Monday, October 30, 2006

Donizetti and the 39 articles

On Saturday afternoon, Anne and I saw a performance of "Lucia di Lammermoor" by Gaetano Donizetti -- an opera about Scotland written by an Italian! It was performed at the Lyric theatre here in Brisbane -- a beautifully designed large modern theatre that gives just about everyone in the audience a good view of the stage. We had seats in the first tier up.

The scenery was pretty invariant in the modern way and the costumes were a bit mixed. I was pleased to see that the clergyman wore advocates' tabs, as Presbyterian ministers do, but there was not a kilt in sight! Very strange for something set in the Highlands. The odd Tartan cloak or sash seemed to be the only recognition of Scottishness in dress.

There were of course only the four main performers but I was amazed that the cast of chorus/extras was so large. There must have been 50 people on stage at times. I thought I could see government subsidy somewhere there. No wonder opera is so expensive to produce!

I am not much of a fan of 19th century Italian opera (opera for me stops at Mozart) and I usually have a nap of an afternoon so that combination was not good. I had trouble staying awake -- for all the drama unfolding on stage! The plot is incredibly silly by modern standards but I guess it made sense in the time it was written.

It was Anne who particularly wanted us to go along so she enjoyed it, fortunately. I gather that she particularly wanted to see the famous "mad scene" performed. That scene is a major role for a soprano and Anne herself is a singer (soprano) so I can understand her interest.

The opera had a curious aftermath. Anne cooked us some excellent sausages for dinner afterwards and a big storm with lots of thunder and lightning got underway as she was washing up. That inspired her to start singing "How great thou art", because of its allusion to thunder:

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power through-out the universe displayed.

That hymn is one of the most powerful evangelical hymns ever written and it is a tremendous favourite of mine so afterward we put on a CD of hymn tunes and sang along together! Anne referred to it as "Religious karaoke"! We are both unbelievers these days but share a Presbyterian background and we both love the old hymns. But following Donizetti by hymns had to be a bit eccentric! I enjoyed the hymns a lot more!

Curiously, although Anne does not appear to believe in God in any way, she still has Presbyterian beliefs. How come? She still believes that: "it was all meant to be". The Scottish churches are of course all originally Calvinist and even the 39 "Articles of Religion" of the Church of England accept predestination in a convoluted sort of way but you never hear that belief preached from any pulpit that I know of these days.

But what the preachers have forgotten, the people have not. The old belief is still passed down in families. I remember my own mother and Aunt Maude also telling me with great confidence: "It was all planned out before we were born, John". Yet neither Maude nor my mother were very religious in any obvious sense. I guess there is a religious instinct there -- and I have certainly inherited that. So I happily sing songs of praise to a God I don't believe in. I may be the only atheist in the world who keeps a Presbyterian hymn-book by the side of his bed!

Immigration nonsense

Anne and I made a very sad discovery on Friday morning. We Humbered out to Wynnum with a 3-tier English morning tea from the very English Pommes teashop in mind and discovered that they will be closing down soon. What a loss! They make the best sausage rolls in Brisbane as well as providing the fanciest morning tea.

Apparently, Australia's idiotic Immigration Dept. has said that the proprietors have to go back to England. The fact that they employ 7 people and provide a greatly appreciated service does not matter, apparently.

They have done nothing wrong. It is just that they do not fit into any category that the bureaucrats allow to settle here.

Queensland State parliamentarian Paul Lucas is appealing on their behalf so emails to him deploring this silly decision would be a great idea.

Australia allows lots of unemployable people from places like the Lebanon and the Sudan to settle here and live off the Australian taxpayer but hard-working English people who create jobs are sent home! Only a bureaucrat could makes sense of it.

On Saturday I was out at Wynnum again. My old sweetheart G. came over to take up my standing offer of a trip in my recently acquired 1963 Humber Super Snipe.

We had ham & salad bread rolls on the verandah first for brunch then drove out to Wynnum and got takeaway coffee there to have by the water. Both Anne and G. are very outdoorsy but the only bit of the outdoors in the Brisbane area that I like particularly is the seaside at Wynnum.

On Sunday, Anne and I went to church.

Ann St Presbyterian is our old church for both of us (some notes about it here and here) and we have a sentimental attachment to it so we do go along on rare occasions. The church was pretty full and there were quite a few young people in the congregation. I was a bit sad to see that ALL the young people were Asian, however. Ann St has a big Korean congegation with regular services in Korean but many of the young members of the Korean families have gone to school here and obviously feel more at home with the English services. I am pleased that they come but sad that the older British-based congegation is not being replaced too.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Mr Brown

I thought I might put up a photo of the most frequent visitor to my place. I am holding him below. He is a beautiful Burmese cat from next-door who seems to visit everyone in the street regularly.

Why would I call him "Mr. Brown"?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A musical weekend

My "weekend" started auspiciously when Anne brought over a piece of lamb on Thursday evening and made us a roast dinner. There's no roast as good as a roast straight from the oven to the table. We listened to the music of Purcell and Beethoven afterwards, including Beethoven's 6th., one of the few symphonies I put on often.

On Friday morning we had a very humble but still excellent breakfast -- meat pies. We got them from Muzza's at Coorparoo. Muzza is in my view the best pie cook in Brisbane, which is a bit ironical as he is a Kiwi. Australia is undoubtedly the world headquarters of meat pie eating so it is a bit surprising that it is a New Zealander who makes the best pies. His cakes are good too: Definitely sinful. He even has tiny mini-tarts for weight-watching ladies!

We took our pies to the Brisbane Corso (by the river) to eat, together with takeaway coffee. We found a shady nook there, overlooking the wide brown expanse of the Brisbane river. The birds that came to share our breakfast were a couple of magpies, rather unusually. We usually see either ibises or seagulls. We listened to a couple of the late symphonies of F.J. Haydn after breakfast.

On Friday evening we went to another classical music soiree at Bill's. Bill had dug out some excellent recordings for us and we started off most auspiciously with "Steppes of Central Asia" by Borodin. We also heard a Vivaldi cello concerto, which was new to me. It didn't sound much like Vivaldi but was good nonetheless. I went to sleep that night with "Steppes of Central Asia" playing in my brain -- a pretty good lullaby!

Saturday night was the night of G.F. Handel. There was a choral concert at St John's of the anthems originally played at the coronation of King George II -- with Handel's famous coronation anthems featuring prominently, of course -- though music from Purcell, Tallis and others was also heard. The grand music of Handel and the grandeur of a great stone cathedral were a good match. And, as a monarchist, I was pleased by the frequent cries of "God save the King". Being a bit of a hermit these days, I would not even have known the event was on but Anne grabs every opportunity to get me out of my hermit cave and music is the best lever for that. Anne is as social as I am reclusive. She is definitely a "lady who lunches".

On Sunday morning we Humbered down to the seaside at Wynnum and found a place that sold quite fancy takeaway food. We got takeaway chicken sandwiches, frittata and quiche which we ate in a picnic shelter by the water, followed by a walk along the esplanade. It was a good morning for a walk, being bright and sunny.

On Sunday evening we went to another meeting of our private live-music group. Hearing classical music live has a certain edge over recorded music but I have never quite figured out why. I got a clue from a Haydn cello concerto we heard, though. I was sitting only about 3 feet from the cello player and the cello sounded completely different from what one hears on recorded music -- much deeper, more resonant and dramatic. I thought I knew what cellos sounded like. I didn't!

The cello player was a young but very competent girl. Since Jacqueline du Pre, the cello seems to have become a female's instument. I will forbear from the usual jokes about that. The ladies do an excellent job and that is all that matters.