Wednesday, 29 August 2007


On Tuesday morning we saw a stage rehearsal of Opera Australia’s new production of the Tales of Hoffmann. Wikipedia has information about the opera itself –

There will be more opportunities to talk about this production, but my first impressions are that it is excellent.

The rehearsal covered Act 2 (Giulietta), Act3 (Antonia) and the Epilogue. The opera is performed with spoken dialogue in English and sung in French, which may cause some comment: the last production of Hoffmann was wholly in French. The English dialogue adds to intelligibility but there is some clash between the Australian accented English and the French.

There is one basic set on a revolving stage which has some changeable elements. Various props are used to good effect in setting the scene for each act. The set works well.

Emma Mathews sings all the soprano roles and John Wegner all the bass. And some other multi tasked singers as well.

There was much stopping and starting and some sections were repeated. Including, I am happy to say the wonderful trio in the Antonia Act, music which might have been written with Emma Mathews in mind.

The skill of the musicians in picking up the music accurately from a direction like “6 (bars ) before K” is remarkable to a non musician. The singers do not have the music but do almost as well from a cue or a few notes hummed by the conductor.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Lunar Eclipse

We had a good view of the lunar eclipse tonight.

Lunar Eclipse 28 August 2007

The full moon rising was clearly visible in the east and then the shadow of the eclipse moving up from the lower edge until the moon was fully covered and quite red. A darker band of shadow followed. We have some Chinese grandparents in a neighbouring house and as the eclipse progressed they banged on saucpans or something similar. This is, we think, a Chinese custom in these circumstances. I don't know anything about it, but the clanging added something to the occasion.

An unexpected problem was that there was insufficient light from the moon in full eclipse to register on my camera. Sandra's camera was more sensitive and she took the photo above.


A visit to the Sydney Town Hall on Monday night to hear the Stuart Challender Lecture given by Norman Lebrecht. it was nice to be in the Town Hall, once the venue for most concerts, again. The building has been renovated on the inside: (I’m not sure how long ago ) and looks impressive. It’s a pity it is not used more for concerts as the character of the hall would add something to the experience.

My bookshop sold a few copies of Lebrecht’s The Maestro Myth. The publicity for his talk said that he “first gained widespread notoriety with his acidic critique of modern conductors, The Maestro Myth.” I didn’t read the book at the time thinking that the author was indeed seeking notoriety by publishing commentary designed to be controversial.

My opinion wavered a little when I heard his appearance on The Music Show via a podcast. He has knowledge and ability and could be interesting.

The lecture itself sent me back to where I began. It started with a doomsday picture of music performance today. Government funding was provided on unacceptable terms; Private donors were unreliable and, if corporations, liable to go broke; the death of the classical record industry has left musicians without a source of income …and so on. All delivered with the assistance of a radio mike which enabled him to wander the stage like a TV preacher. The end was near. There was little by way of fact; many generalisations which ignored the way funding varies from country to country and the history of the many orchestras which had no contracts with the major record companies. After, I recalled the popular lawyers saying “Never let the facts get in the way of a good argument”. And in this cast the argument wasn’t that good.

But not to worry: salvation is at hand. The new technology will bring a bright future. We will all be booking our concert seats on line and grooving to our ipods. What you put on your ipod is called MY MUSIC ! We have a new sense of possession. It’s MINE.

This part of the talk included a few interesting bits of information. Internet bookings at the Barbican concert hall in London have reached 50% of the total.
A Beethoven cycle containing live performances of the symphonies by the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda was offered as a free download by BBC Radio 3 and surprised its most optimistic advocates by achieving 1.4 million downloads. UK and USA were the top countries, followed by Holland and Vietnam. This success led to opposition form the commercial music industry and there have been no free downloads since.

This was accompanied by the claim that this was the only Beethoven cycle recorded in the present century. More hyperbole: last years lecture was given by Osmo Vanska who is recording a Beethoven cycle with the Minnesota orchestra. Minneapolis is some distance from London. And, by the way, did the Minnesota Orchestra ever have a contract with a major record label?

Since I wrote this the transcript of Mr. Lebrecht's remarks has been published on the ABC web site. I wanted to comment on this passage:

When I was here last time you had two thriving opera companies, Sydney and the Victorian State Opera. Then the Victorian State Opera was shut down. Now it’s been restarted. But it’s been restarted in a very wobbly way, nobody quite knows what's going to be happening there next year.

A good example of his lack of interest in getting the facts straight before commenting. I think the Victorian Opera's Orpheus and Euridice which I saw earlier this year might be described as wobbly but that's not his point. So it was good to see Richard Gill get up at the end and state that his company is not wobbly and that its program for next year is fixed.

Sunday, 26 August 2007



1: And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, “ Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. 2: But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. 3: And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.”4: These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. 5: “And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. 6: These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will. 7: And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them….

In 1652, John Reeve and his cousin Lodowick Muggleton took themselves to be the two last witnesses mentioned in this passage; which would not be very remarkable but for the fact that they commenced a religious movement known as the Muggletonians which continued for over three hundred years. The belief that Muggleton and Reeve were these persons and the odd cosmology that accompanied it seem so peculiar that it is hard to imagine how it persisted for so long. It seems to me that it could be an excellent example of the transfer of information and belief between generations by what Richard Dawkins has called “memes”, analogous to genes but not material. In more commonplace terms the argument is that information and belief passed from parent to child along with language is likely to be strongly held.

I am not sure that the meme hypothesis is of much assistance but the way in which tradition and belief pass from generation to generation is interesting.

I have wanted to find a more detailed history of the Muggletonians both as an example of this process and out of interest in the sheer oddity of the sect. The TLS of August 17 includes a review of LAST WITNESSES by William Lamont published last year. The author has had the use of a remarkable archive of Muggletonian records found at a farm in Kent in 1974. The book traces the sect from 1652 to the death of its last member in 1979. I hope to get hold of the book soon and discover more.


I have received advice that I should write a blog; and so I revived this one which so far has nothing in it except a picture of Zippo Man. I found Zippo Man in Nagasaki earlier this year. I have a few ideas about what I will post but that is for later in the day.