Michael Shmith

Die Walküre 

by
11 February 2022

Richard Wagner’s famous pronouncement, ‘Kinder, schafft Neues!’ (‘Children, create something new!’), has often been the inspiration to take daring creative risks, particularly (but not exclusively) with productions of his works. Using The Ring as a starting point, directorial licence has been extended in all sorts of intriguing ways that have, over the years, seen Valkyries roaring around on motorcycles, Rhinemaidens as strutting Victorian doxies, the dragon Fafner at the turret of an army tank, Wotan as a Texan oligarch, Siegfried as a hippie, and Gunther and the Gibichungs as Nazis.

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Trio by William Boyd

by
October 2020, no. 425

The first three chapters of William Boyd’s beguiling new novel, Trio, are devoted to the waking habits of three people: a novelist called Elfrida Wing, stirred from slumber by the brightening morning sun; a film producer called Talbot Kydd, jolted into a new day by an erotic dream taking place on a beach; and an American actress called Anny Viklund, who, it seems, hasn’t had the time to consider sunrays or reverie. Anny, the only one of the trio not to wake up alone, has spent a vigorous night with a younger man called Troy Blaze.

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Salome 

Victorian Opera
by
26 February 2020

For all its intense brevity, Salome is notoriously difficult to stage and perform. Richard Strauss might have adroitly described his opera (first performed in 1905) as ‘a scherzo with a fatal conclusion’, but his great admirer Gustav Mahler was closer to the mark when he said ‘deeply at work in it … is a live volcano, a subterranean fire’. Both points of view were more than justified by this generally fine performance of Salome.

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It was what Lawrence Durrell described as ‘the flickering of steel rails over the arterial systems of Europe’s body’ that steadily transformed nineteenth-century Europe into a cultural and social unity that would last until the outbreak of World War I. Not everyone was happy about this. Rossini, who was terrified of trains, stuck to coach travel, while others, including the German poet Heinrich Heine, took a sort of reverse-Brexit view, writing: ‘I feel as if the mountains and forests of all countries are advancing on Paris. Even now, I can smell the German linden trees; the North Sea breakers are rolling against my door.’

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The trouble with musical longevity as it affects conductors, especially ones we see often, is they are always the age we expect them to be as against the age they once were. From the vantage point of the present, therefore, it is tempting to regard Sir Andrew Davis as having always been the person he is now; a sort of reverse-Peter Pan whose youth we are incapable of imagining.

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Hansel and Gretel 

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
by
29 November 2019

This charming, persuasive, and glowing concert performance of Hansel and Gretel, part of Andrew Davis’s final Melbourne Symphony Orchestra season before he steps down as chief conductor, more than proved (if proof is required) what an outstanding opera conductor he is. Maybe, in future seasons, when Davis returns as the orchestra’s conductor laureate, there will be more: perhaps Berg’s Lulu, another of the maestro’s favourite operas, which the MSO would perform magnificently.

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To celebrate the year’s memorable plays, films, television, music, operas, dance, and exhibitions, we invited a number of arts professionals and critics to nominate their favourites. 

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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 ...

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 ...

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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 ... ... (read more)
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