Thursday, November 30, 2006


I just bet myself eleven thousand dollars that the screenplay of Prime Suspect 7, the first half of which I watched tonight, and which was brilliant and breathtaking in every possible way except in its actual subtextual message about women and work (which was Kinder, Kirche, Küche: 'children, church, cakes', or its colloquial English equivalent, 'barefoot and pregnant'), was written by a man.

And sure enough, his name's Frank. I win. Just as well. Most of that money belongs to the ATO.

More on this when the red haze has faded a bit.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

It's only fair

Having whinged and bitched and carried on at some length a mere three weeks ago about the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee's recommendation that the vaccine Gardasil not be subsidised, I'm thrilled to say I was completely wrong in most of what I said, and schoolgirls will be getting free vaccinations as from next year.

Many are cynical about the reasons for this, but frankly I do not care what they were. As long as we keep thinking in simple-minded binaries, we will never, ever get our heads out of the primeval slime, so I am not looking, just now, for angles that discredit the government. All power to whoever it was that got this fast-tracked, and if it was Howard, good on him, and if it was Abbott, good on him as well. I don't care who did it or what their motives were.

Never mind the means, look at the end. This will benefit everyone, and all the young daughters of all my friends -- Marina, Imogen, Marion, Flora, Phoebe, Sarah, Ellen and Ruth -- may all live longer than they would otherwise have done.

In memoriam JMCH, 1953-1999, whose eulogy I co-wrote six months after my mum's, and who might, if she had been born a few decades later or if this discovery had been made a few decades earlier -- as my dad pointed out on the phone today -- have lived to see the beautiful, principled, clever young woman that her daughter has become.

I don't like cricket, oh no ... I love it

From today's Crikey:

'Flintoff apparently shocked that Australia played to win

Nick Place writes:

Here’s a strange quote. English captain Andrew "Freddy" Flintoff, speaking immediately after Monday’s loss to Australia:

"Maybe it started with a few nervy lads knocking around and it took our time to get into the Test match. But having experienced that now and had a taste of what Ashes cricket is about playing (in) Australia … we can go into Friday knowing what to expect and how hard Australia will come at us."

This ranks, for mine, as the strangest comment heard yet in the saga of this Ashes series ... What was Flintoff saying? That somehow ... it hadn’t occurred to him or his team that Ricky Ponting’s side might come at them "hard" in the re-match? That playing Ashes cricket in Australia might need some sort of mental and physical preparation? ... And now, after a whole four and a half days of mostly one-sided action that saw Australia take a decisive 1-0 lead in the series, Flintoff says: Gee, this time, in Adelaide, we’ll be ready for the fact Australia will be playing to win.

You know what, Freddy? That’s an excellent idea.

No wonder Ricky Ponting had that dangerous and ruthless look in his eye when he looked towards Friday’s Second Test and said: "There’s not much time for England to go away and do much to get their games in order."

Earth to Freddy: Adelaide ain’t going to be no picnic either.'


Monday, November 27, 2006

Idol final highlights and lowlights


A talent competition was won by the person with the most talent. Unusual, but cheering.

Jess is a cute kid with a freaky voice, but she has no technique and persistent pitch problems, as demonstrated last night when she was a consistent quarter-tone flat all through her solos in one of the group numbers.


Intellectual giant James Matheson introducing Damien Leith's performance of that well-known anthem beloved of rev-heads everywhere, 'Nissan Dorma' -- a song he clearly believes to be about a sleepy Japanese car.

You could spend half your life waiting for the other shoe to drop

From a women's-mag pet advice column: 'My cat has gone blind. How will this affect her?'

From the same mag's 'psychic' advice column: 'My father died a year ago. Is he all right?'

Sunday, November 26, 2006


It's seventeen years today since I gave up smoking. Cold turkey, boom.

Having a glass of wine to celebrate.

(Just one.)

I wonder if they're all called Gordon

The gecko in the letterbox was cute. The gecko that fried the computer of the outside aircon unit was a good story. But the gecko trundling around in the bottom of my coffee cup this morning when, half asleep, I took it down off the windowsill came closer to giving me a heart attack than anything else ever has.

It had a half-grown-back tail, a process which apparently takes a long time, so it was clearly a creature of adventurous temperament that had found its way into a few strange places before today.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A post for White Ribbon Day

Here's a recent post from the astrological twin with whom I'm even more chuffed to share a birthday than I am with Cate Blanchett. The post is a few weeks old and does not refer directly to WRD, but it is so apposite that it might as well, and its suggestion that male violence is covertly enabled by the current prevailing values -- over and above patriarchy itself -- is one that needs some serious thought:

' ... the country has been inundated with bully culture, the culture of greed, for at least a dozen years. For many young professionals, that’s all they know in their working lives — the attitude of winner takes all, bigger smashes smaller and do it if you can get away with it. It might take a while to allow another more humane culture of getting along and nurturing each other and benefiting from each other’s skills and knowledge to rise from the ashes. At present ashes are pretty much all there is. Social animals know better than this — they seem to instinctively know that there are limits to what the bosses and the alpha males can get away with, and that cooperation within the group is how the group survives. Checks and balances — something that’s been missing for a while.

I sense this culture every day, on the streets and in the media. Every time a cop car ... runs a red light or speeds down a one way street the wrong way (just because they can, no other reason) and every time an SUV with darkened windows muscles other cars, bikers, old ladies and kids out of way — sometimes narrowly missing pedestrians as they run a red light — well, it’s all been sanctioned by [the politicians] who allied themselves with these bastards. They reflect and encourage one another. Push in line, build your building right in front of someone else’s, destroy a neighbourhood, be a winner, a survivor. To me, those reality shows “teach” bully culture — that’s the lesson that is imparted [as they] promote backstabbing, lying, duplicitous behavior and entitlement — all in a world where no one works.'

If you're surprised by the identity of the writer, it's probably because you know him as a musician. Found via Alex Ross at The Rest is Noise.

Friday, November 24, 2006

My stats are bigger than the same as your stats

I've always been amused by the competitive element in blogging and the apparent ease with which people ignore how easy it is to boost one's numbers artificially. But I long ago gave in to the Truth Laid Bear ecosystem (see sidebar), and when I encountered this dear little thingy at Kate's, I couldn't resist giving it a go as well.

If I put these two ranking systems together, it makes me a C-Listed Slimy Mollusc. How could anyone possibly resist me?

C-List Blogger

If you take your take your glasses off and squinch your eyes up a bit, it looks like 'C-cup Blogger'.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

One-word meme

One word? Moi?

Yeah, riiight.

Let's see if it can be done:

Yourself: overworked
Your partner: misnomer
Your hair: disappointing
Your mother: Casper
Your father: monumental
Your favourite item: numinous
Your dream last night: headachy
Your favourite drink: Laphroaig
Your dream car: Boxster
Your dream home: seaside
The room you are in: study
Your ex: multiple
Your fear: boredom
Where you want to be in ten years: travelling
Who you hung out with last night: cats
What you're not: naive
Muffins: chocotreats
One of your wish list items: windfall
Time: evening
The last thing you did: work
What you are wearing: tat
Your favourite weather: still
Your favourite book: Middlemarch [True!]
Last thing you ate: dinner
Your life: integrated
Your mood: resigned
Your best friends: firesigns [yeah, yeah; sue me]
What are you thinking about right now: elusiveness
Your car: red
What are you doing at the moment: musing
Your summer: restful
Relationship status: unorthodox
What is on your tv: nothing
What is the weather like: balmy
When is the last time you laughed: recently

Warning: this meme is a lot harder than you think. You might mistakenly deduce from some of the more oblique answers here that it's a word-association test rather than a questionnaire, but I was trying for maximum accuracy and scope of connotation.

And on reflection I think it was designed for people a lot younger than me. When I am less busy, I shall come up with one for persons of mature and discerning years.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Varmint update

# Last night I saw a white-tailed spider scuttling down the wall of my bedroom and out of sight behind the bedside chest of drawers. I hope the business about white-tailed spider bites causing necrotic ulcers and gas gangrene is an urban myth, but just in case it isn't, I have Baygonned the bedroom to uninhabitable levels.

# This morning, having already learned the hard way to be wary of giant hairy huntsman spiders lurking in the letterbox and hiding on the underside of envelopes, I discovered that this also holds true for geckoes. Considering that a few months ago, while it was still bloody freezing, a very tiny example of this species somehow got into the allegedly critterproof outside unit and fried several grand's worth of reverse cycle heating/cooling*, you'd think I would have thought of it before. The one in the letterbox was a handsome pale-grey speckled creature who boldly did not detach himself from his tail at the very sight of me like they usually do.

*Still under warranty, fortunately

# For a couple of hours in the middle of the day there was lots of particularly crashy-bangy lightning and thunder around Adders, as ThirdCat will attest; while it did not drive the cats actually under the bed, it still meant there were four very wide little golden eyes and four very pointed little ears and a lot of erect sproingy whiskers chez Pav today.

#And, finally, something is eating the just-visible embryonic capsicums in the vegie patch. All advice gratefully received.

Time warp

"They weren't compelled by others to apply to any one place of labour, but they understood that once accepted for detention their boss or commandant had power over them just as great and far more immediate than the government of the country. ...

... he prescribed how and when men should come and go, how they dressed, when they ate, and the movements of thir arms and legs, the words they spoke. There were accepted facial expressions, compulsory signs of loyalty, accepted opinions, desirable morals, compulsory attendance on pain of loss of food money, and the rule, made by employers, that the prisoners must not refuse to work no matter how unfairly they considered they were treated. This had once been relaxed and the right to strike obtained, but this right was being eroded away and would soon be no right at all. ...

The days of five hundred lashes were gone but in their place were strike penalties of five hundred dollars a day. The word Democracy had been heard for centuries on political platforms but was nowhere to be seen in the daily earning lives of citizens. They knuckled under or they got out. ...

The funny thing was that with all this power, employers were not the State, they were free men. They could come and go out of one industry into another, they could employ or dismiss, make new rules and change old ones. No responsibility beyond the elementary one of providing themselves with a workforce able to work. If they didn't want to pay an extra cent in wages, they appealed to the prisoners' patriotism -- think of the economy's good. The economy's good consisted of each employer maximizing sales or profit or both: there was a maximum wage but no maximum profit."

David Ireland, The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (1971)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

On Going to the Opera, Part 3: In praise of middle age

'The appeal of Italian opera,' says Alex Ross in the article linked at the end of Part 2, 'is difficult to put into words, but it has something to do with the activation of primal feelings.'

In the next sentence it becomes apparent that he's talking about the primal feelings of the characters, but at first I was sure he meant those of the audience. Having so recently looked the Robertson Davies passages about opera (see Part 1), I was actually thinking of something he has one of the characters say in The Lyre of Orpheus:

'An opera has to have a foundation; something big, like unhappy love, or vengeance, or some point of honour. Because people like that, you know. There they sit, all those stockbrokers and rich surgeons and insurance men, and they look so solemn and quiet as if nothing would rouse them. But underneath they are raging with unhappy love, or vengeance, or some point of honour or ambition ... They go to La Bohème or La Traviata and they remember some early affair that might have been squalid if you weren't living it yourself; or they see Rigoletto and they remember how the chairman humiliated them at the last board meeting; or they see Macbeth and think how they would like to murder the chairman and get his job. Only they don't think it; very deep down they feel it, and boil it, and suffer it in the primitive underworld of their souls. You wouldn't get them to admit anything, not if you begged. Opera speaks to the heart ...'

I think this is most likely to be true of just such characters as Davies describes, stolid men of business and public life who don't set much store by art as a rule. But for someone like me, whose whole adult life has been about teaching and learning in the liberal arts, and who as a woman is in generally better touch with her feelings to begin with, there's not so much in the way of stirred-up and barely-understood suffering and rage, and insofar as any of my affairs have been squalid I have been only too aware of the fact.

(I must say, though, that the scene in Nabucco where Abigaille is wrangling and raging with her father did kick up a certain amount of dust and grime in the primitive underworld of my soul, as did the idea of being physically pushed and shoved around by male bullies who despise you -- though the schoolboy sons of Curramulka farmers circa 1965 might not seem at first blush to have much to do with fully grown lance-wielding Assyrian soldiers in chain mail. It's also true that there's more than one chairman I have fantasised about murdering, though not in order to get his job. And as for the wildfire qualities of sibling rivalry between sisters ...)

Anyway, what I felt the opera releasing as I watched -- the thing about interiority being its Tardis-like qualities; consciousness expands to contain all available data -- was more like a swarm of small precise memories than 'feelings' as such. Which is where the praise of middle age comes in, because by the time you reach about 45 (and I am, ahem, older than that) you realise you have a quarter of a century of adult experience, forming and re-forming intricate patterns of memory, knowledge and insight every day. And that is what you bring to the theatre: an unimaginably vast store of memories, any one of which could be unexpectedly brought into the light by something that happens as you sit and watch. Not necessarily on the stage, either, but the whole experience of being there.

For example:

1973 and I'm sitting with the Child Husband in this very theatre, in a box that we had all to ourselves, watching the Peter Brook A Midsummer Night's Dream. They were at the end of the world tour so they were all visibly knackered and sick to death of it, but we did not care. We had, of course, disappointed our landlord in order to buy the tickets. The following year we came back here again to hear Steeleye Span, who at the very beginning of the concert were subjected to a total sound-system collapse. They looked at each other, rolled their eyes, came to the front of the stage and sang half a dozen things a capella, led by the incomparable Maddy Prior in three- four- and five-part harmonies with no amplification, till the sound technicians got it fixed. It was, of course, wonderful. And it has been my benchmark for professional behaviour in the face of disaster ever since.


1998/9, manifestly a summer of lerve. Tonight at Nabucco there are two couples, all four of them friends, that I spy from a distance as they seat themselves in different parts of the theatre. Both couples got together properly that summer, as though to batten down the hatches before a new century began. They all look fabulous tonight and they are manifestly still, in both cases and after eight years, very happy to be together.


1987, the last day of winter: I sit at the hospital with my friend D's husband, periodically administering to him small restorative slugs of the brandy my father has suggested I bring (and has loaned me his hip flask for the purpose) while we wait for word that the elective Caesarean birth of their daughter M has all gone according to plan. Baby M, now nineteen, an Adelaide U Choral Society First Soprano just like her mother before her, and studying aerospace engineering in between the soccer team, the choir and the German Club, is my companion for the evening, sitting next to me and deeply absorbed in the director's program notes about Saddam Hussein and the Risorgimento.


1966, first year of high school and first-ever introduction to Ancient History: I recognise the Assyrian guards' outfits on the stage from illustrations in a 40-year-old textbook I'd given nary a thought to from then till now. I can smell the classroom: not a bad smell, just very schooly, with undertones of good, old wood. That was the year I got my head properly around the idea of '600 B.C.', as around the idea of 'minus one'.


1989 and I'm making more money than (as I now know) I ever have or had before or since, and I almost decide to splurge some of it on a really spectacularly beautiful dinner set. The featured colours in this pattern are a seriously OTT combination of gold and heavily saturated teal, the exact colours being used here in the Nabucco sets to suggest a kind of barbaric splendour. I know it'll be the only classy dinner set I ever buy and it is for some forgotten reason going at a bargain price: an 87-piece set of Royal Doulton Carlyle. In the end I don't, because I fear that in five years I might be a woman of different (read: better) taste, and come to regret the extreme statement being made by those colours. I had not thought of those 87 pieces of fine china for many years. But the colours, now onstage as then in the shop window, make something tighten in my chest and constrict my breathing.


2004: again in this very theatre, the State Opera of SA is staging Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, referred to by the cognoscenti as Cav'n'Pag, two short operas which are traditionally put on togther. One of the best-known bits of Cavalleria Rusticana is the Easter Hymn (listenable excerpt here), which is performed offstage; the set is a Sicilian village square and the sound of the hymn is coming from inside the church.

Instead of just using a recording, the State Opera's chorus master Timothy Sexton, also the musical director of the choir I was in at the time, decided to use us instead: a masterstroke, as we were a big choir and while considerably more tuneful than a hundred people grabbed randomly off the street might be, we were still musically ragged and amateur enough to sound like a very, very musical but otherwise ordinary congregation, and from all reports the effect was weirdly moving.

So as I sat in the Festival Theatre watching Nabucco I was somehow also in the wings, two years younger than I am now, and in the middle of a unique experience I subsequently described in an essay called Brothers' Keepers that was about choral singing in particular and, in general, the dynamic between individual and communal effort:

'A choir is like a big animal, a creature with its own life. When the SA State Opera put on Cavalleria Rusticana at the Festival Theatre last year, it was our choir that sang the famous Easter Hymn, which is meant to look and sound to the audience like congregational music coming faintly from inside the church in the little Sicilian village square. To sing it we had to hide huddled in the wings, black-clad for invisibility and soft-shod for silence. Moving through the vast dark caverns of backstage space to take up our position, we made a whispering, a rustling, a susurration; we were a black, shadowy, soft-footed mass, a ghostly panther with a hundred paws.'

So I can say with perfect truthfulness that I've sung in opera. And it was one of the great experiences of my life.

I suppose at any age you bring to any experience the sum total of what you've seen and learned. But for some reason, maybe some indirect knock-on effect from that unleashing of the primal that Alex Ross talks about so beautifully, a night at the opera reflects it all back to you. And in that huge, gilded, rococo mirror, you can see things you'd forgotten for thirty years or more.

What other kind is there?

Sign seen yesterday at Target:

'CLEARANCE: Underwear bras'

Red polka dots, purple lace, poison-green check and rhinestones: every one of them a bra that had earned its place on the clearance rack.

They were all underwired, too.

Friday, November 17, 2006

More avoidance behaviour

I should be examining theses. Or washing dishes. Or reviewing the panto I just went to. (Two stars, but one does feel so mean, trashing a panto.) Or writing Part 3 of the Opera series, subtitled 'In Praise of Middle Age'.

And so I am, of course, doing the remaining fifteen questions of the meme instead.

1. What shirt are you wearing?

I am not in fact wearing a shirt, and so will seize this opportunity to describe my favourite shirt, a beautifully made oversized man's shirt with double-buttoned cuffs that I bought in Austria in 1997 and wear as an overshirt. It's made of hand-painted silk, of a colour best described as 'buttermilk with balls', a sort of creamy ochrey paleish goldy sort of colour. Some of the painted design is quite solid and in some places gives the effect of very fine embriodery or beads, done in four variations on the theme of gold plus some very fine black dots and lines here and there. The design is of beautifully executed swooping lines and swirls and shapes inspired by the paintings of Gustav Klimt, who is this dude here --

-- with the designs on the shirt clearly and closely inspired by paintings of his like this (actually this isn't a bad approximation of the colour, either):

2. What brand of shoes are you currently wearing?


3. Bright or Dark Room

I like soft, indirect, complicated light.

4. What do you think about the person who took this survey before you?

She was an American woman in the link I pinched from Susoz at Elsewhere's, I think. I liked her attitude to not having a watch.

5. Where is your nearest 7-11?

I have no idea. My 24/7 supplier of choice is a dirty great big servo up on Grand Junction Road where the B-doubles hang out. They have soft-toy Border Collies, fresh flowers, and several kinds of fast Asian food, among many, many other things.

6. Who told you he/she loved you last?

That would be the Bloke.

7. How many drugs have you done in the last three days?

I am not, here in my prudent middle years, a do-er of drugs. (And was very little of one even in my wild younger years, actually.) Alcohol, caffeine, codeine, ibuprofen and a couple of prescription things are pretty much my drugs of choice.

8. How many rolls of film do you need developed?

None, for a change.

9. What do you do when vending machines steal your money?

Swear like a trooper. My repertoire is limited but heartfelt.

10. Are you touchy feely?

I worry so much about being intrusive on personal space that any touchy-feely tendencies are more reactive than otherwise.

11. Name three things that you have on you at all times?

(1) A small black wallet with bank, credit and various ID and other cards.
(2) Cat hair.
(3) A hex.

12. What was the last thing you paid for with cash?

A newsagent's carry bag containing the day's papers (yes yes, I know, but I needed to sit in a cafe and do the Sudoku puzzles), the 2007 Fresh Produce Diary (I'm so glad they've revived this), a box of Smith Family fundraiser Christmas cards, and the Cats of the Greek Islands 2007 calendar, my opening salvo in the Christmas shopping wars. A cat calendar was a traditional gift from my departed Ma to my younger sister, and I have kept up the tradition. The minute I got it home, Poppet clawed the cellophane and chewed one of the corners, but my sister will think this is funny.

13. Does anything hurt on your body right now?

Yes, my feet are killing me. (See shoe brand.)

14. How much cash do you have on you?

About 70 cents at the moment, I think, not counting the piggy bank.

15. What's a word that rhymes with “DOOR?”

ABHOR or ADORE, depending on one's mood. Also GORE, WHORE, RAW, SORE, TORE, RAW, WITHDRAW and DEPLORE or, more happily, AWE, LORE, MORE, PAW and ENCORE (pronouned the French way with emphasis on the second syllable).

Thursday, November 16, 2006

On Going to the Opera, Part 2: Verdi and Nabucco

Verdi's Nabucco is the story of King Nebuchadnezzar, more or less as per the version in the Book of Daniel except that there, of course, there is no question of female succession, or indeed any GURLS at all that I can see.

But in the Verdi version there is a complex plot involving Hebrew slaves, hostages, daughters legitimate and (as it turns out) illegitimate with competing claims to their father's throne, star-crossed lovers, the gods Baal and Jehovah, and a wonderful moment when Nabucco the King, declaring himself in a moment of hubris to be greater than either Baal or Jehovah and therefore the one true god, is immediately knocked flat by something from the heavens that, in this production, looks like a cross between a shower of blood and a bolt of lightning and made me think, by word-association rather than logic, of that wonderful phrase 'blood-boltered' from, I think, Macbeth.

Which Nabucco, after it hits him, also is: smeared and clotted with the stuff, writhing across the floor in a pool of blood that is not his own and apparently not human.

This instant manifestation of divine vengeance does not, amazingly, kill him, but he does go mad (as you would), which is what this William Blake painting of him is about:

And Blake, as you can see, was following his King James Version very closely: '... he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws.' (Daniel 4:33)

But everything turns out all right in the end; the madness passes, the lovers are reunited, and the illegitimate daughter and usurping queen takes poison and dies, but not before apologising first. You could do an absolute thumper of a feminist reading of this opera, and I would, but I've got too much marking to do.

In this production they use in one of the sets a truly bizarre and unfathomably naff poster-art portrait that Saddam Hussein had done; he fancies himself as the reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar, here shooting with a bow and arrow at missiles, helicopters and warships:

As as Commenter 43 says here, 'Boy, you can't swing a dead cat in the Middle East without hitting some nutcase claiming to be some past or present biblical character.'

Verdi wrote this opera in 1841, still in his twenties and devastated by the sudden deaths of, in quick succession, his wife and both his young children. The most famous tune in it, and indeed one of opera's most easily-recognised, is 'Va pensiero', aka the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, which was one of the reasons why Nabucco was an instant hit; this choral piece was co-opted immediately as an anthem of freedom by the fragmented Italian states then labouring under repressive Austrian rule, and 'Va pensiero' became quite by accident an anthem of the Risorgimento.

Director David Freeman has said of this production, 'There are three powerful periods in which to set a piece of theatre: when the author sets it, when the author wrote it, and when the audience watches it ... We are playing Nabucco both "then" and "now". Trouble in 600BC was to be found in Babylon and Jerusalem.'

But to my mind this production's mixing-up of historical periods also includes a third: the costuming of the Hebrew slaves in clothes that are very reminiscent of photographs and footage from the early 1940s of the Jews on their way to the gas chambers. And the staging manages to add more than a suggestion that contemporary Israel has made Hebrew slaves, as it were, out of the Palestinians.

Anyway. Here's the review I filed on Sunday morning.

"NABUCCO: State Opera of SA
Festival Theatre
Until November 18

This production of Nabucco is everything opera is supposed to be: dramatic, spectacular and enthralling.

'Nabucco' tells the story of King Nebuchadnezzar's invasion of Jerusalem, his defeat and capture of the Hebrews, his descent into madness and his final redemption. But the power of the story lies in the way that personal relationships, both familial and romantic, are intertwined with stories of politics, religion and war. This Shakespearean interweaving of different stories provides a solid and dramatic basis for Verdi's energetic, passionate music.

The chorus of Nabucco, directed here to hair's-breadth precision by chorus master Timothy Sexton, is almost a character in its own right and has some beautiful music to sing, including the famous 'Va, pensiero' and a less well-known but even more glorious a capella chorus, part of the ensemble piece 'Immenso Jehovah', in the last act. The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, conducted with passion and energy by Nicholas Braithwaite, is its usual assured and polished self.

The production is dominated by Maria Pollicina's magnificent performance as Abigaille, Nabucco's usurping daughter and the jealous sister of Fenena, the rightful heiress to Nabucco's throne. In this musically and emotionally difficult and exhausting role, Pollicina is flawless. Not only does she have absolute confidence and control vocally, but she is also an excellent actor, dominating the stage and holding the breathless attention of the audience.

The scenes Pollicina shares with Barry Anderson as her father Nabucco, now mad and broken, are among the most emotionally intense and engaging that I have ever seen onstage. Anderson's performance is also superb, in a complex role that director David Freeman presents as a kind of cross between Hitler, King Lear and Saddam Hussein but that Anderson somehow, miraculously, manages to make sympathetic.

Abigaille's sister Fenena, the gentle love interest, is played with great dignity and sweetness by Adelaide's Elizabeth Campbell.

If this production has a weakness, it's in the performances of two of the male leads, with Adrian Dwyer as Fenena's lover Ismaele sounding and looking strained and hesitant. Julian Konstantinov as Zaccaria the Hebrew prophet has the requisite sonority and gravitas that basses so often bring to figures of authority, but persistent pitch problems in such an exposed and major part tend to spoil the effect of his impressive stage presence, and in one or two places make life hard for some of the other singers.

The leads have strong support from local performers in smaller roles, particularly Deborah Caddy as Zaccaria's sister Anna.

Freeman's direction is imaginative and brave, using space and silence as effectively as crowds and voices in creating an overall effect of violent emotion, violent action, and a plot rushing towards its conclusion.

Dan Potra's imposing, dramatic design provides some moments of high drama all by itself, with crumbling walls, fallen idols and the violent, bloody wrath of God descending on the deluded Nabucco. The sets and costumes frankly mix up historical periods in such a way as to suggest the horrors and dangers of dictatorship and violence in any era, and this works surprisingly well, especially in the contrast between the glittering, sinister chain-mail of the Assyrian guards and the way the drab dress of their Hebrew captives quietly suggests the photographs and footage of Jewish refugees from the 1930s and 40s.

One reason this opera is so gripping is that it contains so many great themes: power, hubris, war, jealousy, star-crossed love and redemption.

All these things are sumptuously gift-wrapped by this production."

There's a brilliant, but very long and detailed, article about Verdi by The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross (see blogroll) here. Even if you don't read any of the rest of it, do at least read the final paragraph, and the endnote.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On Going to the Opera, Part 1: Fifth Business

There's a book I've wanted for twenty years to write and probably never will, a hypothetical book called Opera, Gender and Plot. It's (hypothetically) a cultural history of opera using gender theory, New Historicism, psychoanalysis, anatomy, narratology, and the history (and historiography) of classical voice training in western music. You see why I say I'll probably never write it, and besides, by now someone has probably written it already.

But I sang in a big Adelaide choir from 2001 till the end of last year, and I've been to the odd opera since I took up theatre reviewing for the local press a few years ago, and so one way and another have started to get very interested in these ideas again. What's fascinating is the way that certain voice ranges are keyed to particular character types and roles, and the way that these types interact both in the plot and in the music, particularly in duets, trios and quartets. So one might require, say, a bass not only in order to provide some villain or other figure of power, but also for technical reasons, to ground the chords and earth the music.

Brought up in a very tuneful but decidedly popular-musical household, I'd never given any of this stuff a single thought till some time in the late 1980s when I first read Canadian novelist Robertson Davies' Fifth Business (1970), the first novel in his Deptford Trilogy. This is what he, or rather one of his characters, says:

'... in opera in a permanent company of the kind that we keep up in Europe you must have a prima donna -- always a soprano, always the heroine, often a fool; and a tenor who always plays the lover to her; and then you must have a contralto, who is a rival to the soprano, or a sorceress, or something; and a basso, who is the villain or the rival or whatever threatens the tenor.

So far, so good. But you cannot make a plot work without another man, and he is usually a baritone, and he is called in the profession Fifth Business, because he is the odd man out, the person who has no opposite of the other sex. And you must have Fifth Business because he is the one who knows the secret of the hero's birth, or comes to the assistance of the heroine when she thinks all is lost, or keeps the hermitess in her cell, or may even be the cause of somebody's death if that is part of the plot. The prima donna and the tenor, the contralto and the basso, get all the best music and do all the spectacular things, but you cannot manage the plot without Fifth Business.'

There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between voice part and plot: traditionally you've got to have roles for the various kinds of singers, and those roles are largely gender-determined. So either a story and libretto gets cobbled together to accomodate all four or five leads, or an existing story is used and adapted to fit them.

Nearly 20 years later when he published The Lyre of Orpheus, Davies showed this kind of thinking in action in a plot about a gifted music student whose PhD thesis topic is as follows: '... to flesh out and complete the manuscript notes ... of an opera left incomplete at his death in 1822 by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffman, the work to be done in a manner congruous with the operatic conventions of Hoffman's day and for such an orchestra as he would have known; this to be done as a musicological exercise in partial fulfilment of the requirements for ... the degree of Doctor of Music.'

The opera in question is entitled Arthur of Britain, and it falls to a bunch of Davies' characters, all of whom we've met before in earlier novels, to mount a production of it when the music is completed, including the task of writing the libretto. This they then meet, forthwith, to discuss.

'" ... We must have the Operatic Four. Soprano -- Guenevere, of course ... Now -- who's your contralto? There has to be one, you know."
"Oh dear. Let's see? Hm. Morgan Le Fay, do you think?"
"Of course! Arthur's wicked sister. A contralto, obviously. All wicked women in opera must have those rich, enchanting low notes. Now -- who's my tenor?"
"Surely Arthur himself?"
"No. Arthur must have authority. A baritone, I think. A fine, velvety bass-baritone. Make him both a tenor and a cuckold and you lose all sympathy, and Arthur must compel sympathy. But we need an even deeper bass for quartets as well as the plot."
"That must be Mordred, who destroys Arthur."
"But no tenor? Can you have an opera without a tenor?"
"Of course. The public expects a tenor. Must be Lancelot, the seducer. Tenors are great seducers."
"All right. That gives you the four you want. Five, as a matter of fact."
""So -- there we are. We'll want another woman for Elaine, the Lily Maid. Better be a nice mezzo -- good for pathos but not deep enough for villainy."

They realise later that they have forgotten Merlin, and belatedly cast as the great magician an elderly and much-loved counter-tenor: 'One of those high, unearthly voices.'

I had all this in mind last Saturday night when I went to opening night, in my capacity as a critic, of Verdi's Nabucco. Which is what Part 2 will be about.

I loves me a meme

Susoz kindly posted a link to this marathon meme over at Elsewhere's and I have pinched it without compunction or delay, and edited it so it's not sixteen pages long. I know of no more satisfying avoidance behaviour than a good meme, especially in thesis-examining season. NB I began this meme last night, which explains the discrepancies in the timing.

1. When you looked at yourself in the mirror today, what was the first thing you thought?
'How tragic that my hair looks better when it hasn't been washed.'

2. Favorite planet?
I've always fancied Venus, which is my ruling planet. Also Saturn for the rings and the breathtaking beauty, and for its part in a visualisation exercise I made up once to try to stay sane when I was doing two fulltime jobs at once. What you do is picture yourself as the planet itself, and all the things you have to do and remember are sitting on the ring as on a conveyer belt, slowly revolving around you. It means you keep sight of everything and never forget or lose track of anything, but at the same time you are kept separate from everything by the space between you and the ring and therefore none of the things going past on the belt can get to you and overwhelm you. Works like a charm.

3. Who is the 4th person on your missed call list on your cell phone?
Some landline number in Sydney that I don't recognise. I just hope it wasn't someone head-hunting me for a $200K pa job, with no boss, and an office with water views.

4. What is your favorite ring tone on your phone?
The one that goes 'ring ring ... ring ring ... ring ring...'

5. Do you “label” yourself?
Except to say that I'm a proud recovering smoker, which nobody who knew me earlier than 1989 would ever have believed possible, no. But I occasionally libel myself.

6. What does your watch look like?
Very small, rectangular and pewter-coloured -- almost a pale lavender-silvery colour -- with very simple numbers. I love my watch. It's beautiful without pretending to be expensive.

7. What were you doing at midnight last night?
Watching Muriel's Wedding, for the umpteenth time, on the teeve.

8. What did your last text message you received on your cell say?
'Lovely, wasn't it?' From my friend R, about 'Stepfather of the Bride' on ABC TV last night.

9. What's a word that you say a lot?

10. Last furry thing you touched?
Madam, the bolder of the two cats, who is sitting at my right hand, about three seconds ago.

11. Favorite age you have been so far?
Thirty-three. The career was established, the possibilities were endless, and I had not yet begun to get seriously ground down. I also enjoyed 45, which was my first year of self-employed, home-owning freedom, and four to seven, after I'd learned to read but before it had begun to dawn on me that I was a girl.

12. Your worst enemy?
Myself, always.

13. What is your current desktop picture?
A misty-lavender photograph of Florence that I took in 1983.
UPDATE: Why didn't I just do this in the first place? Der.

14. What was the last thing you said to someone?
'Finish your supper, sweetheart' (to the timid cat).

15. If you had to choose between a million bucks or to be able to fly what would it be?
Oh oh oh ... fly, of course.

16. Do you like someone?
Is this a 'crush' question? If so, no. I'm too old and tired.

17. The last song you listened to?
Either Richard Bonynge conducting Heather Begg, Glenys Fowles and the MSO on the Flower Duet from Lakmé or Tex Perkins singing 'You're 39, You're Beautiful and You're Mine' from Tex, Don and Charlie's All is Forgiven. Can't remember which.

18. What time of day were you born?
9.10 pm. I gather that's why I peak at that hour of the day.

19. Whats your favorite number?
Five. No idea why.

20. Where did you live in 1987?
In one quarter of a double-fronted shabby-elegant late-Victorian terrace house in Brunswick, Victoria, just off Sydney Road.

21. Are you jealous of anyone?

22. Is anyone jealous of you?
I have no idea. Are we making a distinction between 'jealous' and 'envious' here?

23. Where were you when 9/11 happened?
At home, having an extraordinarily unpleasant, surprising and upsetting telephone conversation with a male psychotherapist I'd consulted in desperation about violent mystery headaches and who was, unbelievably, hitting on me. 9/11 felt like some kind of insane objective correlative.

24. Do you consider yourself kind?
Not by nature, but I try extraordinarily hard. Maybe too hard.

25. If you had to get a tattoo, where would it be?
Hmm, I kind of fancy a tramp stamp. That or the ankle. I don't like tatts on women's arms. (Or at all, really.)

26. If you could be fluent in any other language, what would it be?
French. Or maybe Italian. If I had any brains, Indonesian and Arabic.

27. Would you move for the person you loved?
Yes. But not unconditionally.

28. What's your life motto?
'This is not about you.' (Meaning me.) I also like 'This too will pass', 'Stay calm', and 'When in doubt, wash.' (Cat literature reference, Paul Gallico's Jennie)

29. What's your favorite town/city?
Sydney. Vienna. Florence. Paris. Edinburgh. Brisbane. Ballarat, Arcadia Vale on Lake Macquarie in NSW, my SA home town of Curramulka, San Gimignano, Burra in SA, Cambridge, the ghost town of Inneston at the toe of Yorke Peninsula ... Sorry, what was the question?

30. When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper and mailed it?
On my friend Peter's mother Elsie's 80th birthday.

31. Can you change the oil on a car?
No, but I can check it. And I could change a tyre if I absolutely had to. I'm better at changing girl things, like my clothes and my sheets and my mind.

32. Your first love: what is the last thing you heard about him/her?
I saw him a few months ago and his health is terrible, but he seemed cheerful enough. And yes, the buzz is still there, and we're talking about people in their 50s here. I don't know why I find this reassuring, but I do.

33. How far back do you know about your ancestry?
On one side, some Cornish Goldsworthys in the 1600s; on the other, the two First Fleeters: Jane Langley, convict, and Thomas Chipp, Marine, who were my seven-greats grandparents.

34. The last time you dressed fancy, what did you wear and why did you dress fancy?
I wore a dark figured velvet coat over a new sleeveless black top with a sort of scooped shawl neck, black pants, suede boots, much more makeup than usual, Chanel No. 5, silver earrings and my silver teardrop necklace from Tiffany's. Opera, opening night.

35. Have you been burned by love?
I don't think the word 'burned' quite covers it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

And now, Comicstriphero will have the definitive word on the Melbourne Cup

And what's with pretending like it is glamorous? Let me tell you, b*tches, the truly glamorous don't tend to hang out in an ill-fitting dress in a car park sipping pre-mixed drinks and eating party pies.

And oh, how I do so wish I'd said that.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Oooh, shiny

At this time of year, if I look up out of the kitchen window I'll often see a honey-eater vigorously digging for nectar in the bowels of one of the sublimely surreal blossoms on the passionfruit vine (I never get any fruit, which I now know from my friend S the master (mistress?) gardener, is because the rootstock has died) but it's a pretty covering for the galvo fence so I haven't pulled it out.

But today what caught my eye was the sparkle of water on the leaves after last night's rain. Actually it didn't just 'rain', it bucketed down like the wrath of God, which in itself was quite good fun -- I'd been to the opera with my friend D's daughter, now nineteen and soaking up experience of all kinds like a sponge, and as I drove her home the heavens cracked open with son et lumière thunder-and-lightning, culminating in a blinding flash directly overhead as we drove through some rather scary rain down Adelaide's main street, thick with Saturday night traffic, and knocked out all the street lights on the spot.

The opera was Nabucco, itself full of Sturm and Drang and more of which – I hope – shortly, so the weather really just felt like a continuation of the show. This morning it became clear to me that it had also been bucketing down here at my place, and had flooded both the laundry and the garage.

But who cares? Every single thing in the garden is sitting up smiling with its ears cocked like a Border Collie. The Roma tomatoes are visibly bigger than they were yesterday afternoon and I swear the mint has grown half an inch in all directions overnight.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I'm a taxpayer with a cervix AND I VOTE

'But former committee member and Newcastle University professor of clinical pharmacology David Henry said it was the committee's job to get the best deal it could for taxpayers,' says the Age this morning.

Fancy that, and here's me thinking a committee with a name like the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee might have a job like, oh, say, getting the best deal it could for patients. Could their thinking be that Professor Ian Frazer's anti-cervical-cancer vaccine is for the use of women, who, let's face it, aren't very big taxpayers? (And gosh, I wonder why we're not.)

You wonder how they arrived at this conclusion. You wonder why this drug costs what it costs, and just exactly why drug companies can gouge reap their 'substantial profit margins' so apparently freely. You wonder what price they put on the life of a woman, in arriving at their conclusions. You wonder what the answer would have been if Professor Frazer had developed a vaccine that prevented some strains of prostate cancer.

And, most of all, you wonder about the presence on the Pharmaceutical Advisory Benefits Committee of this man: someone from the well-known right-wing think-tank the Centre for Independent Studies. Someone whose publications include a book on the 'adverse' effects of no-fault divorce laws and an online article about how capital punishment isn't as black as it's painted. Someone whose highest academic qualification appears to be an MA, whose most mentionable achievement appears to be his membership of the CIS, and who appears to have no medical or pharmacological qualifications at all.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Emo-Pav, or, Anybody got any raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens they'd like to share?

For some reason that eludes me but is probably biochemical, as, these days, I think most things are, I'm having a nasty attack of the Dreads. Never mind war, terror, or wars on terror; never mind anomie, accidie, timor mortis or the cosmic blahs; never mind what happens when the dog bites or the bee stings (these, indeed, go in the Good basket; critters rock) -- at the moment even just the housework, the overdue tax return and the unpredictable, nay, hypothetical income are sending me back to bed with the covers pulled up over my head.

While I have never known the counting of blessings to fail, and one has just arrived in my lap purring as we speak, I could use some extra suggestions about blessings to count, or any other helpful hints on snapping out of it, from any fellow blogger or commenter kind enough to share. Thank youse.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Cat's meat redux

Not really in the mood for blogging but feeling the need to make a gesture, I just hied me over to Blogthings to see what was new, and found something very pertinent indeed ...

You Are Duck

Exotic and unusual, you are a bit of a rare bird - literally.
You're known for being soft and succulent, though at times you can be a bit greasy.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

[Insert stone-throwing joke here]

Well, it's what they've always said and now we know it's true: the ABC is above giving a rat's about ratings. Even though this is in direct contradiction to their stealthy moves towards running ads.

For, if they cared about ratings, they would not have axed The Glass House:

The stars of The Glass House have had no contact with the ABC, which axed the comedy show despite it gaining some of the best ratings of its five-year run.

Prime Minister John Howard said he didn't pressure the ABC to shelve the show - which has been accused of anti-government bias - and the ABC denied the decision had anything to do with new editorial guidelines due to come into effect next year and the appointment of a new chief censor to monitor instances of bias.
(From here.)

Yeah, sure it didn't. And there will be a record harvest this year; Jess Mauboy can sing in tune; I am slender and gorgeous; there is no cat hair on the sofa; and the sun rises in the west.

In which Pav gets picky about where she puts her paws

About half an hour ago I caught sight of the cats gazing more purposefully than usual out of the back screen door; clearly there was something exciting on cat television. I went to investigate and found two really enormous sleepy lizards rustling around busily on the back doormat, either oblivious to the cats less than a foot away or somehow aware that the industrial-strength Pet Mesh in the security door was holding its own. Either that, or they knew they could whup the cats if it came to it. They pretty much matched them for size, for a start.

I see from the archives that the first lizard sighting is nearly a whole calendar month earlier than last year. I assume they're after water, poor things. Aren't we all. After some thought I busted open the three-pack of disposable aluminium baking-dishes from the as-yet-unpacked shopping and used it to make them a little sunken pool in the vegie patch. It's crooked and aslant, but I can't remember where I put the spirit level and the set square thingy.

Naturally they were disturbed by my backyard activities and waddled away to hide. For such big fat rustly-rustly varmints their powers of camouflage and concealment are quite astonishing, and I was reminded that in previous summers I have occasionally nearly stepped on one.

If critters of the reptile persuasion are trying to get into the house, I can only hope that the 'If you've got sleepy lizards then you won't have snakes' line is more than just a dodgy bit of folk wisdom.