In the first production of Carmen in 1968, in the final performance all the Chorus was waiting to come on after the bull fight behind a flat and just as Don Jose (played by Lloyd Masel) was about to stab Carmen (played by Doris Dodd at that performance and Lesley Perrin), Kenneth Peggs who was playing Zuniga pushed the flat the wrong way and it fell down leaving all the Chorus open mouthed and exposed to the public gaze which ruined the critical moment when Don Jose was telling Carmen he was sorry and loved her and stabbed her to death
Later Verdon Williams the Conductor was transferred to Tasmania. George Tintner, an Austrian Conductor who had been a member of The Vienna Boy Choir and who was a vegan, took over. Tom Wardle who was a Patron at the time, kindly said that he would give a dinner for all of the Committee (of which I was then Secretary) to meet Mr. Tintner and have a meal together to get to know each other. This presented no end of difficulties because then I had to spend half a day with the Chef at the Adelphi (where we had the dinner) trying to work out 4 or 5 courses that didn’t include meat, eggs, honey, milk, anything to do with animals or animal exportation. I think it went off well as everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
On another occasion we had a tenor who was a butcher and Mr. Tintner needed to speak to him about some parts and the only way I could organise this was for the two of them to meet at the butcher’s shop. I took Mr. Tintner in and he went a very delicate shade of white as we were there for about 5 minutes because the man we needed to talk to was busy then Mr. Tintner turned to me and said “I am sorry I must go I cannot stand the smell”.
We did a production of La Bohème and we had a Spanish born conductor Juan Azaldegui and Giuseppe Bertinazzo did the production and played the lead role because he had done it in Italy. We arranged a picnic in King’s Park for Juan and he taught us all how to use one of those bladders to drink wine, that you swish up on your shoulder and direct into your mouth which was great fun and a lot of us got a good dousing of wine.
When we did a production of Orpheus at the Concert Hall we had three levels: stage level, higher level which was were all the Gods were, and then there was a section at floor level at the back of the stage that they opened and all the people from Hades were supposed to pour out. In front of that they had a lot of smudge pots that gave the impression of smoke and flames. This one night I was standing in the wings waiting to go on and they opened the little gap for the people to come through and one of them kicked one of the smudge pots which started to catch on the side of the flat. I said to myself “we are going to have a big fire here in a minute if I don’t get moving” so I finally found someone who was able to get in through the back, where they were meant to get off, who was able to hook the whole thing out and stamp on it. That was a moment of excitement.
The Gypsy Baron was good fun. We had Lloyd Masel who was a devout Jew playing Kalman Zsupan, a wealthy pig farmer which was rather bizarre. Saffi made her enterance late in the first act but waited the whole time in a small on stage caravan. No time for warm up.
In Die Fledermaus we had a chorus member called Claudio Versaico, who I think had been in the Company for a long time before he went on to become Lugi Savadamoni of WA Salvage who appeared on a whole lot of TV ads with this.
Country tours were great fun. The first one we did was to Mount Newman Iron Ore Mine. We were never sure what we were going to get and we would have to carry as much as we can and everyone would have to bog in and help to put up sets. We all had to sing extra roles and do different things that perhaps we had not done in full time roles. When we went up it was a cold winter’s day in Perth and we were all wearing winter clothes and packed for the cold but when we arrived it was boiling. So nearly everyone had to borrow clothes, not sure about how the men got on, but all the girls borrowed clothes from the people we were billeted with. In those days we were not booked into hotels or anything like that, people said “I will have a couple of people to stay, I will have a couple of people to stay” and that is how we were billeted out. After the first night performance we packed it all up and went down on the iron ore train to Port Hedland for the next performance which was very interesting.
We did a lot of Country tours. Albany was interesting because the Albany Town Hall was the only one big enough to take us and if you had to get from one side of the stage to the other without being seen or exit on one side and enter on the other side, you had to go out of the building around the back of the building and in another door as there was no access backstage. It was a very narrow stage and there was no backstage access.
Carmen we did in the Concert Hall in May 1975, and Suzanne Steele played Carmen and I can remember a great hiss going up from all the girls when she draped herself over Gregory Dempsey who was playing Don Jose and rubbed her leg up and down his and we all took a great gasp but of course it was very accurate for Carmen and she was not afraid to show it.
In the beginning the first rehearsals in the Adult Education Rooms were hopeless because it was very low and the sound was dead but then we moved out to Mt Lawley to what was then the Albany Bell Hatchery and we were there for a long time, it was much bigger and more suitable for rehearsing. Mr Tintner was fun. He would turn up on his bicycle because he did not believe in using cars and he would always have a string bag on the front which would be full of things like celery, a couple of carrots and a lettuce perhaps, which would be his food and very often he would end up digging into the bag and conducting for a couple of minutes with a stick of celery before putting it back into the bag.
My most memorable would be maybe Die Fledermaus and the last act aria where Adele is showing off all things she can do at the jail. She could be a Countess, she could be a Queen, could be a servant, and she could be anything that is required to get out of being a Lady’s maid, she can be anyone and she can do almost anything. It is very demanding aria but it was good fun.
It was a very egalitarian company. I don’t think there was any great thing that I am one of the Principals and that you are one of the lowly members of the Chorus. As always it was a terrible fight to get men, they were always the rare birds which didn’t help very much for all the Sopranos. One of things of going to the Concert Hall was the pressures it put on the stage set builders because you were not allowed to put nails into the stage. Everything had to be supported and freestanding and for the two I was involved with at the Concert Hall, Orpheus in the Underworld and the second Carmen, were all big sets so I really don’t know how they managed them.