Good-bye, Richard

Richard Hickox, 1948-2008

Another case of not appreciating something fully until you’ve lost it.

I never met him, but spent many happy hours within metres of him, from my usual vantage point in Row B (the best value for money in the House), so I feel a certain bond.

This was the musical director who put Opera Australia back on its feet in 2003, after the acrimony and bad publicity of the Simone Young era.

During his tenure, Richard Hickox ensured a decent repertoire, introduced numerous exciting new works, and presided over a generally high standard. Audiences will always protest against particular staging and casting decisions, but I haven’t heard anyone question the professionalism and energy of the chorus and orchestra in recent years. We are not just talking about an artistic achievement here, but good management too. In a world overflowing with talent, maintaining quality would be easy if money was no object. Without knowing too much about the financial position, I suspect that he achieved this under a tight budget.

Hickox had his share of critics; their voices reached a crescendo in the form of Gideon Haigh’s article last Monthly. Sarah Noble and Marcellous both decided it’s not easy to adjudicate on this, and they know a lot more than I do. (Sarah has complied the definitive reading list here and here.) It does appear that some fine Australian artists have been tragically sidelined; on the other hand, the accusations of nepotism and mediocrity are so misplaced that they undermine the credibility of the ctitics making them. Probably the situation is well summed up by one of Marcellous’s commenters, who says

I think Mr Hickox unfairly criticised, for doing what he was employed to do, presumably an arrangement not unreasonably including his wife, she too removed from her otherwise employment opportunities, and together they constitute the Simone Rebecca Young departure debacle rescue package.

and by one of Sarah’s, who says

There will always be singers who feel they should have more work and who feel overlooked. The bottom line is there are too many of us and too few jobs. I think it is so subjective, this whole argument. No one can win.

The best judges of a conductor are the musicians he or she is directing. According to a friend who has performed for some years with Opera Australia,

performing with Richard Hickox is rarely less than a thoroughly satisfying artistic event. His genuine love for the diverse range of music he is conducting combined with his youthful eagerness to get it right and better, evening after evening, shows an example many would like to but few can follow.

And, as the Herald’s obituary reminds us, ‘On the final night of Billy Budd last month, the baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes began a round of applause for the conductor which was taken up by soloists and chorus.’

The musicians saw their orchestra take its place in the recording industry. Hickox was already a giant of recording before he took up opera, and lent the orchestra his reputation and influence to sign a recording contract with Chandos, which has produced well-regarded CDs of Dvorak and Prokofiev.

As my friend sums it up:

Richard Hickox has done so much for music and opera in Sydney, and he has so much more to offer. In his person, we have a world class musician dedicated to this country and its flagship opera company. It is up to Hickox himself, his peers, and his colleagues to make this relationship flourish and develop in the years to come.

It was up to God too, and He has denied us.

4 thoughts on “Good-bye, Richard

  1. Back in your box, Chico. You got the Grand Pricks and we got opera. It’s the natural order.

    James, first off many thanks for writing here on Opera – I always enjoy your posts, and this one is excellent, with many valuable links.

    That said, I think you’ve been far too soft on Hickox. His death is obviously tragic, but I think his record at OA was weak, and got progressively worse in recent years. I was so disgusted by the recent production of Don Giovanni that I left after the first act – the first time I’ve simply given up on an opera performance.

    While I agree with your assessment of the professionalism of the chorus and orchestra and the realities of of a tight budget, casting of principals is critical and I think Fiona Janes was absolutely on the money in her critique of Hickox and OA. Furthermore – and it really pisses me off to admit this – Alan Jones is also correct in pushing for a thorough overhaul of the board of OA.

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