I may claim to be the most experienced Wagner conductor resident in Australia. Why?

 

My father in London was a part-time repetiteur for the Wagner seasons at Covent Garden during the 1930s, so we had the scores at home.

 

Wagner got me to my first full-time position (Grand Théâtre, Geneva) - I auditioned playing a rehearsal of Götterdämmerung.

 

Wagner got me to my second full-time position (Stadttheater, Basle) - I assisted Armin Jordan in Parsifal in Geneva and he engaged me as his assistant in Basle.

 

I conducted Lohengrin in Mannheim where I was Erster Kapellmeister 1975-77 and was substitute conductor for other Wagner operas to the Generalmusikdirektor Hans Wallat - himself an eminent Wagner conductor. Members of the orchestra and principals were Bayreuth 'regulars' - e.g. Franz Mazura, with whom I conducted in many performances in Mannheim (as Gurnemanz he used to sing in Parsifal performances "vor Fuchs und Kram so tief gebeugt", Tilo Fuchs being the other Erster Kapellmeister).

 

When I left Mannheim to return to Geneva for personal reasons I was engaged by that theatre for various conducting and assisting engagements. During that period I was assistant conductor for Jean-Claude Riber's production of the Ring, conducting the piano-stage rehearsals with a mostly Bayreuth cast. During the performances I had to undertake duties such as conduct Ridderbusch's offstage 'Wurm'.

 

When I came to Australia for personal reasons and joined The Australian Opera I assisted Mark Elder with The Mastersingers and concert performances of The Ring at Sydney Opera House (also William Reid in Melbourne). I also coached Rita Hunter's Isolde. The only Wagner I conducted for the company was an excerpt from Tristan und Isolde in concert with Rita Hunter and Alberto Remedios with the Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra (now the AOBO) in Canberra and Brisbane. The nearest thing to Wagner I conducted was Der Rosenkavalier in Sydney and Melbourne - a Melbourne critic has described it as "the finest Rosenkavalier he has heard".

 

As Music Director of the State Opera of South Australia 1998-90 I conducted Brünnhilde's Immolation with Sandra Hahn and the Adelaide Symphony in the Adelaide Town Hall.

 

When I went back to Europe in 1991 I was very soon engaged to conduct a new production of Der Meistersinger for the Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, where I conducted many different performances until Oleg Caetani assumed his position as GMD. Some of the orchestra and also the chorus-master took part in the Bayreuther Festspielen. I also accompanied the Wesendonck Lieder during a concert in the villa in Biebrich on the Rhine where Wagner composed some of the Meistersinger.

 

During that European period I was undertaking musicological research leading to a PhD. In 1993 I delivered a paper on Der Meistersinger at an international Wagner conference in Bayreuth.

 

I was also engaged, thanks to a recommendation by Simone Young, to conduct Siegfried at the opera house in Nantes, Brittany, working successfully with the Orchestre régionale du pays de la Loire and an international cast directed by Phillipe Godefroid.

 

Since returning to Australia for personal reasons in 1995 I have mentored many Wagner singers and helped to prepare one eminent overseas director for her first Ring production.

 

All this experience led me to devise, adapt and reorchestrate a new form of presenting opera, especially the Ring, as a condensed narrated visual story-with-music interspersed by the singing of the most memorable moments, all bound together by a seamless sound-track performed live by an ensemble of saxophones, bassoon, sarrusophone and keyboard. In doing so, I may lay claim to having opened up this masterwork for families in Australia and around the world, recruiting new opera-lovers and educating school students and students of all ages with MTO's on-line material.

Wagner and David Kram

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