Snip, Schnapps and Simon

CroweCage02It was in 1994, a year after the birth of our son Huw, that my wife and I came to the decision that having more children was not a good idea. After all, I had five of my own (two from a previous marriage) and she had four, three of those being with each other.  Our family was complete, two handsome boys, one each end, framing the two beautiful girls in the middle. Edward, Eleanor, Amelia and Huw.  Of course, like most families we shortened their names, with the exception of our youngest and they ended up as Ed, Nell, Mimi and Huw.

It was decided for me that I should be the ‘responsible’ one and do something about ending my ability to procreate. Nothing as simple as taking a pill everyday would suffice, abstaining from the sexual act was out of the question (my choice), so, an appointment with a urologist was made for me (not my choice)!  The day came and my wife dropped me at ‘the appointed place’ that resembled a shed behind an undertaker’s premises in Lymington. She didn’t leave to go shopping until I had checked in with the receptionist who doubled as a nurse, thereby lessening the possibility of me doing a runner.

Doctor stitching cartoonThe appointed hour was upon me; I dressed appropriately for the procedure, baring my manhood to all who entered, whether they wanted to see it or not. Numbing injections were given, but to this day I swear that they didn’t work. An incision was made, the necessaries done culminating in the stitching of the wound. It felt like my nether regions were being stitched to the ceiling above me.  I was feeling very sorry for myself, very sore and very faint. The nurse offered me a cup of tea and a biscuit, when all I really wanted was for her to kiss it better..… such luck!  I was told to maintain exceptional personal hygiene and that the wound would heal in a couple of days or so.

Two days later I was on a plane to Frankfurt for Simon Boccanegra. As every traveller knows it is not light work humping very heavy suitcases in and out of cars, onto weighing machines, off carousels, in and out of cars again and up flights and flights of steps.  In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have lifted anything at all for a much longer period post op.  However, on arrival, I checked into the apartment that I had reserved, and went shopping for a few of the domestic necessities.

A couple of days of rehearsal went by and I was beginning to feel quiet unwell and in increasing pain. I called the urologist in the UK who had carried out my procedure and explained what was happening.  He said I should see somebody as soon as possible just in case there was an infection present. The künstlerische betriebsbüro (Artistic administration department) at the theatre helped locate an urologist quite close to my accommodation and an emergency appointment was made on my behalf.

On inspection of my ‘parts’, which were now the size of a two tennis balls, an infection was confirmed. Large amounts of green goo was applied to a poultice and put on the affected area. A prescription was written for some antibiotics and more goo. As I left his rooms, the words “if this doesn’t work, we’ll have to cut the wound open again” were resounding (ominously) in my head. I walked back to my apartment like a two-year-old child wearing three of four soiled nappies. En route, I stopped at a pharmacy to pick up the prescribed medications.

DavidFireOnce back in my ‘home from home’ I opened the bag from the pharmacy and took the first dose of antibiotics. Apart from those and the green goo there appeared to be some ‘freebies’. These took the form of small glass bottles, and – on reading the label of the first – I wondered to myself why on earth a Pharmacy was giving away miniature bottles of alcohol.  I didn’t really care and because of the discomfort and pain that I was in I opened the first bottle and drank it. My throat was on fire, burning down to my stomach.  What had I done?  I rushed back to the pharmacy, unable to speak coherently, passing over the empty bottle and said that I had drunk the brandy.  There was hysterical laughter from the Pharmacist and assistants who assured me that it would not harm me but I really should take care in what I drink.  They explained that brandy in German is ‘Weinbrand’ but the bottle I drank was ‘Brandwein’, which was a liniment to rub into sore muscles.  I felt such a fool!

In Act 2 of Boccanegra the tenor, Adorno, has an aria entitled “Sento avvampar nel’anima” (‘I feel burning in my soul’). How apt! Here’s a recording of it from a Glyndebourne performance that was given in concert at the Proms in 1998. The conductor is Mark Elder.

O, inferno! ... Sento avvampar nell'anima, Simon Boccanegra
(Glyndebourne, 1998)

Rehearsals went on and my condition improved. I was walking normally by the time performances were due. We had a good cast, headed by the wonderful Jose van Dam and Harold Stamm, conducted by Sylvan Cambreling.  All the performances went well and without problems with the exception of the last.  When I awoke on the morning of the final show, my sinuses, throat and larynx were on fire, similar to the sensation I had when I swallowed that ‘Brandwein’. I put the theatre on ‘alert’ and made an appointment with their ENT consultant to be checked out. Sure enough, I had developed some form of infection so yet more antibiotics were prescribed along with a large dose of cortisone to reduce the swelling on my vocal chords. I sang the performance without anything going wrong and was happy to return home the next day.

Here’s a video excerpt from the staged version of the Glyndebourne production. The lovely Act 1 duet, ‘Vieni a me’ for Adorno and his nemesis Fiesco, the latter sung by the bass, Alastair Miles. The director is Peter Hall.


I was due to return to the urologist four months after the initial operation to see if it had been successful and that my sperm count was down to ZERO. I didn’t go, but I haven’t had any further children, so it must have worked, or was it because of ‘abstinence’?


One thought on “Snip, Schnapps and Simon

  1. Omigosh, you do go through the wars, David!

    My son James (whom you know well) and I attended that Prom performance of S.Boccanegra and you were terrific as always. The occasion was also special because of the “introduction” (to the U.K) of the unknown replacement Simone, Paolo Gavanelli, who then became one of the finest Verdi baritones of his generation. The scene in the Council Chamber where the two of you faced off was unforgettable.

    Opera lovers tend to forget that you were often “pulled in” to replace an ailing tenor. Examples include not only the entire Glyndebourne run of this S.Bocc, but a concert (televised) of Berlioz Faust, a Dream of Gerontius (which was released on CD), and a 2001 Verdi Prom, where we were treated to “bits” of the Rendall Radames and Manrico, which I don’t think we had heard in London. On all occasions when you were the “substitute” the results were far better than we could have expected from the original casting!

    Best wishes,

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