The outgoing director of the Art Gallery of NSW on opera, Karajan and the danger of mixing artforms.

When I was growing up we were always surrounded by rather conservative music, but one of the great moments was when I was 15 or 16 and we went on a family holiday to Rome. My parents said to me and my brother, “Right, tonight we’re going to the opera”. And we said, “Oh, shit”. Anyway, the opera happened to be Aida , outside at the Caracalla baths. It started at ten at night, and had the live animals and everything – what an introduction! It was amazing. So that was quite a defining moment for me.

Nowadays I’m totally eclectic when it comes to music. On my little iPod is the entire Brahms Requiem, the entire Verdi Requiem, Strauss’s Four Last Songs and Alpine Symphony , Wagner’s Tannhäuser , as well as a bit of the Rolling Stones, some Chinese Buddhist music and some Islamic music. I suppose if there’s one thing that drives me absolutely crackers it’s musicals. We had to do them at school – all this bloody Gilbert & Sullivan. I could’ve murdered the...

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