snapped up broadcast rights. Tune in on Sunday Nov 4th at 7pm for the first ever broadcast of this amazing piece. Deborah Polaski sings the title role. The synopsis is here (libretto by Lawrence Durrell with original text by Sappho 630 BC).

For more details the project has its own website

Long live the music Peggy!

Women of Note at State Library

I call her a musical magpie because her music glitters with references to a huge range of styles including tango, rock, electronics, folk and music theatre. Cathie Travers is one of Australia's most unique composers and we have recently been doing some presentations around Perth talking stories and music from Women of Note.

Here is one of the pieces Cathie plays, in a helpful Youtube clip that explains how she is using the electronics to layer the sound.

If you want to hear Cathie play this and other pieces live (and hear some stories about the rise of Australian women composers) then come down to the State Library on Saturday 3rd November 2pm. We'll be set up in the outdoor Love2Read Cafe. There will be Cathie's CD's and my book on sale plus loads of bargains at 'The Big Book and Music Sale'.

Hopefully the sun will be shining again by then and it will the perfect afternoon to lounge at the cafe and enjoy the entertainment!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Music Monday November

November already, my head is spinning!

November 11th isn't the big deal in Australia that it is in Europe but there is a Remembrance Day concert being held at St Patrick's Basilica in Fremantle. Dominic Perissinotto will give an organ recital with works by Liszt, Franck, Elgar, also Thalben-Ball's Elegy, famously performed at Princess Diana's funeral. A solemn, poignant and elegant way to acknowledge war and the pursuit of peace.

If an American hotdog is one of your 'Favourite Things' head to WASO on Nov 2nd and 4th for their Rogers and Hammerstein tribute. Jacqui Scott and Andrew Halliday will star as the Captain and Maria among other favourite roles, accompanied by the orchestra and yes I wasn't joking about the hotdogs at interval!

Slightly more serious the following week when the orchestra are joined by the LA Guitar Quartet playing Rodrigo's Concierto Andaluz, ole! It's a hot program which also includes Stravinsky's Firebird Suite and Ravel's Mother Goose suite and the Australian premiere of Osvaldo Golijov's Sidereus. I have the feeling the orchestra are going to enjoy this one.

The ACO return on Nov 14th with a Russian program AND ex-WASO trumpet player David Elton who will feature with British pianist Steven Osborne in Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No 1. The ACO promise an immensely virtuosic performance with flexibility and humour veering on craziness. This is my pick for the month.

The following night Musica Viva bring to Perth Anthony Marwood (piano) and Aleksandar Madzar (violin) who apparently belong together like wine and cheese. The publicity brags they are musical soulmates - big claims but I guess when you've been playing together for twenty years it begins to show. Repertoire includes Beethoven, Debussy, Schubert and Kerry.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Madam Butterfly needs new wings

Thanks to Caitlyn for her enthusiastic and insightful company on Tuesday night. It was a mixed night for me, moving but frustrating too.

Madam Butterfly
His Majesty's Theatre
October 2012

I first saw Andrew Sinclair’s production of Madam Butterfly decades ago and it was the first time opera moved me deeply. It was partly the story of a teenage Japanese girl’s sacrifice of family, faith and eventually her son for a faithless American sailor, and it was also the exotic beauty of the set and music.

Puccini did everything right when he set David Belasco’s popular play about a marriage of convenience between a sailor stationed in Nagasaki and a Japanese geisha. The romantic tragedy is perfectly paced and decadently scored. WA Opera have been staging Butterfly roughly every six years, most recently in 2006 although there was an unstaged Opera in the Park performance in 2008.

Director Andrew Sinclair’s early 20th century French interpretation of Puccini’s east-west tragedy was fresh and original when it premiered in 1993. If you haven’t seen Madam Butterfly before this will be a good introduction. But the Monet-inspired waterlilies, the impressionistic Japanese costumes and the revolving wooden house (designer Kenneth Rowell) are looking familiar and worn. A sensational cast were required to justify dusting it off for the fourth time.

Fortunately American soprano Kelly Kaduce didn’t disappoint as Cio-Cio-San, giving a deeply felt performance with a rounded, mellow soprano inflected with giggles, tenderness and rage as her character required. Angus Wood was a golden-toned Lieutenant Pinkerton, singing with youthful brashness that a sailor’s life isn’t complete until he’s ‘picked the flowers of every place he’s visited’ and taking the boos at curtain call good naturedly.

Cio-Cio-San’s maid Suzuki was sung by the dutifully concerned Fiona Campbell whose face reflected in every scene the truth Cio-Cio-San was avoiding. James Clayton was the increasingly disapproving American Consul Sharpless and Andrew Foote was Cio-Cio-San’s ever hopeful suitor Prince Yamadori. The kimono-clad WA Opera Chorus shuffled and bowed as Cio-Cio-San’s wedding entourage and were fiercely condemning when they discovered her secret conversion to Christianity.

The clash of east and west is written clearly into Puccini’s music, with tam tams and pentatonic scales versus The Star Spangled Banner references. In 2006 Joseph Colaneri’s conducting was one of the highlights of the performance. Returning now as the company’s artistic director, Colaneri was equally satisfying. The WA Symphony Orchestra were lush and cohesive, injecting the drama required to drive the opera to its devastating conclusion.

I’ve now seen Madam Butterfly five times and my son is a similar age to Cio-Cio-San’s blue-eyed Japanese baby so the opera has taken on a new power. But I won’t go see it again. With only three staged operas a year this repetition of even the most enduring opera favourite runs the risk of overkill.

The current season of Madam Butterfly follows the revival of the museum-piece production of Lucia di Lammermoor. Is dusty repertory opera all that is left after the effort to create a new production like Elektra? I think Perth deserves better.

 This review copyright The West Australian 2012.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Wine and Canapes - with music!

I am doing several book talks in the next few weeks and thought I'd post details of the one in Subiaco because it is a free event with wine and canapes!

Monday 22nd October
Subiaco Library, 237 Rokeby Rd

I will be sharing stories about the women and the music in Women of Note and one of the featured composers Cathie Travers will be performing on accordion. There will be a chance to purchase signed copies of Women of Note. Should be a really special evening.

Bookings are essential as places are limited. Please RSVP to Subiaco Library on 9237 9300 or More details here.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Help needed - free opera ticket for your efforts!

Thi is the fourth production of Madam Butterfly I've seen by WA Opera. I think I'm going to need some help...

If you are interested in helping me gain a fresh perspective please make a comment below and you will go in the draw to win a FREE TICKET to opening night on October 23rd! Your companionship could be just what I need to enjoy the night out.

Don't get me wrong, Madam Butterfly is an amazing opera and Puccini's music gets me every time (mental note must remember to take tissues). But there is only so many times I can sit through the same production (yes it is the Andrew Sinclair production AGAIN) without getting cynical.

The creative team is interesting: incoming artistic director Joseph Colaneri will be conducting, my current fav mezzo Fiona Campbell will sing Suzuki and American soprano Kelly Kaduce stars as Cio Cio San.

Opera News magazine describes Kaduce as having "plangent, amber-toned soprano, glamour girl looks and artless, affecting dramatic style." Her signature role is Mimi (La Boheme) and she has  sung Madam Butterfly with Michigan Opera Theatre, Portland Opera and Boston Lyric Opera among others.

WA Opera shows normally sell out. Make a comment now to go in the draw for your FREE premium reserve ticket. Winner will be chosen by random selection and notified on Saturday 20th October via the blog or by email if you leave an email address.

Michael Collins and WASO

There is often a sense at WASO concerts that the real show begins after interval. The opening overture and concerto might be flashy with a celebrity soloist but there is a new intensity as the orchestra is enlarged for the symphonic repertoire and the principal wind players take over.

On the weekend the opening Hebrides Overture by Mendelssohn showcased well-crafted woodwind solos and an energised string section. The celebrity soloist was the UK’s Michael Collins featuring in Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No 1 and Debussy’s Premiere Rapsodie. The bravura of Weber’s Concerto was given a psychedelic edge with the breakneck speeds of Collins’ scale passages and dramatic mood swings. But at Friday’s concert there was also untidiness: intonation and timing issues in the winds, missed notes in the horns and conductor Otto Tausk caught off-guard by Collins’ spontaneity. The soloist had moments of sharp pitch and shrillness which don’t belong in Weber’s lush Germanic sound world.

The improved focus after interval meant Debussy’s Rapsodie fared better. Collins’ flexible clarinet tone suited Debussy’s multi-hued music. The clarinet interjected conversationally with floating high notes and crisp brightness or nestled into the orchestral cushion of sound with feather-soft delicacy.

Dvorak’s Symphony No 9 showed evidence of Tausk’s attention to detail; the melodic theme heard in the violins in the first movement was broken into folksy fragments while the energetic attack of the violas gave them welcome prominence. Leanne Glover’s cor anglais solo established a gentle lyricism in the Largo which was matched by the elegaic strings and lingered over by Tausk in a spine-tingling ending. Andrew Nicholson (flute) and principal oboe (unnamed) sizzled in the third movement and the familiar brassy climaxes and flowing lyricism of the finale felt fresh and perfectly proportioned. This was WASO at their finest, making the inconsistency in the first half more regrettable. John Adams’ arrangement of Piazzolla’s Todo Buenos Aires was the ‘Bonus Track’.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Julia Gillard: Global Feminist Icon

Julia Gillard may have just become a global feminist icom. She has attracted an international fan club for her slamming criticism this week of opposition leader Tony Abbott.

In an incisive, passionate moment of truth telling the Prime Minister used Abott's own comments to expose his anti-feminism and hypocrisy. The UK media are all over the story and the New Yorker says Obama should be taking notes. Commentators on Twitter have suggested Meryl Streep is in Hollywood practising her Gillard accent.

Gillard's clever politicking shifted the debate from its focus on the inappropriate private phone messages of parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper to a broader feminist debate. Abbott's reputation was left in tatters and the misogynist attacks that have plagued the Prime Minister's term in office are finally in the spotlight.

Historically it has always been harder for women to achieve high profile careers. One hundred years ago composer Margaret Sutherland was married to a misogynist who, jelaous of her success, taunted her publicly and privately until she restricted her composition to music for children.

Fortunately she divorced him and went on to write pioneering music that paved the way for modernism in Australia. But for decades she endured the insults of a husband who likened a woman composing musica as a sign of insanity, and who arrived at one of her concert premieres with a beautiful woman on his arm, to the composer's immense shame.

The insults directed at Gillard over the past few years sound too similar. Feminism has been alive and active for over a century and it's a shame to think not much has changed. Does it really need to become a gender battle field in order for women to get a fair go?

Of course it is not only women that get harrassed. Work-place bullying and the peer pressure men impose on other men can be horrific. And women abusing other women only perpetuates the struggle for inter-gender understanding.

Is the only way to eradicate peer pressure by removing the peers?

An alternative is to come in Gillard-style with guns blazing, as did composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks. The Australian/American composer rose to international acclaim with her operas and held her own among the New York avantegarde with her biting wit.

"Everything I've ever wanted to do would have been eaiser had I been a boy," she once reflected. "But never mind, I never paid much attention to it, I just marched in and there I was."

Another Option: Activist and cultural critic Jarrod McKenna tweeted "I'm not as misogynistic as... is not as transformative as confessing how patriarchy has formed us & then work 4 humanizing justice."

Working for justice sounds harder but perhaps the only way forward?

Does anyone else have another alternative?

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Music Monday October

The director of the Academy of Ancient Music directs the Australian Chamber Orchestra on their current Australian tour which arrives in Perth on Oct 10th. Richard Egarr conducting baroque and classical repertoire will attract a full house so get your tickets soon!

My October highlight is clarinet superstar Michael Collins playing Weber’s First Clarinet Concerto AND Debussy's Rhapsodie with the WA Symphony Orchestra on October 12th. Every clarinettist's dream concert! Stay tuned for another ticket giveaway...

Sunday 14th is a double-whammy with WASO concertmaster Guilio Plotino directing a Italian string music program at Government House Ballroom while at the Perth Concert Hall the legendary Count Basie Orchestra will be playing some of the greatest jazz standards of all time.