Diary, January 2010
DIARY. January, 2010
I finished 2009 by re-staging my production of Andre Previn’s opera of Tennessee William’s play “ A Streetcar Named Desire” in Melbourne. Luckily – due to a superb cast ( Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Yvonny Kenny, Antoinette Halloran, Stuart Skelton) and a superb set (John Stoddart) –my contribution being minimal – the brief season was counted a success. Quite an achievement, as opera audiences, unlike those for theatre and film, tend to reject new works, their preference being operas of the 19th century. Curiously, they tend to regard even powerful and tuneful mid-20th century masterpieces such as Britten’s “Peter Grimes” as atonal. Any opera company anywhere in the world can guarantee packed houses by programming the “Big Seven” operas, all of them written before 1920. Admittedly, many operas written in the past 80 years or so are torture , but this is far from being the case with all of them. “Streetcar” has “accessible” music by any criterion ( Previn has a background in jazz and film scores as well as the classics) and has five big melodic arias that bear comparison with the Verdi/Puccini/Donizetti moments so adored by opera audiences. Perhaps it just takes a long time, with repeated hearings, for the subtleties of classical music to register. The first reviews of “Carmen” accused the opera of being “tuneless”. “Porgy and Bess” was greeted with hostile reviews in the mid 1930’s. At a party after the “Streetcar” opening a refined elderly lady said to me “it’s not really an opera, it’s just a play with music”. I pointed out to her that most of the Verdi & Puccini operas are adapted either from dire Victorian melodramas or are travesties of Shakespearean plays.
I have no qualifications as an historian , or as anything else, but have been reading with interest various articles claiming that from the earliest days of settlement it was government policy to eliminate the aboriginal race in Australia. For the preparation of many films over the years I’ve had to do extensive research, becoming, for a brief period, an expert on various subjects…the Boer War for “Breaker Morant”, fin de siecle Vienna for “Bride of the Wind”, the ballet world for “Mao’s Last Dancer”..and so on. Some years ago I did research for a documentary on Aborigines and , more recently, for a feature film on North American Indians – “Black Robe” set in 1629. In both cases I found that Government policy toward the original inhabitants of both Australia and North America tended to the enlightened. They were recognised as owners of the land, were to be compensated for encroachments, treated with justice etc etc Where it all went wrong was when settlers in both countries ignored the regulations, which were difficult to enforce in that era, set up farms in areas inhabited by the natives & didn’t hesitate to wipe them out in large numbers when they objected. A handful of European farmers in Tasmania managed to decimate an entire race.
An encouraging fax arrives from Jeffrey Smart ( the ONLY friend I have who has not graduated to e mail) the 88 year old painter, who lives in Tuscany. “I’m not so ga ga”, he writes, “ that I don’t realise the painting I have just finished is one of my best”. He has a show of new paintings in Australia in a couple of months, including a large portrait of me standing, uncharacteristically, in front of a row of garage doors wearing bright orange overalls.
It is that time of year when dozens of films bombard me, on dvd, for Academy Award voting. I’ve started to plough through them, not a particularly onerous task, although a few of them are barely worthy of release let alone garnering with gongs. I took one night off, to go and see Scott Hick’s film “The Boys are Back” at a quaint little cinema in Mt Victoria, noted not just for its charm but the superb programming. I came out wondering why it is that this wonderfully touching, well acted and often very amusing film hasn’t been promoted for an Academy Award? The story of a father who has to deal with two young sons when his wife suddenly dies of cancer could not have been better directed. I’ve not seen finer acting from Clive Owen, and Nicholas McAnulty, a 6 year old playing the younger son, gives a performance of complexity and subtlety that I believe has never been equalled by any juvenile actor. Not too many adult ones, either.
My battles with the local council continue. I pay $100 a year so visitors can park outside the house in our narrow street. Someone drove off with the permit still stuck to their windscreen. I called the council in Leichardt for a replacement and was told this is not possible. “No”, I said, “I don’t expect you just to replace it. I’ll pay for another permit”. “You don’t understand”, came what seemed to be a joyous riposte, “you can’t have another permit. You must return the lost one”. As the errant friend hasn’t owned up, there is now no legal parking outside my house. This comes on top of the Council’s refusal to let me build a roof over the car in our one car off-street parking space. I was curtly told it will “impede the view of the house from the north”. Nonsense. Further, it was pointed out to me that the house, built in 1888, had no garage for a car so the modest carport would be inappropriate. With involuntary sarcasm I pointed out that it then had no phone either, no e mail, a wood stove, no refrigeration and an outside toilet. Would the Council advocate a return to this situation?
At Rozelle market, while foraging through the thousands of second hand books my wife finds a first edition of a Norman Lindsay novel, with dust-jacket, “Dust or Polish”, published in 1950. Lindsay’s paintings and drawings once again fetch high prices, having been obtainable for virtually nothing until a few years ago, but I think his novels are all forgotten. He must’ve written at least ten. Are any in print? I doubt it.( I remember reading “Redheap” as a teenager, having been told, erroneously, that it was salacious.) The same evening, I sit down to read “Dust or Polish” – then can’t put it down to go to bed. Written with an effortlessly light touch, it’s an appealing story, with witty dialogue, of a showgirl who gives up her rather tawdry occupation to run a second hand furniture store.
A wonderful New Years Eve at Barry Humphries flat overlooking Circular Quay. Around 30 friends of Barry’s and Lizzie’s, plus Barry’s two dashing sons and their beautiful girl-friends, at a superb sit-down dinner preceded by a brilliant musical evening. Sonatas played by a young Croatian pianist, Dejan Lazi?. Contemporary Chinese violin music played by Zen Hu , who is with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, then a Brahms sonata played by Richard Tognetti and Lazi?. (I hadn’t heard this piece for years, but immediately recognised it as the first classical LP I ever bought, from Rowe Street Records, in 1955 -the street has now vanished ,let alone the record store). Finally, two Gershwin songs sung by Cheryl Barker, accompanied on piano by her husband, Peter Coleman-Wright. At midnight we all crowded onto the tiny verandah , up somewhere near the top of the building, as the fireworks exploded all around us. Much kissing and embracing.
2010 ! I can’t believe it….