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Newcastle by Janet Walker – City of Steel to City of Style

The Lonely Planet guide lists as the world’s ninth most livable city Newcastle, NSW in Australia, a simply stunning harbour city surrounded by surf beaches.

I’ve just had a lovely four day break there and disagree with the Lonely Planet’s livable city rating – it’s a five on my list, right after Melbourne, Paris, Buenos Aires and Geelong.

The gorgeous beaches, the heritage architecture (lots of art deco), a great regional art gallery together with cafes, boutiques, antique shops, affordable accommodation and friendly locals, make Newcastle a delightfully laid back cool holiday destination.

Australia’s second oldest city, its heritage streetscapes and historic sites, most within walking or biking distance, are a fascinating step back in time.

A free comprehensive guide to touring Newcastle and surrounds is available from the Newcastle Information Centre, Newcastle Airport and most accommodation facilities.

If you are an Australian history buff or of a military bent, a good place to start a tour is Fort Scratchley. There’s a lot to do at the Fort: picnic on the grassy slopes, wander around the site and marvel at the beauty of the harbour views.

If you’re lucky (I wasn’t) you might see dolphins or maybe even a whale or two.

The large and elaborate state of the fort constructed during the 1880s, reflects the importance of the region’s resources at the time and the apprehension the population felt for their safety.

The only coastal fort in Australia to have returned fire at an enemy vessel during a time of war when a Japanese submarine attacked Newcastle in June, 1942, Fort Scratchley offers regular guided tours of the fort’s underground tunnels. They provide an insight into the important national coastal defense role the fort has played in Australia’s history since it was built.

Nearby, at Newcastle beach is the historic Bogey Hole, a hand-hewn ocean rock pool carved out of a cliff face by convicts in the nineteenth century.

Sited at the base of the historic King Alfred Park, it was originally built for the personal use of Newcastle’s Commandant Morrisett in about 1820; an amazing achievement by prisoners who were forced to labour in harrowing conditions.

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Eugene Onegin – Triumph for Tchaikovsky and Opera Australia

Glittering melancholy and killing your best friend over a flirtation gone horribly wrong, is the central motif of Eugene Onegin, a tormented tale about a St Petersburg intellectual who enjoys a dalliance with a young country girl. He insensitively rejects her when she ‘embarrassingly’ declares her love for him in a letter.

Featuring wonderful music and a storyline about the doomed love between Onegin and Tatyana, two members of Russian high society during the romantic era this tormented tale was successfully lifted from the poignant poetic pages of a novel in verse form by Russian writer Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837). He was considered the literary giant of his age.

This is an extremely demanding piece of theatre on every level.

It was a total triumph for Russian composer Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893) during his own age, and again in ours when Opera Australia presented Eugene Onegin during their autumn season 2014, as a co-production with the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London and Fondazione Teatro Regio at Turin in Italy.

Tatyana’s was love given freely but is rejected by Onegin with scorn. It is regretted when it’s all far too late and after a lot of heartbreak, soul searching and a duel between best friends that ends in death for one of them, it is finally and firmly consigned to being but a memory tinged with remorse.

It is about aching all over for what might have been, and desire haunting your dreams.

Directed by the completely self-confessed Danish opera nerd and director, Kasper Holten, with a fine cast, reminiscence and regret are the key elements, both challenging and delighting its audience.

After years of travelling having affairs with many women, but always finding he was missing that certain something in his life, Onegin discovers Tatyana once again, although she’s married now to one of his relatives.  What is that commandment…“I shall not covet my neighbour’s wife”

Tatyana is not only a beautiful graceful mature woman when they meet again, but also one of the highest rank. She has married her Prince and despite holding Onegin first and foremost in her heart, loves Prince Gremin too and will not merely walk away from him at Onegin’s behest.

She has courage of her convictions, a distinctive moral compass and above all a very good heart.

The Australian born Soprano Nicole Car is the lovely Tatyana, and what a sublime performance she gave at the Melbourne premiere.

Full of courage, glorious singing at every aspect of her voice’s range, confident while modest and so full of grace and beauty it was hard for the audience not to ache all over for her predicament.

Hers wasn’t a decision of spite, but one of true love. She displayed great pathos; musical melody exploited by the human voice, in a powerful performance of sensuous beauty and soaring vitality.

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