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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.

Michael Shmith reviews ‘God and the Angel: Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier’s tour de force of Australia and New Zealand’ by Shiroma Perera-Nathan

May 2024, no. 464 22 April 2024
This attractive and fascinating volume is billed as ‘the first illustrated book on the 1948 Old Vic tour’, and, sure enough, it is jammed from stage-left to stage-right with scores of images – especially of the eternally photogenic two superstars who led the tour. Not among them is one particular photograph – more of a snapshot, really, just 6 x 4½ inches in 1948 measurements. It was take ... (read more)

Michael Shmith reviews ‘The Cancer Finishing School: Lessons in laughter, love and resilience’ by Peter Goldsworthy

April 2024, no. 463 25 March 2024
That doctors aren’t supposed to become incurably ill is something their patients might say, and about as useless as declaring that dentists are forbidden from contracting toothache or that undertakers should live forever – seeing other people out, not themselves. For Peter Goldsworthy – eminent novelist, poet, librettist, and an Adelaide general practitioner for more than forty years – ... (read more)

‘Schubert Piano Sonatas: Transcendent Schubert from Paul Lewis’ by Michael Shmith

ABR Arts 07 February 2024
Given the unalloyed delight of hearing the English pianist Paul Lewis’s magnificent traversal of the late sonatas of Schubert, it is hard to believe that these pieces, now so central to the piano repertoire, were once so peripheral, so neglected, as to be considered at worst non-existent or, at best, gemütlich items of curiosity. The latter view was neatly encapsulated by the great Schubert vir ... (read more)

Michael Shmith reviews ‘I am Melba’ by Ann Blainey

May 2008, no. 301 01 May 2008
On page sixty-two of Ann Blainey’s thoroughly researched, excellently written and beguilingly human biography of Nellie Melba there occurs a transition that is simple but that defines, in an instant, the moment the singer went from learner to legend. It happens when the young singer, under the wing of Madame Marchesi (née Mathilda Graumann; nickname ‘the Prussian drill-master’), is ready to ... (read more)

Michael Shmith reviews 'The Point of the Baton: Memoir of a conductor' by John Hopkins (with William Cottam)

November 2009, no. 316 01 November 2009
My memory of John Hopkins – in fact, the memories of most of my generation of Australian music-lovers – goes back to the Proms he conducted in Sydney and then Melbourne from the mid 1960s to the early 1970s. Hopkins was, to young audiences of the day, an anti-establishment musician who dared to strip the furniture from the stalls and, in the process, also strip away what he calls the ‘dynami ... (read more)

Michael Shmith reviews 'Breaking News: The Golden age of Graham Perkin' by Ben Hills

June 2010, issue no. 322 01 June 2010
In May 1981, I joined The Age, where, more or less, I have stayed put. On my first night one of the news subeditors said, ‘Let’s have a drink’. Whereupon he led me away from the news desk, along the scrofulous green carpet, past the ramshackle assortment of desks and typewriters, and straight into the men’s room. Fleet Street used to have a bar, behind St Bride’s Church, called the City ... (read more)

'Tannhäuser: Wagner’s medieval mash-up' by Michael Shmith

ABR Arts 18 May 2023
Let’s start with the complexities of the opera itself. The trouble with Tannhäuser is that Wagner, always his own worst enemy (but only just), could not leave it alone. Its performance history is more or less bookended by the two distinct versions of the opera: the original 1845 Dresden version; and the Paris one of 1861, commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III. In the intervening sixteen years, ... (read more)

Michael Shmith reviews 'Back in the Day: A memoir' by Melvyn Bragg

May 2023, no. 453 24 April 2023
Melvyn Bragg has been a British cultural polymath since he more or less drifted into arts broadcasting after coming down from Oxford more than six decades ago. His own longevity (he is now eighty-three) is reflected in his two most enduring series. The first is In Our Time, a BBC Radio 4 discussion series and podcast that has been running for a quarter of a century. The second was The South Bank S ... (read more)

Michael Shmith reviews 'A Private Spy: The letters of John le Carré' edited by Tim Cornwell

January-February 2023, no. 450 28 December 2022
Was he John or was he David? That’s the trouble with being a literary double agent: there’s always the significant other to consider. David Cornwell, alias John le Carré, devised his pseudonym in 1958, on the same day he also created his most famous character, George Smiley, on the opening page of his first novel, Call for the Dead. This was when le Carré – a fresh recruit to MI5 and on hi ... (read more)
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