Tuning up

In the mid 1970’s or early 1980’s I saw The Merry Widow at His Majesty’s—one of the first operas I ever saw. I was an experienced concert goer, attending the WASO series nearly every year. What surprised me at the Maj was the length of time the orchestra took to tune up, and how loud the tuning up process was; quite a contrast to what I had been used to at the Concert Hall.

At this time I worked for the WA Mines Department in the area dealing with petroleum exploration. I often attended presentations given by exploration companies outlining the results of their work and detailing their plans for the forthcoming year. These meetings were usually followed by lunch! One such lunch was presided over by the director of the exploration company, Anthony (Tony) Van Toll, who at that time was Chair of the WA Opera Board. I mentioned to him my experience of The Merry Widow and the tuning up. He was a little surprised at my criticism, being more concerned that the widow wasn’t merry enough.

Shortly afterwards I went to hear the Israeli Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta at the Concert Hall. I was amazed at the long and loud tuning up that took place. [I was also stunned by the orchestra’s beautiful and moving rendering of the Mahler 3.] In the interval who should I run into but Tony Van Toll who looked at me and said ‘Now what do you think of the tuning up at the Maj’. Of course, I hadn’t a leg to stand on.

Tony Cockbain


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