It’s Official: Age of Entitlement Over at Opera Australia

It’s early morning the Friday after New Year. Lyndon Terracotta, Artistic Director of Bopopera Australia, has come in early to his waterfront office to be greeted by a curt text from his PA: “Mr T! You’re on Slipped Disc again. That dreadful Norman DeFect still doesn’t like us!”

It’s been a tough year. Lyndon feels he needs to unburden to someone……..


Dear David,

Compliments of the Season. Came in early today to give some quiet thought to important matters such as my ideas for a new Comps. Policy and suddenly I find that nice Flack we have, you know the one with a pretty name, has had a fat finger incident. Hit the “reply world” button : ” Hi All, Comps are off Darlings. Happy New Year.” I mean, all I asked her to do was get a bit stroppy with that critic lady for the left wing press, Harry Cunningplan! Pommy Bastard I think. Did you see what she wrote on Crikey a few days back? No? Well I guess it’s no surprise you don’t read Crikey. Never known a board member who did, all those inner city white lefty journos who’ve never had to make a profit or meet a wages bill.

Did I mention the season? It’s all about the bloody season. I thought it was all done and dusted last August when we launched, but the media’s on it again. Bland they say; nothing by women composers, nothing Australian, nothing contemporary in the main stage program, anything goes. And “Anything Goes”. They’ll dredge up anything to prove a point, particularly regarding my artistic integrity. A couple of pars, years ago, in the NT News and the career’s on the skids the way the press sees it. Memories like elephants. And it’s a bit rough to have both sides against us. Did I mention that other bird (I think she’s a Pommy import too, with a touch of colonial arrogance) Cinders Rella. Calls me Eeyore! And just because I cast a guy named Jones. I reckoned anyone called Jones was a good bet? Gwynneth Jones. Aled Jones. Alan Belford Jones?

Trouble is, David (and I’m sorry if this a bit disorganised, but I did drown my sorrows yesterday in a couple of bottles of Dom Perignon I took home after New Years), it’s not only the critics who don’t love me. It’s the Opera Club.

I know, I know, we don’t have an Opera Club, but the people exist. And with enough factions to take on the Terrigals. You’ve just head the refrain. Play more Australian work, they say. Then they don’t bring their friends. Play more women composers! You can count the Australian women opera composers on one hand. The subscribers bitch too. Book the best seats year after year. And then they die. Certainly won’t return for Bliss reruns. Why can’t they just cancel their subscriptions to “Allerta” if they don’t like me.

It may be, David, that after two years with us you are learning some of the issues I have to deal with. Had Senator Branding Iron on the phone the other day. At least he’s a “bums on seats” man, so he doesn’t mind how many times we run Carmen. He told me times were tough and we’d have to tighten out belts. Said living standards are falling and the age of entitlement is over. I tell you, he’s never invited me to an $11,000 tête-à-tête dinner. I bet they drank Grange. But that’s it. You board guys seem to think it’s all about bums on seats too. Never got past Nessun Dorma, eh? (Sorry. Cheap shot.) And don’t seek too much advice from that gallerist, Porcini. They’re all crooks in that game, from Sotheby’s down. Or should that be up. It’s just not fair: everyone forgets I have to plan long term, four, five years out. Just as well I programmed a bums on seats schedule for 2015, just as the downturn strikes. At least they’ll come to Aida and Boheme. Elephants and a bit of tit always bring in the punters. (Had a go at me for bare breasts, too, did prissy Ms Harry. For god’s sake! They’re so far upstage you need field glasses to see anything.)

And everyone seems to have forgotten our triumph with The Ring. Am I a tall poppy to be slashed after delivering that gem? Well, I know, there were a few personnel issues. Houston have always been prickly with me, and running with an Australian conductor did seem like a good idea at the time we booked him. Filled the State Theatre, we did, including a great program to screw our regulars by offering “inducements” to get punters the best tix. Pity about all those subscribers who missed out on decent seats, but they were mostly from Melbourne and as you know we don’t really care much about our Melbourne audiences, never-ending mob of bitchers that they are.

I mentioned The Ring to Branding Iron. I think he knew what I was talking about. Wanted to get a message back to Tony Grabbit about red tape (and reputation). Red tape costs money. Did you know we had to cast an extra Valkyrie? I’d never seen so many ROFLMAOs in emails replying to our request for a soprano with Work Cover certification in the construction industry. And now we are a laughing stock with world wide Wagner Societies for our casting. Had to provide a second cherry picker too because you can’t have people on them unless driver trained or with someone to ensure they are hooked on. Does no one remember our heritage? Next they’ll be demanding nets every time anyone enters on a trapeze. Bloody OH&S. I said to Neil at the time the cherry pickers were a bit too much just for a dragon reference, but he did a great job on the whole, even getting in a Bondi Beach reference and bikini girls. That must be a first for The Ring and it kept the tourism people happy.

Did I mention singers? People seem to forget I spend my life working with one of the most difficult persuasions in the world: musicians of the vocal variety. And do I cop it! Am I so wrong not to want Cio-cio San two metres tall or Afro American? “Suspend belief all ye who enter here” can only go so far. I’m a sensitive guy who understands our anti-discrimination policies. I’d never call a singer “fat”. But it’s not just body image: I’m under the gun for not running ASIO and other political checks on our principals. I mean, we book talent, not opinion. I can’t see how I’m supposed to know four or five years out when a contracted singer will have a gin too many and blow her mouth off to the fourth estate about oil prices, gay rights or whatever. Then, before I know it, you’re on the phone, David, saying “something must be done”. The ensemble singers are pretty difficult, too. Suggest a few weeks off while we run the Lisa and Teddy show and there’s hell to pay. Singers say they can’t make ends meet and have to take jobs doing burlesque in Newtown. If they just drank Vickers like the average Australian instead of bloody Hendrick’s they could probably pay the phone and fag bills.

Haven’t mentioned orchestras yet have I? They’re all inveterate complainers too. Pit’s too small; brass is too loud; calls schedule too difficult. And those guys in Victoria and their union mates! The Australian Ballet is welcome to them.

So, David, you see, I’m feeling a bit unloved. But I have addressed some of the immediate issues by having Mesdames Harry and Cinders told they are persona non grata. The fact we can’t get a reputable critic along to the opening of Faust is irrelevant. As long as we stay popular we don’t need those arty farties. And Faust has enough JK Rowling to sell itself, not to mention The Jewel Song.

I feel a little better now that I have explained some of my problems. I was contemplating resignation, but have just had a great idea for 2017/18. We can do a Three Tenors Spectacular with The Best of Lehar as theme. And then we’ll book Andre Rieu for Opera on the Harbour. That’ll put the bums on seats!



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The @ASQuartet Announces a 2015 Program. Of a sort.

Today another chamber ensemble 2015 brochure hit your correspondent’s mailbox. Late, you say? Yes. But with reason. The letter and brochure came from the Australian String Quartet. Please ignore the sad past year and “irreconcilable artistic differences”. The ASQ board and management have been presented with one massive dilemma: how to create a string quartet program for their thirtieth year with a busted line up.

Management assures us they are doing everything possible to locate two new violinists. But in the interim, what have we got? The offering is Stephen King, Sharon Draper and Friends. Friends? Well, only “first violinist” friends. For the three tours proposed there is no mention whatsoever of the players who will take on the second violin role. Are they unimportant? Are they not yet contracted? Has management no idea? Has the board no idea? Oh, well, we all know: second violinists don’t exist. Or do they? Remember the wise words from the Julliard: the second violinist has to be able to play everything the first plays, and in a much more difficult register.

Not that your correspondent has any problem with the first violinists contracted by the ASQ to play in 2015. They are session instrumentalists of the first order: Wilma Smith, recently departed from the concertmaster chair at the Melbourne Symphony; Susie Park,, a soloist of growing stature; and then Sophie Rowell. Alert readers will recall that Sophie was, just a couple of years ago, first violinist of the, wait for it, Australian String Quartet. But, whatever your point of view, a string quartet consists of four players. They need time to build a mutual understanding and a musical soul. So the ASQ has a 2015 program of music to offer. But it is not a string quartet program.

This begs the question: what do you do if two members of your quartet resign? Your correspondent is of the view one player is replaceable, two probably not. The last time the ASQ board was placed in a similar position and came up with a sound plan, they determined to replace the busted line-up with an established quartet (The Tankstream). Brilliant. The next time they screwed up. Why have they not taken the sensible approach in 2015? Is there no one available? Then perhaps, rather than offering a festival lineup of session musicians, the board should have bitten the bullet and canned the whole program year. Find your quartet. Build it. Then introduce it to a waiting public. Your followers deserve better than the current debacle.

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“We are what we eat”. What is your gut reaction to this?

Your correspondent is not generally considered a food faddist, nor a health nut. Just an ordinary, healthy individual who, nevertheless, can consume a packet of biscuits at one sitting, has a predilection for chocolate, and maybe, just maybe, drinks a little too much whisky. So, why, in the last couple of weeks has he been hit by the proverbial train? Not a wreck, mind you. Rather a vehicle moving towards an amazing new world of physical and possibly mental understanding.


By way of further preamble there is a little story of a man who came, a few years back, to buy a used car from your correspondent’s son. An entrepreneur, this used car buyer regaled us about his new passion, probiotics, which, he claimed, could cure all manner of diseases and conditions. He was, in all probability, a nut case. But perhaps there was some truth in what he was postulating. After all probiotics work in the gut, and that is what this blog post is all about.


Gut bacteria is the issue, and the complex interplay between bacteria in the intestinal tract and its effect on the host. The host? That’s you and me. Consider this:


“Microbes in the gastrointestinal tract are under selective pressure to manipulate host eating behaviour to increase their fitness, sometimes at the expense of host fitness. Microbes may do this through two potential strategies: (i) generating cravings for foods that they specialize on or foods that suppress their competitors, or (ii) inducing dysphoria [a profound state of unease or dissatisfaction] until we eat foods that enhance their fitness.” [i]


There is more: “mechanisms for microbial control over eating behaviour [include]…microbial influence on reward and satiety pathways, production of toxins that alter mood,…..and hijacking of the vagus nerve, the neural axis between the gut and the brain”[ii]


So what, you may ask. But think for a moment what this could mean, if indeed it is true. Perhaps the response to the current epidemic of obesity should not be more self-control and less fast foods, but rather a simple dietary shift to allow a different balance amongst the bacteria in the gut. And the thought, first expressed to your correspondent by his wise and diligent daughter: “When they find a cure for obesity, they will have found a cure for all eating disorders”.


While it may be early days in pursuing this general hypothesis, there is incredible evidence in other medical fields that a relatively simple change in gut bacteria can have outstanding results. There is another epidemic going on, of which this non-medico was not aware: severe Colitis, known as Clostridium difficile infection (CDI). The usual treatment practice with antibiotics is no longer working as drug resistant strains have developed. Happily an “inexpensive, safe, and highly efficient treatment” has emerged “which achieves results current pharmaceuticals cannot achieve.”[iii] The treatment? Infusion of a fecal suspension from a healthy individual into the gastrointestinal tract of an individual with colonic disease, also known as Fecal Microbiota Transplantation or even, colloquially “a transpoosion”.


Readers who wish to get some insight into these developments could do worse than view two recent episodes of the ABC TV program “Catalyst” Series 15 Episodes 5 and 6 both available currently on iView (


It seems as if the world may be on the brink of some amazing new developments in the field of health. The work on gastrointestinal microbiota has potential ramifications for a wide spectrum, including autoimmune disease, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, eating disorders and even mental health. Let the research roll. It seems we are only at the beginning of what was known to Hippocrates more than 2000 years ago: ”Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Wise words indeed.



[i] Bioessays 36: 1-10 by Alcock, Maley and Aktipis. Pub. Wiley Periodicals.

[ii] Op. cit.

[iii] Fecal Microbiota Transplantation, Techniques, Applications and Issues. Borody and Campbell, Gastroenterol Clin N Am 41 (2012) 781-803

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Musica Viva Launches: 2015 Program

Musica Viva has launched its 70th Anniversary Season. Unlike some larger organisations who have to consider attracting a conservative audience base Musica Viva has eschewed, in the main, the bland populist approach and brought together an eclectic selection of ensembles and individual musicians which cannot fail to find favour with a wide range of audiences. And there certainly can be no quibble about quality. You like Baroque? Tafelmusik returns. It may be hard for them to repeat the incredible impact of The Galileo Project so impressively performed on their last visit. But their planned “House of Dreams” project, taking audiences on a tour, musical and visual, of the worlds of Bach and Vivaldi sounds impressive. It will take great skill to raise such a performance above the mundane of a European tour video. Tafelmusik has the artistic clout to do this.

Did your correspondent mention quality? How about Steven Isserlis, this time with Associate Artist Connie Shih? Or Paul Lewis? Isserlis will play some Ades along with more popular fare by Saint Saens, Faure, and that old favourite Franck Sinatra (sorry, Sonata). It may not have been written for the cello, but it sure sounds like it should have been. Lewis will play standard repertoire: Beethoven and Brahms. Sorry, contemporary piano music fans. This does seem to be unimaginative programming, but piano lovers are funny people.

Two quartets underline quality further: Goldner and the Modigliani. Both will play Beethoven, while the Goldner, bless their hearts will open with Ligetti and a newly commissioned quartet by Paul Stanhope. The Modigliani, not to be outdone, will play some Westlake for Australian flavour. The two Haydn quartets announced, from Op 50 and 54, are perhaps not amongst the most often programmed. Which is excellent. But your correspondent must beg your indulgence on this. He is away and without his usual cribs.

The Eggner Trio returns yet again. These three Austrian guys are known crowd pleasers, and their programming tends towards the popular on this visit (the “Dumky” yet again). (Memo MVA: Dvorak did write other works. His Piano Trio in F Minor Op 66 is a beauty.)

The newcomer in next year’s line up is “a cappella” group Il Fagiolini. This continues Musica Viva’s long history of bringing the best vocal groups to Australia. This started with the Deller Consort so far back not many of us can remember. Il Fagiolini’s repertoire will include a new commission by “Schultz”. One assumes this is Australian composer Robert Schulz. The MVA program pages do not run to first names, and your correspondent, having dropped off the MVA press list, has no media pack to consult.) Talking of first names the Eggner will play a work by Hollan, or alternatively Holland, depending on which program list is referred to on the MVA website. Again one is left to assume this is Dulcie Holland. She did write a couple of works for piano trio. The longest runs about 15 minutes so it is a pretty slight obeisance at the altar of Australian music, but we should be thankful for small mercies.

There does not appear to be a featured Australian composer next year. This is a pity. There is little enough music by living Australians being played and that MVA initiative was one to be applauded. Perhaps it will return next year.

There is a Gala Special next year to mark the seventy years: virtuoso violinist Maxim Vengerov will play a program of finger breakers including Kreisler, Ysaye, Wieniawski and Paganini with a little Bach, Prokofiev, Brahms and Dvorak besides. You’ve picked it already. This is the short form programming style much loved in the early 20th century, but now most appropriate for galas (that almost came out as Galahs) and drive time radio. You can buy a cocktail party with your ticket should you feel the need for a drink after all those notes.

To round out a full year, the Musica Viva Festival also returns in April. This is a happy blend of chamber music with a stellar cast of Australian and international musicians. It is run at the Sydney Con in association with the Australian Youth Orchestra whose players get tutoring from some of the best in the world. You can take it as you wish: a program of concerts of international standard, watch the young AYO talent in masterclasses, or take in the lot. It is full on, but for chamber music lovers it is a feast of dreams.

Posted in Chamber Music, Musica Viva, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

An Occasional Review: “Cadence” by Emma Ayres (@emmaayresviola), published by ABC Books

What’s in a sub-title? What is to be read from “Travels with music – a memoir”? The full title of Emma Ayres’ recent book is equally inscrutable: “Cadence”. Is this a travel book? A book about music? The cover pic suggests something to do with cycling. That too? So it was with some uncertainty that your correspondent, using up a generous ABC Shop Birthday Gift Card, and having placed two Amy Dickson saxophone CDs in his basket, paused in front of the display table where “Cadence” was being promoted. Along with a companion CD.

Had Emma not been a favourite voice on ABC Radio’s Classic FM breakfast show, and a familiar face from various festivals and events, the book may have remained on the shelf. But that morning voice, with its quirky sense of humour, sometimes polarises opinion. And the occasional casual meeting has presented your correspondent with something of an enigma. What is she? Who is she? A musician? A journalist? And what lies beneath the radio presenter’s calm, articulate presentation?

So, with a nagging suspicion that this might be a rather boring traveller’s tale, your correspondent made the purchase; without the companion CD. How wonderful it was, then, to discover that “Cadence” is a most remarkable book. It is all those things mentioned, but then so much more. There are a number of threads running through the book: a personal and family story; a musician’s tale; an obeisance at the temple of cycling; an insightful exploration of musical keys, which might have been a disastrous ploy were it not so skilfully interwoven into the writer’s emotional journey. But above all the book is a paean to that country of contradictions, Pakistan.

In a world of blogs, Facebook and Twitter, where exchange of personal detail seems everyday, it should perhaps come as no surprise when authors give freely about themselves. In “Cadence”, Emma Ayres reveals much about herself in an open, yet intimate portrayal of a tough early family life, the rigours of becoming a professional musician, and, in a sometimes amusing and other times chilling way, the androgynous trials of a lesbian on the sub-continent. Meanwhile the main theme of cycling, alone, from England to Hong Kong. presents a wonderful casserole of adventure, thickened and spiced with history and stories of individual contact with people who, in the main, would help to reawaken a feeling of trust and generosity in the most jaundiced reader’s faith in humanity.

The writing, for a woman of words and music, is clear and easy to absorb. Sure, there are times when an over-emphasis grates, or an amusing aside is overplayed. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK” is one such example. Certainly the circumstances were dire, but the reader already understood this from the narrative. A vigilant editor should have saved Emma from these, admittedly few, discords. On the other side of the literary coin is some delightful writing: “…like a velvet chador”. Could any other simile recreate this word picture?

Some of the incidental stories are incredible gems: who knows of Jiri Dinshaw, her history and lifetime’s work with young musicians of Mumbai? And the reflections on Emma’s own time working with Afgani musicians are, frankly, beautiful. Just read the story of Isaac Stern’s violin bow.

Your correspondent knows Pakistan and Iran, having worked and lived in both countries. Knowledge of Afganistan came only from tales from a father-in-law who travelled there with UNESCO in the late 1940’s. If these insights have underscored appreciation of Emma’s observations, then so be it. But for the general reader this book is a treat in waiting; for the general reader as well as cyclists, lovers of the travel genre, and musicians and music lovers alike. If your musical knowledge is limited you may benefit by purchasing the companion CD. But don’t skip over the story of the keys. To do so would be inimical to total enjoyment of this wonderful work.

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A reaction to @operaaustralia’s Eugene Onegin

Last night your correspondent saw the last night of Opera Australia’s Eugene Onegin. It was, personally, a special occasion, but that is irrelevant, other than to say the production matched the occasion. Nicole Car was magnificent. The orchestra played with a special feel that reflected a fine controlling instinct from conductor Guilliaume Tourniaire. While Tchaikovsky’s music would alone be enough.
But there was something else alongside the operatic, and that was dance. It may be telling that mental anguish, dopamine, seratonin, left brain and right brain have been high in your correspondent’s mind recently, along with the recognition that we are all, nearly always, of two minds. Mostly in benign debate, but sometimes in a fight for supremacy. Two individuals in one, wrestling with issues and demons, illusions and reality, love and life. So it was, after dozing through the first scene, an electric impulse hit in the Letter Scene: the presence, the actions of the dancer were no simple ‘could haves” or “would haves”. Raw metaphor indeed, but the reflection was that of the mind in turmoil. The rational, calm, singing Tatyana battling with an unruly id that demanded she express her deepest feelings, irrespective of the outcomes a clear head, even a young woman’s clear head, knew would result. The dancer was in control. She who wrote the words. The Tatyana in control while the “other” Tatyana succumbed, without so much as a fight. It was a fine exposition of what was, in fact, going on in a scene of little action: a mental battle. How better to represent it than with two representations of the one personality. If one has not, personally, known the battle, or has not seen it in someone close, the reality may pass over us. For your correspondent it was conceptually brilliant.
Onegin’s danced alter ego was less intense but nonetheless real. He was one who had succumbed in the battle in his mind. Truly a lost soul. Indeed his weary reaction to the dancers in the Polonaise reflected his inner state. The narcissist at the end of the road.
If this be the future of dance in opera productions, then let it continue.

(This is an edited version of a comment made on A Cunning Blog

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“The Saturday Paper” Hits the Streets

Friday afternoon your correspondent was passing through Martin Place, minding his own business when a young lady thrust some printed white paper into his hands. Seeing the masthead, The Saturday Paper, he enquired politely “A Saturday paper on Friday?” This elicited but a smile, and we passed on.

It was not until Saturday that time permitted a review of this unexpected journal. The twenty-first century is not the best time to launch a newspaper. Who are the brave souls and what their purpose? A new front by the Australian Communist Party? A new initiative of the H R Nicholls Society perhaps? Or a new type of Mx, published by the last of the remaining press barons?

None of the above, it seems, and thankful we should all be. It seems the initiative is that of one Morry Schwartz, who, according to a launch address by none other than Malcolm Turnbull, is a radical, an idealist, born in Hungary, a Jew and has ink in his veins. The Internet tells us he is also a property developer and publisher. It is a sign of your correspondent’s cloistered existence that he did not know Schwartz publishes The Quarterly Essay and The Monthly. Clearly the guy knows what he is doing.

Some feel for style can be gleaned from the quality of contributors. David Marr is there with a fine piece on Cardinal Pell. Christos Tsiolkas does film. Novelist Richard Flanagan writes fine satire on the “Comment” page and the co-owner of Melbourne’s fashionable Cutler and Co does food. A crossword from Mungo MacCallum is there for those of cryptic persuasion. It seemingly has it all: Comment, Culture, Business, Film, Books, Food, World, Sport, Interiors, Fashion. Something for nearly everyone. No music performance criticism however. That is an egregious omission.

But who is the everyone at which this august journal is pitched? A clue can be gleaned from the ads. Rolex, and Harrolds, the up-market gents outfitter, have full pages. ABC Books and the Australian Ballet are there, as is a full page pushing luxury homes in “Melbourne’s Prestigious Alphington”. (Nobody lived in Alphington when your correspondent was a boy in Melbourne, but that was an age ago.) Academy Travel is there too pushing English summer music festivals. Opera and chamber music festivals of course. You get the idea.

The Leader say it all, of course: “A young paper with tenacious vision”; “no agenda and no single view”; “knowledge that is broad and deep”; “defiant of trends and conventional wisdom”. Your correspondent rather likes the final words: “We promise to be a small but handsome mongrel, a blue heeler cross of the press.”

A salute to the ideals, and a loud, resounding “Chookas” to Schwartz and his crew. Do you suppose, though, that SportsBet is running a book on how many years the newspaper will last?

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