The story of Martin Clare in the W.A.O.C.
I joined the Opera Company in 1970. This followed an appearance on Channel 7’s “New Faces.”
An adjudicator was Harry Bluck who was in involved with the Opera Company. He suggested that I had a good voice and should take singing lessons and join the opera company. I found a Giuseppe Bertinazzo as a teacher and of course he was the founder member of the Opera Company.
I had always loved Italian music and singers so I commenced singing lessons with Giuseppe and joined the opera company.
I studied with Giuseppe for two years and enjoyed time in the chorus.
I then decided that I wanted a second opinion with my vocal development so I went to Ruth Atkinson who was excellent in sustaining the voice whilst still retaining good output. ( Little did I know then that some years later I would be on stage as a principal with Ruth on stage also.)
I got the part of Goro in Madam Butterfly. Pinkerton was Luigi Campeotto who had great looks, a brilliant voice but had pitch and timing problems that would ultimately limit his career. The repetiture was David Helfgott. At one rehearsal Luigi got it wrong, lost his temper and went over to David and accused him of playing something wrong.
I was incensed , told Luigi off and gave David a big hug. This formed a great bond between David and I. This led to him accompanying me on a TV show and also singing at Riccardo’s Wine Bar. Later I was invited to song at Gillian and David’s wedding reception.
In 1973 I performed in Verdi’s Masked Ball as The Chief Magistrate. On the opening night I walked onto the stage to play my part with Donald smith, Glenys Fowles and Robert Allman. This was my first meeting with Donald Smith as he would not come to rehearsals. It was amazing to be on stage with such famous people. Donald Smith refused to come onstage after the first act and Georg Tintner, the musical director had to plead with him to return He did so but after the second act did the same thing. Again Georg had to plead with him to continue. He was not the easiest person to get on with!
I had some funny experiences most nights as Glenys or Ruth, ( my old singing teacher) had to grab my gown and mimic me and then throw it back at me. One time the gown hit me between the eyes and I could hardly see the rest of my onstage part. Another night when the the gown was being pulled off me and tag caught my wig and nearly pulled it off. I had to cling to it! A further time the gown flew right over my head and I was enveloped in it and ad difficulty in continuing.
At the conclusion of Masked Ball Bern Bentaak, the producer offered me a contract with the Australian Opera Company.I thought about this but as I was doing well in my job and also did not want to be contracted to sing. I felt that that this would not give me freedom of choice as to what i would wish to sing so I declined his offer.
Georg Tintner was an absolutely amazing man. We took Madam Butterfly to Katanning and Narrogin. He was to play the piano accompaniment an also conduct. At Narrogin the music stand on the piano was broken . I found some wood and screws and repaired it. Georg was amused as he said that Madam Butterfly was one of nineteen operas that he could play from memory!
In this Butterfly I was the Drunken Uncle, a one liner, the Chorus tenor and Prince Yamadori. The toilets for us was outside in the carpark at Katanning. I had to make a visit in my royal robes much to great amusement of a group of young Aboriginal children!
Georg was pitch perfect and apparently anything off key was physically painful for him. He also had an incredible memory of the performance. He would come back stage after a performance and tell you that “ on page 128, bar 9 you were again a half beat early on your entry!” He also appointed me the solo tenor for the Humming Chorus in Butterfly as he said I was the only one that would be sufficiently in key!!
In 1976 I played Mayor Upfold in Benjamin Britten’s ‘Albert Herring.’ I found it unbelievable as Benjamin was a neighbour of mine In Aldeburgh in England . Even more fascinating was that in Aldeburgh I had been a member of a local amateur drama group and on one occasion I sang with Benjamin and Peter Peers in the audience. After the show he congratulated me on my singing.
I also repaired Benjamin’s house phone as I was a maintenance man in the British Post Office
Benjamin was a most gracious and charming man.
The Sunday Independent newspaper, under the heading ‘Albert Herring proves to be a bad catch’, said that Albert Herring was a brilliant production by john Milson. However, the cast “ from Patricia Whitbread at the top down to Martin Clare as the mumbling mayor at the bottom whose efforts on stage were inept and his pitch was pathetic. “
Georg said that my pitch was very good and John Milson was more to the point with some very rude comments. John asked how the production could be brilliant with such ridiculous comments.
Vin Warrener, the Opera Company chairman was very angry. He was particularly disgusted with the comments on me. He wrote a letter to the Sunday Independent and I believe the critic was sacked!
Because the Opera was part of the Perth Festival we were invited to the Lord Mayor’s reception at Council House.
The guest of honour was Dame Joan Sutherland. She spoke to everyone who said that they had all her recordings. However, when she came to me I bowed and kissed her hand. She said “ How gallant”. I replied “not really Dame Joan. I have been eating fish paste sandwiches. I am sure that you will remember me.” She sniffed her hand and let out the most loud laugh. What a lovely lady!!
I auditioned for a scholarship with the W.A.O.C. David Helfgott played the piano. I came second as Mr. Tintner said that I performed ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’ “like a declaration of war!”
I had the part of Spoletta in Tosca. This was performed at the Concert Hall as His Majesty’s was being renovated. At a final dress rehearsal I was on stage with Paul Neal, ( Scarpia), when Tosca made an entrance. Catherine Duval ,( Tosca), took a look at the backcloth and her dress and said “ this dress is made out of the bloody backcloth. She stormed off to her dressing room and refused to continue until a new material was found for her dress. Paul and I waited while the orchestra waited also. At $3000 for this rehearsal it was an expensive delay.
We also performed Carmen in the Concert Hall
My last two ‘parts’ were as the Magic Tree in The Magic Flute and as the guide in Carmen.
This was an amusing finish to my career in the opera company as the Magic Tree was a silent part
and the Guide was a one spoken line!!
All in all I had a wonderful time in the Opera Company and treasure the experiences and learnings that I gained from the various musical directors and producers.
I feel a great debt of gratitude to me two singing teachers, Giuseppe and Ruth. I am still able to sing well.