© Bayreuther Festspiele, Lohengrin, 2018

Our Members

Wagner Society in New South Wales Inc.
2/21 Blaxland Avenue
NSW 2127 Newington
My report to the Society of proceedings and achievements for the last year is a positive one and a testament to the resilience of the membership as a whole.  2020 was unusual and paralysing with respect to our social and cultural activities but we managed towards the end of that year to rally and start a series of zoom events which were entertaining and rewarding.  We ensured that our communications to the membership via E-news became regular and highly informative.  2021 started in a more positive manner and for a while things appeared to be heading back to normal.  Alas, we are enduring another setback.  And this too will pass.  Nevertheless, the Society and your Committee have continued to prosecute its remit to celebrate the music of Richard Wagner and support the artists that bring us that joy as well as continue to engage in the never ending conversation that his works and interpretations generate.

I will now comment and summarise some specific aspects of our Society in the year 2020-21.

On Membership
Our membership remains steady at around 240 financial members.  There has been a decrease from previous years due to natural attrition, the complications of the pandemic through 2020-21, no access to the Bayreuth Festival or indeed much in the way of Wagner productions anywhere.  A deep dive into our membership list by our Membership Secretary, Lis Bergmann, refined the current list.  She was ably supported by Treasurer Margaret Whealey and long term member Leona Geeves.

Whilst the overall number of members will fluctuate over time, I am confident that we can grow as music making and opera goes back to normal coupled by our ability to travel internationally.  The interest and enthusiasm in the lead up to the Brisbane Ring needs to be harnessed in terms of membership recruitment.  A larger membership allows us to do more to support artists and causes.  So I challenge every member to spread the word to join us.

On Financials
I can report that our bottom line remains healthy.  However, the number is decreasing as a result of the reduced revenue from a lack of live events through 2020 and part of 2021.  This together with our decision to continue to support artists and causes through the catastrophic setback suffered by the Arts industry in general.

On Support and Donations
The Committee felt that the Society was in a position to help artist and causes through 2020 and 2021 despite our reduced revenue.  It was important to show our support in such a time.  Individually we sponsored Nathan Bryon in 2020 and so far in 2021 three singers Pamela Andrews, Jessica Harper and Jessica Blunt.  More ambitiously we focused two donations on FARA (Freelance Artist Relief Australia  founded by Nicole Car) and Melbourne Opera’s Das Rheingold.

FARA directly supports singers and we are listed as Advocate Donors on their website.  The other large donation from us in 2020 went to Melbourne Opera for “Das Rheingold”, the start of their Ring journey.  Our donation was used towards purchasing two of the four Wagner Tubas that had to be procured because under Covid they couldn’t be borrowed.  We believe that Melbourne Opera’s venture needs our continued commitment, hence the soft launch at the Birthday Event of the Wagner Tuba Fund (thank you to Robert Mitchell for the poster).  The target is to raise another $15,000 to complete the purchase of the Wagner Tubas which will see action throughout the Ring.  This is our target and challenge for 2021.  The membership and your future Committees will need to ascertain the level of support for Melbourne Opera as they approach performances of full cycles into 2023-24.

If it is the wish of our membership to continue the sponsorship and donation program at this level then we must become more rigorous and focused with our charity.  Our Vice President Marie Leech is championing the establishment of a more formal process for donations and we hope to be able to share through 2021 both the historic findings (how many individuals and causes we have assisted over 40 years and how much money we have contributed) as well as a methodology and mechanism to formally continue our support.

On Events and Communications
One of the wonderful biproducts of our sponsoring artists include concerts and recitals that are exclusive to the Society.  Equally our friendships with individual artists have allowed us insightful access to their craft.  Since the 40th AGM in August 2020 we ventured into Zoom Events with David Larkin, Tabatha McFadyen (from Berlin) and Warwick Fyfe.  We opened 2021 with two conversations led by Robert Mitchell with Susan Bullock and Lise Lindstrom from London.  This was followed by our first live event since February 2020 at Mosman Art Gallery -  a wonderful concert by Bradley Gilchrist, Laura Scandizzo and Cedar Newman.  This concert was titled Wagner at 40 starting our celebrations culminating in a double birthday bash (our 40th and RW’s 208th) full of reminiscences together with an amazing recital by Tamara-Anna Cislowska.  Not to mention Barbara de Rome’s cake!  In between we hosted Heath Lees on Wagner after Wagnerism via zoom from New Zealand and Dr Thea Brejzek on Adolphe Appia and the emergence of modern scenography – our return to the Goethe Institut after nearly 18 months.  And just a few week ago we hosted Alex Ross, author of Wagnerism, in conversation with David Larkin (doing double duty for us).

Special thank you to Leona Geeves for continuing to provide all of our singers for events and liaising with the Committee on sponsorships.  And to Vice President Mike Day for championing the double birthday event and for coaxing two former Presidents from Tasmania and New Zealand as well as securing Tamara-Anna Cislowska.

Our main communication remains the Quarterly - our publication of record.  It is going from strength to strength under the Editorship of Mike Day, and is considered to be the best publication amongst the global family of Wagner Societies, so well done Mike.  All members receive a hardcopy.  But we also send electronic versions to a number of our interstate and overseas friends and associates.  We are also on Facebook and have our own YouTube channel where many of our performances are available for your enjoyment.  And we have E-news, which are distributed to an even wider audience than the membership.  All in all we have elevated our presence considerably in the last year.  Much appreciation to Lis Bergmann who curates these fragments contributed by many into a comprehensive, informative and very rich pack for everyone.

On Bayreuth and Wagner performances
Theatres, concert halls and opera houses went dark through 2020 all over the world.  Some have reopened through 2021 but as we have seen in Sydney in the last two weeks they can easily be closed again.  The Bayreuth Festival was cancelled in 2020 for the first time since the war.  It is back in reduced form and capacity this year.  Alas no one from Australia will be in attendance.  We hope that we will be back there in 2022.  

The Society has retained its membership of the International Verband (RWVI) as well as our subscription to the Friends of Bayreuth despite not being able to opt on tickets for the Festival.  We have done this as a show of support for the cause and the Festival but also in the hope that our loyalty will be rewarded in 2022.

Locally, some of us enjoyed the Melbourne Rheingold in February, a production that augurs well for the Ring to come and further cements this company’s reputation for producing solid Wagner at every level.  We are all looking forward to OA’s Brisbane Ring – we remain very eager for Wagner.  I regret that Peter Basset’s lecture which was to proceed this meeting had to be rescheduled for 2022 for obvious reasons.  The lack of physical productions of Wagner is in direct contrast to the plethora of recent and historical productions available on every digital platform throughout the pandemic.  I hope that many of you indulged in all those links sent in the E-news.

On the Committee and vacancies
I would like to thank all of the Committee for your hard work and perseverance over the course of the last year and a half.  We have achieved some impressive things under less than ideal circumstances.  And for that I am proud to be amongst your company.  But some things must come to an end and later this year we will be losing Florian Hammerbacher from the committee as he and Sonia move back to Europe for their next gig.  I would like to take this opportunity to formally thank Florian for his contribution to the Society.  You will be missed but I hope that you might be able to maintain a connection with our Society into the future.

This means that we will have a vacancy, possibly two according to the Constitution, which we will be looking to filling over the life of the next Committee.  We will formally notify the membership for expressions of interest to join our hard working group via our many platforms.


Esteban Insausti
Michael Day