Cut Back Stress? Don’t Exercise?

A strange case of counter-intuiutive observations on Lawyers Weekly today:

“Exercise can exacerbate the stress levels of lawyers in high-pressure roles and lead to burnout, the banking & finance group at Herbert Smith Freehills has discovered.

HSF corporate finance partner Erin Wakelin (pictured) invited a health expert to the firm yesterday (29 July) to advise her team on how to manage the stresses of legal practice by setting achievable exercise and nutrition goals.

In a talk entitled Debunking myths and making healthier choices, Nathan Hauville, a trainer with Better Being Executive, told the HSF lawyers that exercise is a stressor that has the same effect on the body as work-related stress.

“Exercise is a stress response [and] the body doesn’t differentiate between stresses,” he said. “If we’re skipping meals, not getting enough sleep, [then] each time we add stress through exercise … stress is going to continue us down the path to burnout.”

He urged the lawyers to ensure exercise in enjoyable. “The focus should be about doing what we love.”

The HSF lawyers on billable hours were delighted to hear Hauville’s claim that just one hour of exercise each week is all that is required to achieve health benefits, as long as the heart is beating at around 80 percent of the individual’s maximum heart rate.

After that welcome tidbit, Hauville asked the lawyers to stand up and perform a series of “desk exercises”, including one called the Merv Hughes, which mimics the famed cricketer’s warm-up stretches.

Another of Hauville’s well-received pieces of advice was: “Don’t be afraid of the fats.”

A HSF lawyer queried the nutritional value of pork belly, but Hauville gave the natural fat the green light, along with various oils, fish and meat products.

“Natural foods won’t have that stress response on the body that man-made foods do,” he added.

La Forza Del Destino – Opera Australia, Sydney Opera House

Opening Night – 29 June 2013, Sydney Opera House

La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny) is one of the longer dramatic operas by Giuseppe Verdi. With a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave based on the 1835 Spanish drama, Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino by the Duke of Rivas (and some touches from Schiller’s Wallensteins Lager) the opera premiered in Russia in St. Petersburg in 1862.

This new production for Opera Australia, directed by Tama Matheson replaces the former production which was both episodic and elaborate in its scenery and blocking. The former approach tended to make more obvious the incongruities and incredulous-coincidences that mark out particularly the third act of the opera. In this new production, those often laugh-inducing coincidences are more effectively accommodated by a narrative that firmly focuses upon the concept of destiny and, perhaps more interestingly, equates destiny with death (perhaps an allusion to the “force” of that destiny).

Death is everywhere, with the set marked initially by (literally) a skeletal starkness which dominates the theatre. The bare bones approach to the set design is supplanted very quickly by a more elaborate setting that evokes the mansion of Lenora’s family that is the setting for the first fateful incident in a series of many that lead unremittingly toward death. That set, combined with a costume of epic proportions (both in beauty and logistics) is then deconstructed and ultimately we are presented with a series of tableau that are characterised by poor, famine-influenced darkness that rewards the libretto with a sense of irony and points up the more cynical aspects of Verdi’s treatment of the material (particularly that of the clergy and the peasantry). The set, with visible side lighting booms, use of projections (fire evoking a battle field) and rough-finishing, combined to create a vivid, sometimes brutal sense of foreboding which enhanced the sense of force with which we reached the narrative destiny.

The cast was excellent, from top to bottom. However it was the three principals that elevated the performance of this sprawling score (and even more turgid libretto) electrifying. In the role of Lenora, soprano Svetla Vassileva made a vivid finale all the more emotional by her earlier pianissimo facility in the famous Pace, pace mio Dio! which was performed with exquisite phrasing and a preparedness to risk all and go for both the long phrases and the high notes with boldness. Her risks occasionally ran close to the odd insecure note but all of it was pulled off with the sort of high passion that makes a performance of an opera so much more potent and remarkable than a recording of one. The occasional shy or sly note is forgiven when it momentarily appears in a performance otherwise marked by lingering musicality, phraseology and beauty that is the poise you hope for an an Italian opera – especially by Verdi.

The tenor role of Don Alvaro was performed by Riccardo Massi who like Vassileva suffered either from nerves or a cold opening in the early moments of the opera. Both started with some trepidation in their voices, which was quickly replaced by energy and passion. Massi’s performance grew throughout the dramatic events of the third act but as they did so, his musicality seemed to take on ever new levels of power until in the final act he was quite simply devestatingly good. His voice was beautiful (and probably has a lot more room for development) and his desire to stretch over Verdi’s demanding vocal lines was so evident that his drive propelled the production to a brilliant moment of theatre in the closing moments of the score.

No doubt, the growth in the performance of Massi over the night was in no small part due to the arrival on stage of Jonathan Summers who is quite simply the very best baritone to sing on the stage of the Opera Theatre for a very long time. His arrival was marked by a velveteen profundity of tone that has lost none of its brilliance since I saw him sing Iago in Otello in the same venue too many years ago. That velvet darkness diminishes none of the brilliance of this stunning performer who sang the notes that Verdi wrote as if the great composer had personally gifted them to Summers and the singer took the gift very seriously. His entire performance was marked by utter concentration and conviction in the notes and a total habitation of the role of Don Carlos di Vargos. His character was all the more stark for his steadfast refusal to blink his eyes. The gaze with which he stared down fate was both chilling and horrifying – because it was not merely a gaze of defiance, but one of foreboding knowing that death was coming for him as much as he sought to bring it to the other characters. His performance should and no doubt will linger long in the minds of all who see it. This is a truly exceptional opera performer doing the very best of his art. It was stunning display of musicianship and dramatic innovation and dedication.

The ensemble roles were equally well performed and each delivered on the principals promise of musical greatness. Special mention is deserving of Rinat Shaham who was vocally strong, delivering a musically intelligent reading of her role and dramatically committed. and Some of the chorus blocking was uneven, though that looked more likely due to limited rehearsal and opening night nerves than a lack of capacity. The chorus sang brilliantly.

Something must be said of the conductor Andrea Licata who has had some detractors and some difficult moments getting singers to follow him (a performance of Aida last year springs to mind). However he was simply brilliant in this opera. The choice of using the original ending for the opera presented audiences with a new experience for this tale and, it must be said, a much more taught and satisfactory dramatic ending to this work. His overture was mildly placed in terms of tempo and lacked none of the verve and energy that one of the most famous of all opera overtures deserves. But it was his work with the singers on stage in pushing for longer lines in melody and an apparent persistent request for adroit phrasing that made the performance energetic. The principals, each so adept at their art, were visibly working with the conductor and to achieve something fresh. It was inspiring to observe and gratifying to hear.

The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra performed with an obvious joy for the score. The woodwind solos were so sensitively rendered that at one point, a particularly challenging clarinet solo seemingly vanished softly into the heavens, only to return moments later with burbling reminder of just how magical Verdi’s orchestration can be. No mere brass-band composer here. The strings were both warm and vivid and the horns played with a precision often lacking elsewhere in the Opera House. This was inspired delivery of the master’s music and it had a hostile and passionate dynamic pulsating throughout the score like pure Italian blood. Operas like this must have blood on the page and this orchestra delivered it. The tutti sections were especially tightly phrased and the orchestra seemed the ever-present personification of fate, ready to pounce on the events on stage. 

The production was quite-simply brilliant. It’s a must-see – again and again.

Aaron Kernaghan.

Directors Beware – Authors unhappy with Changes

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An article by Tim Douglas in today’s The Australian online tells the sorrowful story of Penrith’s Q Theatre who have pulled a show, a week before opening, because the production doesn’t accord with the author’s wishes. The play, called Alienation has been withdrawn because the playright, Lachlan Philpott has raised concerns that he considers the production of Alienation currently showing by the Perth Theatre Company (which was to show in Penrith between 18 and 27 July 2013), does not reflect his original, scripted or communicated intentions as the playwright. 


So Q Theatre have cancelled the show and are offering refunds on tickets sold. 

t’s a shame that Verdi isn’t still around to indicate displeasure with the recent A Masked Ball at the opera house. Perhaps the closing scene could then have been altered to prevent the chorus from coughing and spluttering all the way through one of the most beautiful choral moments in all of opera – in order to create a dystopian reference that was neither necessary nor sensitive to the score or libretto. 

More from the article:

“A THEATRE company in Sydney has dramatically pulled a show in solidarity with a playwright who distanced himself from the work after claiming it had been altered beyond recognition. 

Penrith’s Q Theatre yesterday cancelled its week-long season of Lachlan Philpott’s AlieNation following its controversial premiere at Perth Theatre Company on July 2. The playwright claims directorial changes to his script no longer represented his original intention and he has since had his name officially withdrawn as author of the work.

At its premiere in Perth, Philpott was allowed to leave notes on audience seats recording his displeasure: “I would like to acknowledge the people who bravely shared their stories and the actors and creative artists who contributed to this work in good faith. However, the outcome of this production does not reflect my original, scripted or communicated intentions as the playwright.”

[…]

Philpott told the Arts Hub website last week that he had been “seriously and persistently undermined” after large swaths of his text had been removed in Perth.

The Australian Writers Guild released a statement last night saying the playwright’s request to be officially withdrawn as the author of the work was done “to maintain his integrity as the author of the original script”.

Q Theatre released a statement expressing support for the playwright but refused to comment further.”

More here.
From Opera Australia’s 2013 production of
Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) by G Verdi.