I was engaged at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires during September/October 1981 for a production of L’Italiana in Algeri by Rossini. The role of Lindoro has a very high tessitura. So high, in fact, that I very nearly pulled out of the contract as I didn’t think that I could do it. My lack of confidence stemmed from my not really having the role in my voice at that point, together with the fact that Rossini demanded exceptionally fast patter (words strung together at an incredible speed). This fear kicked in whilst learning the role. In the end, I was persuaded to go through with it by Joan Dornaman, who was senior coach at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Whilst on tour with the MET in the June/July of 1981, Joan had me perform the main aria ‘Languir per una bella’ at every single function that the MET were invited to – and there were many. This gave me the confidence that I was lacking at the outset, and so I was able to fulfil the commitment.
I had booked, through my Argentinian agent (Mr Sterenfeld), an apartment close to the Teatro Colon. On my arrival, I paid for the apartment in full in the local currency. During my stay there, the Peso was devalued and was put on parity with the US dollar. How lucky was I that I had paid in advance! As I was being paid in dollars, my expenses were more than quartered. Nevertheless, the management of the apartments tried to get me to pay more, but to no avail.
There were wonderful restaurants that were so inexpensive, even after devaluation. Also there were marvellous bars and cafes where one could go in the afternoon to watch or even participate in Tango. It was eye opening! Young people aged from about sixteen years, to the elders at seventy years plus, all enjoying Tango – and it does take two. It was one of the most wonderful experiences to observe. However, not every evening held that magic. On another occasion, I was taken to one of the city’s most famous beef restaurants (Asada), where I had one of my most harrowing experiences ever. At a table not far from ours was a couple – the lady drenched in jewels. Shortly after we started our main course, some people rushed in, went to the table with the bejewelled woman, and, with one stroke of a machete, severed her left hand. They disappeared as fast as they had entered. Traumatised, my hosts and I left shortly after without finishing our meal.
All the performances of L’Italiana went exceedingly well and, as a result, I was offered another contract for 1982 in Benjamin Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’, an opera set aboard an eighteenth-century British warship. By that point, however, Britain was in conflict with the Argentinians over the ownership of the Falkland Islands. Unsurprisingly, all contracts were cancelled for that particular opera as most of the cast were Brits!
Here are a couple of excerpts from those performances of ‘L’Italiana’.
Languir per una bella
Se inclinassi a prender moglie (with Paolo Montarsolo)
I did return in 1989/90 with Diana Montague, my wife, to sing in Mozart’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ (and yes I did sing Don Basilio just so that we could all be together). The theatre also asked me to sing a concert the day before rehearsals started, to which I, of course, agreed.
The family – Diana, myself, Edward and Eleanor, together with our nanny – were to take a flight from Southampton to Paris, and then connect with the flight to Buenos Aires. We were due to arrive early in the morning of the day of my concert. However, there was a hold up which could have changed the whole outcome of the trip! The incoming aircraft from Paris was delayed by heavy fog, which meant that we might miss the connection to Buenos Aires. I asked the airport staff if there were any way of delaying the Aerolineas Argentinas flight from Paris to Buenos Aires, to which they replied ‘NO!’ I called my agent (Sterenfeld) in Buenos Aires to see if there was anything he could do.
I decided to take matters into my own hands, and told the airline staff that I was a diplomat for my country, and that they should help as they would if I were the Prime Minister or any other Government official. I was really mad at this point; if I didn’t make that flight I would certainly miss the concert and would probably then be sued for the full costs of mounting the event. I
foolishly said to the check-in staff, “tell them there is a bomb on board. That should delay
them and give us time to get to Paris”. We had almost reached the point of no return when our flight to Paris was called. My wife, children and nanny went through passport control first. However, as I tried to follow them, I was immediately arrested by Special Branch for saying ‘bomb’. Fortunately, they understood why I did it but requested (ordered) that I return to the check-in desk and make a public apology. This I did, and was then allowed to board the plane with my tail between my legs. On arrival in Paris, a car met us on the runway and took us, complete with baggage, to the awaiting Aerolineas Argentinas flight for Beunos Aires.
Although tired and dry from the flight, the concert – which was Benjamin Britten’s ‘Les Illuminations’ conducted by Anthony Ross Marba – went really well. Here is part of a recording of that piece I made for the Nord Deutsche Rundfunk in Hamburg with Sir Charles Mackerras conducting – and, thereby hangs another tale, which will be in a subsequent blog, with further excerpts from that recording.
3a. Phrase 3b. Antique
My next appearance in Buenos Aires was again with my wife Diana in Gluck’s ‘Iphigénie en Tauride’. Diana, of course, sang the title role, and I sang the tenor role of Pylade, with David Malis (pictured right) as Orestes.
There can’t always be a ‘big bang’ at the end of every blog, but on this occasion there was a moderate eruption that had a significant effect from that day on. During one of Diana’s big scenes, David and I were seated at the front of the stage and got totally engrossed in watching the beautiful young dancers. Unsurprisingly, this was not to Diana’s liking, and she gave me several heavy blows to the back of my head. From that day on, if ever she saw my eyes wander, I would have a hard-handed reminder to keep my eyes focused in front of me. This would happen even when I was driving and using my wing and rear view mirrors – solely as a safety measure, of course.