Apparently many of the attendees at the various Voss Journey events this weekend confess to having read “parts of Voss“. I am intrigued by this because as an 18 year old in my last year of high school, nearly 40 years ago, I absolutely fell in love with Voss. Over the years I have put this down to the fact that it was the perfect novel for romantic, idealistic adolescent girls. The idea of a passion and communion that transcends space and time seemed the epitome of romance. Oh, how I yearned for such a passion – back then!
For a number of reasons I will not be getting to much of the Voss Journey and so we made an effort to go to the live broadcast of ABC Radio National’s Music Show at the National Film and Sound Archive at 10am this morning. It focussed, naturally, on Voss, starting with the ubiquitous but wonderful Barry Jones talking about Ludwig Leichhardt and the inspirations behind the character of Voss. He suggested that Voss is an amalgam of three people – Leichhardt, another explorer with a somewhat tragic life, Edward John Eyre, and Patrick White himself. Jones said that White was attracted to the idea of doomed characters trying to find their place in the world (reflecting, he said, Leichhardt, who, in his journals, referred to Goethe’s belief that Providence picks out someone for a task and then abandons them).
Andrew Ford, the Music Show’s presenter, then played an interview he’d recorded with David Malouf who wrote the libretto for the Voss opera. Malouf talked about the challenges of “converting” Voss to opera. He described the language as “very peculiar” and as belonging to the “high point of expressionist modernism”. He, along with others interviewed during the show, suggested that the fact that much of Voss is told through the interior communication between Voss and Laura has made it hard to translate into film. Music, he said, like text, can overcome the boundaries of space and more easily handle the interior communication.
The opera Voss was first performed at the Adelaide Festival in 1986. The performers were baritone Geoffrey Chard as Voss and soprano Marilyn Richardson as Laura. Andrew Ford next interviewed these two singers. Geoffrey Chard laughed that Patrick White was reported as saying that he gave Chard his “most hated character” and was “sure he’d do it very well”. Chard wondered whether to take that as a compliment or not. Anyhow, after talking a little about the opera, Chard and Richardson read an excerpt from one of the never-produced Voss screenplays (written by David Mercer for Joseph Losey). Actress Kate Fitzpatrick read the screen directions. What a treat it was to see and hear these professionals.
For the rest of the program Ford interviewed Australian Opera’s Artistic Director at the time of the production, Moffat Oxenbould, the opera’s director, Jim Sharman, and then the Voss Journey curators, Vincent Plush from the National Film and Sound Archive, and Robyn Holmes from the National Library of Australia. In addition to talking about the opera, Sharman talked about White’s achievement in taking Australia from an “English colonial mentality” by “creating an imaginative landscape out of Australia”. He also suggested that trying to visualise Voss in a film “could be reductive”. Plush and Holmes talked a little about Richard Meale, composer of the opera, and suggested that plans were afoot for more Patrick White celebrations in 2012, Patrick White’s centenary and Richard Meale’s 80th birthday. Ford played an excerpt of an interview Holmes did with Meale in which Meale told her “We can’t do without our Vosses”. Hmmm…did he mean our doomed characters?
Interspersing the interviews was some wonderful live and recorded music – including music from the opera and music contemporaneous with Leichhardt’s time. The live music was performed by the RMC Duntroon Band, Jaina Kruege (harp), and Louise Page (vocals) and Marie-Cecile Darme (also harp).
Australians may have, as Sharman said, filed Patrick White “under ‘c’ for curmudgeon” but after this morning I feel more inspired than ever to read Voss again.