Michael Shmith

Michael Shmith

Michael Shmith is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. His latest book, Merlyn (Hardie Grant, 2021) is a biography of the widow of Sidney Myer.

Australian World Orchestra – Conducted by Alexander Briger

ABR Arts 29 July 2019
Australian World Orchestra – Conducted by Alexander Briger
Once in a while (more or less annually), Alexander Briger brings Australia’s orchestral musicians home from Europe, the United States, and other international and national playing fields for a cross between a concert, a jamboree, and a school reunion. It’s irresistible, and if there’s one thing that emerges from every AWO performance, it’s that pervasive sense of release and joy, always un ... (read more)

Michael Shmith reviews 'The Boyds: A family biography' by Brenda Niall

April 2002, no. 240 01 April 2002
Michael Shmith reviews 'The Boyds: A family biography' by Brenda Niall
Biography can be difficult to achieve. There is the balance between too much detail, where one can’t see the wood for the family trees, or not enough, which can be disappointing all round. One also bears in mind possible antipathy: Sigmund Freud, who famously began burning his personal papers at twenty-nine, was dismissive of future chroniclers: ‘As for biographers, I am already looking forwar ... (read more)

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Opera Australia)

ABR Arts 14 November 2018
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Opera Australia)
Let it be said – indeed proclaimed – that Opera Australia’s new production of Wagner’s paean to life and art and love is musically as close to a triumph as it could have been. If, by the end, you feel the outside world is a better place than the one you temporarily abandoned six hours earlier, then Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg has surely wrought its magic. Did this happen on Tuesday? We ... (read more)

Michael Shmith reviews 'The Bootle Boy: An untidy life in news' by Les Hinton

September 2018, no. 404 23 August 2018
Michael Shmith reviews 'The Bootle Boy: An untidy life in news' by Les Hinton
One day not that far away, I suspect, hot-metal memoirs will grow cold on the slab. Thus the triumph of technology over the nostalgia of those days when journalistic skills included not only being up to shorthand speed but being able to read upside down and back to front. The latter skill was necessary for any production journalist who spent long and awkward hours in the composing room, standing a ... (read more)

Stuart Skelton (Melbourne Recital Centre)

ABR Arts 06 August 2018
Stuart Skelton (Melbourne Recital Centre)
Stuart Skelton, a fine performer and strong, sensitive singer, is by nature and profession a Heldentenor. He is indeed heroic, not only in voice but in how he carries himself on stage. His Wagnerian heroes – Parsifal, Tristan, Lohengrin and Siegmund in Die Walküre – emerge as strong and supple clarion calls perfectly suited to his strong and noble technique. But I think also of Skelton’s po ... (read more)

William Tell (Victorian Opera)

ABR Arts 16 July 2018
William Tell (Victorian Opera)
It has to be said straight away that William Tell is a colossal challenge, almost as much for its audiences as its performers. People talk of Wagner’s Curse (what can go wrong, usually does, in spades), but Rossini’s operatic swansong is not far behind. What makes it especially daunting for any opera company brave or foolhardy enough to attempt a production – and this before any consideratio ... (read more)

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics (Victoria and Albert Museum / Royal Opera House)

ABR Arts 27 November 2017
Opera: Passion, Power and Politics (Victoria and Albert Museum / Royal Opera House)
Opera is not a small artform. It is labyrinthine, multi-faceted, fraught with things that can go disastrously wrong (Wagner, especially), and it can be dreadfully expensive, formidably divisive, and astonishingly complicated. At the same time, opera is so necessarily crucial to culture as a reflection of history, thought, and society that one simply cannot imagine a world without it. The question ... (read more)

Michael Shmith reviews 'Ernest Newman: A critical biography' by Paul Watt

November 2017, no. 396 26 October 2017
Michael Shmith reviews 'Ernest Newman: A critical biography' by Paul Watt
Recently, the chief classical music critic of The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, adroitly summarised the nebulous perils of his job: ‘Music, especially purely instrumental music, resists being described in language. It’s very hard to convey sounds through words. Perhaps that’s what we most love about music: that it’s beyond description, deeper than words. Yet the poor music critic has ... (read more)

Why I quit as opera critic of The Age

ABR Arts 14 August 2017
Why I quit as opera critic of The Age
There was a time not that long ago when the arts pages of quality daily newspapers were regarded as essential reading as much for those inside the arts industry as outside it. Just as these newspapers were themselves papers of record, their arts pages existed primarily to record and sustain strong and informed critical opinion. Considered criticism has always been and will always remain the vital ... (read more)

Michael Shmith reviews 'The Day the Music Died: A life lived behind the lens' by Tony Garnett

December 2016, no. 387 30 November 2016
Michael Shmith reviews 'The Day the Music Died: A life lived behind the lens' by Tony Garnett
Tony Garnett, one of the most respected figures in British television drama, is also one of its most reclusive. Most people these days have almost certainly never heard of him, or, if they have, probably think he is a distant relation of Alf Garnett, of Till Death Us Do Part fame. Even though the cantankerous Alf was a fictional character (played by the great, late Warren Mitchell), there is a sl ... (read more)
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