These people should be our heroes!

This time last week I was heading to Aida, a wonderful, albeit rainy experience. Little did I know that rain was nothing compared to what was to come. Sydney has been lashed by rain and wind in almost cyclonic conditions for the past three days. The normally beautiful harbour is a murky, threatening brown.

In our house there are a number of new leaks in the ceiling but nothing worse fortunately. The huge Moreton Bay fig trees beside the house were swaying and creaking as the wind gusted, that, together with the rain pounding down on the roof and the river running down the hill, made going out a scary prospect and I worried they might be blown over. I think their strong root system in the sewage pipes that run down the road saved us! Friends have lost huge gum trees in their garden which missed their house, lucky for them, others weren’t so lucky. There must be hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage. Even in our rather sheltered inner city Balmain there are branches scattered everywhere and more, I saw a car crushed under a large tree not too far away. The unsung every day heroes are those volunteers of the SES imageand professionals out helping rescue people, putting tarpaulins up on damaged houses, those restoring electricity to the 200,000 houses without power, working through the storms, providing shelter for people evacuated from their flooded homes – thank you, thank you, thank you for your selflessness, generosity of soul and hard work. I salute you.


Opera in the rain!

aidaWhat a fabulous night, seeing Aida on Sydney harbour – albeit wrapped in a big blue plastic poncho to keep off the torrential rain, the backdrop of the stage all the more vivid with flashes of lightening streaking across the sky and thunder clapping loudly overhead! Even as the rain poured down the production continued – the most spectacular scene being the Triumphal parade where Ramades came on stage on a camel! I overheard a lady remark at the end that she thought it was the silliest opera she had ever seen! I felt she had missed the plot somehow! It was spectacular and moving, vast and intimate all at the same time, everything I believe an opera should be!

This is what Gale Edwards, the director, had to say about her vision of Verdi’s Aida:

“I believe the opera is about a triumph of love in a world that forbids it, a world grounded in war, not on peace. Do these things sound contemporary, relevant? You only have to turn on the news every night and you’ll see all of these themes.”

“I have a responsibility to deliver glamour, and exoticism, and spectacle, and a responsibility to deliver romance and love – there’s a lot of things to honour in Aida itself. But I’m also interested in the politics of the piece,” Edwards says.

At the heart of it all is the love story between Aida and Radamès – the enslaved Ethiopian princess, and the Egyptian hero chosen to lead his people to victory over hers. “But that love is forbidden, because it crosses nations and status. Radamès can’t possibly love a slave,” Edwards explains. And the figure of Amneris, the Egyptian princess who loves Radamès, looms over it all.

“She’s all powerful, she’s a pampered pet, she’s a controller, she is manipulative and cunning. But she’s also a woman, with a heart. She can click her fingers and have somebody executed at will but what she can’t control, and she can’t buy, is Radamès’ love. No matter how she tries to destroy his love for her slave girl, and claim him for her own, he stays loyal.”

Director Gale Edwards poses with Chorus members Jodie McGuren, Sharon Olde and Rebecca Currier, dressed in the costume of Princess Amneris' attendants. Photo: Aidan Corrigan

The enduring relevance of each of these themes pushed Edwards to set the opera in no particular time, a time where one character can carry a machine gun and another can ride in a chariot and images from classical and modern Egypt blend unashamedly. There’s a military feel to the costumes and set, there’s glamour and ostentatious wealth in the costumes of the Egyptians, there’s colour and beauty and movement in the costumes of the Ethiopians, which draw on the colours of Africa.

Visually, the combination will be thrilling to see, Edwards says.

The challenges

The harbour stage offers all kinds of challenges – dramatically and logistically. Purpose built on the harbour each year with an orchestra pit concealed beneath the stage, there is very little in the way of wings. “I’ve had the opportunity to play in that space with Carmen, and work out a few things. For example, it takes one and a half minutes for a chorus member to get from their dressing room to the stage. There’s no storage space. Cranes move. These practical considerations all affect how you stage a work.”

While Edwards treated Carmen almost as a musical, with all the energy, dancing, running and jumping that offers, Aida is a different beast, she says, and demands a different approach. “It’s static, it’s monumental. Nobody will run across the stage!”

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: The Carmen experience. Photograph by Keith Saunders.

But there is spectacle, and emotion, and drama, and it is Edwards’ job to stage those moments in a way that involves the whole audience. “You have to be careful about finding that imagery, you have to stage duets and trios without closing the stage down, without letting your singers disappear.”

Edwards doesn’t sound remotely daunted by the challenge – in contrast, she’s overflowing with energy and excitement. “Opera on Sydney Harbour is the best possible way to see opera,” Edwards says. “You get Verdi’s legendary music and some of the world’s greatest opera singers, to sing it. That alone would be enough to come, but you have this amazing production with fabulous costumes and an exciting set by Mark Thompson. And most importantly, you have this whole experience outside. You’re looking at Sydney in the background, with the buildings and the Sydney Opera House and the bridge lit up. The water glitters in the moonlight, and the boats go past. We build restaurants! So you can buy your champagne and your gourmet food and sit and eat and drink and watch the opera.”

“The show is set within a huge landscape of other things – it’s a beautiful way to see this wonderful opera.”

And here is a link to some fascinating numbers in relation to the building of the set and other facts for this production of Aida.

This time last week

I’ve been home over a week now so I thought a quick update is in order! As this blog is about Simon’s journey at Arrowsmith I am always a little reluctant to write about what I have been doing on my sojourns back to Sydney whilst I leave him in Peterborough, hence the gap since my last post.

Whilst I have been catching up with friends, enjoying cooking in my kitchen, going on long walks with one of my dearest friends from London and going out for dinner, challenging my body with yoga and generally having a nice time, Simon has been working away at his cognitive improvement exercises, with one mastery last week in word. Only one, said Simon. Any mastery is worth celebrating I think! And his time on 6 handed clocks is decreasing which means he is seeing the relationships between the hands more quickly, quicker processing and more complicated processing which makes life in general a whole lot easier. And he enjoyed being at his friends farm over the Easter weekend and spending the time with his family.

This time last week Michael and I were sitting on the deck of a yacht, he, imagehaving watched the moon set, called me up to watch the sun rise as the mist rolled over the hills. We sat silently not wanting to disturb our friends and the other yachts as we felt as if we were the only people in the world who were awake! In the midst of Sydney, not a house in sight, the beauty of Bantry Bay.

My brain is sprouting

So says Simon’s t-shirt! And it is! Here is the photo of the aforementioned t-shirt!

A lovely, challenging walk today, slip sliding on the icy trails through the woods and fields of the Trent Nature Reserve, ice glistening in the sunshine, cracking under our feet. I so enjoy the companionship and exercise of the Parents Walking Group.

My last evening in Peterborough for a while and we went to see the Petes play in the third of the seven quarter final matches in the play-offs! What an exciting game! Rough and tumbling players slamming each other into the partition just in front of us! This was the fastest, roughest game I have yet seen. The Petes held onto their slim lead to win 2-1. The Petes goalie saved 46 shots on goal from Oshawa so it was far more exciting than the score reflects.

Next time you hear from me I will be in Sydney, time to go home to my very patient husband and leave Simon to his own devices! April is the month for the big push as the Arrowsmith year draws to a close. the month of May is busy with testing, and it will be so interesting to see the gains that Simon has made over this year in terms of the tests, and an excursion every week. Good luck with your big push Simon and your testing! image