My time with W.A. O. C
I came to Perth in 1970. Someone heard me singing and suggested that I go on Perth’s New Faces. I went there and sang reasonably well. Mr Harry Bluck was an adjudicator and said that I had a good voice and should take lessons. I explained that I had only just arrived from U.K. and was trying to establish myself and family. He suggested that I could join the Opera Company where I would get free tuition. I looked up the pink pages and saw a Giuseppe Bertinazzo. I always loved Italian singing so went to Giuseppe as he was the founder member of W.A.O.C. He invited me to join the Opera Company. I auditioned for the chorus and was accepted. I then took lessons from Giuseppe for two years.
In 1972 I went to Ruth Atkinson as I wanted to get a second opinion on my progress. I got the part of Goro in Butterfly. The Pinkerton was Luigi Campeotto. He was far from musically correct but had an amazing voice. The repetiture was David Helfgott. At one stage Luigi lost his temper and marched over to David and started to harass him and said that it was his fault that he went wrong. I was incensed and went over to David and gave him a hug and said that it was not his fault in any way. He was incredible on the keyboard. I was later to sing at Ricardo’s Wine Bar with David’s accompaniment and also sang at David and Gillian’s Wedding reception.
In 1973 the Company performed Verdi’s Masked Ball. I had the role of the Chief Magistrate.
On opening night I found myself onstage with Donald Smith, Glenys Fowells and Robert Allman. It was awe inspiring as Donald Smith never attended any rehearsals. I had some funny experiences in that scene such as Glenys had to grab my cape and then throw it at me at the end of her aria. It floated right over me and I had great difficulty in removing without losing my wig. On another occasion, Ruth Atkinson, who was alternating with Glenys, threw the cape at me and it hit me in the eyes leaving me blinking to see where I was!
At the conclusion of Masked ball, Bernd Benthaak offered me an contract with the Australian Opera Company. It was hard to make a decision as I was doing well in my job. Also I felt that I did not want to have sing under permanent contract. There would be no choice when and what was to be sung. Donald Smith was renowned as a difficult and temperamental person. He took to his dressing room after each act and Mr. Tintner had to go and plead with him to return, which he did.
We toured to Narrogin and Katanning with Madame Butterfly. In Narrogin I saw that the piano music stand was broken so being a practical bloke set to with wood and screws to repair it. Mr Tintner was to play the opera. He was amused by my efforts and when I had finished informed me that Butterfly was one of 19 operas that he could play without music!
I had the parts of chorus, Drunken Uncle and Prince Yamadori. I had three changes of costume. As Yamadori I had to pop out to the toilets in the adjacent car park much to the great amusement of the many young Aboriginal children! Georg would not allow other tenors to sing in the humming chorus – he said “Mr. Clare shall be the only tenor to sing in the Humming Chorus” I believe that pitch was a problem with some of the tenors. Anything off pitch was quite physically painful to him.
Georg Tintner was the musical director. He was a small man but very impressive. He was pitch perfect and also had the ability to come backstage after a performance and tell you that you were a quarter of a beat too soon in your entry on page 173 bar 9!
In 1981 I was given the part of Mayor Upfold in Albert Herring. It was at the Octagon Theatre in UWA. It was unbelievable that I would have a part in a Benjamin Britten opera as in England he was a neighbor in Aldeburgh and I had actually repaired his telephone when I was an engineer in British Post Office.. He was a very charming man. I also sang a song in an amateur group where Benjamin and Peter Peers were in the audience. Benjamin said to me “that was nice singing”. The Sunday Independent said it was a brilliant production and the cast from Patricia Whitbread at the top down to Mr. Clare at the bottom of the cast ‘whose efforts on stage were inept and his pitch was pathetic.’ Georg was incensed and John Milson said some very rude things and both said that I performed as required. I believe the critic got the sack after a letter from Vin Warrener. ( Chairman of the Opera company.)
I auditioned for a scholarship with WAOC. I came second as Mr. Tintner explained that my “Una Furtiva Lagrima was presented like a declaration of war!’’
I also had the part of Spoletta in Tosca. We were at the Concert hall as His Majesty’s Theatre was undergoing much needed renovation. At a dress rehearsal, Catherine Duval as Tosca came on stage, stopped, looked around her and said “my dress is made of out the bloody scenery backcloth.’’ She stormed off to her dressing room leaving Paul Neal and I stuck on stage. I believe the cost of a dress rehearsal with full orchestra was $3000. A lot of money from the budget. After discussion Catherine returned suitably clad.
My last role was as the Guide in Carmen in 1983. It was a spoken role – amusing after many singing roles!
I had many wonderful experiences over the years and sang in many choruses over the years. I have many other stories of incidents.
In 1983 I had to leave the company as my job took me travelling. I still sing at functions and look back, very gratefully,’ over my life with the WAOC and how much I learned over the years.