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by Randolph Magri-Overend

I suppose it started because I was besotted with acting and singing. Psychiatrists would have a field day – something to do with deprivation as a child, not enough cuddles or lack of affection in ‘ze formatif yearz’. So when I hit Sydney, arriving from Canada in the late 1970s, I first sat for my taxi-driver’s licence because I’d been told that even a good actor had to eat, then went in search of a theatrical agent. I finished off with Tom Richard’s School of TV Acting in Brookvale. I progressed to walk-on roles in Channel Ten’s now-defunct Arcade and Young Doctors with Delvene Delaney. Then came my big break – playing a rebellious priest in Elijah Moshinsky’s new Australian Opera production of Boris Godunov. This was followed by roles in Rigoletto with a young Yvonne Kenny, Lucia de Lammermoor with Jennifer McGregor, Madama Butterfly and many others. Taxis took a back seat for a little while, so to speak.

Meanwhile I started taking singing lessons from Kevin Mills, an ex-Sun Aria winner and AO member. For a few months he struggled vainly to teach me how to sing tenor arias. It wasn’t till later I discovered what the problem was - I was a natural baritone. Finally, in a fit of desperation he referred me to someone at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music called Russell. Russell, unfortunately, was having personal problems. So off he went on a much needed holiday and left me in what turned out to be the capable hands (and fingers) of a young student who was about to sit her final musical exams. She couldn’t have been more than 23 at the time. Friendly in an engaging manner, she had long dark hair, was married to Greg, a French teacher at Riverview College - a Jesuit college in the harbourside suburb of Lane Cove - and was almost too keen to laugh at my jokes. I took to her instantly.

It soon became obvious that my young repetiteur wasn’t flushed with money, so whenever possible I’d slip her the odd complimentary ticket to an opera where she and her equally financially-embarrassed husband could live it up. Most of our lessons took place at the conservatorium but when bureaucracy intervened and practice rooms were unavailable, we’d retire to the couple’s Lavender Bay flat with its 2 cm view of the Harbour Bridge. Eventually they leased the flat to someone else and we started rehearsing in the house Riverview College had placed at Greg’s disposal.

I had found another vocal teacher by then. The late Gordon Wilcock, then one of the principal singers at The Australian Opera was singing Herod in Strauss’s Salome at the Opera House at the time and did a bit of tutoring on the side. But my young lass stayed on as my coach and though I was spending more money than I’d ever hope to recoup as a singer, I was quite content with the arrangement. I even entered the Sydney Eisteddfod with my young repetiteur as accompanist. I couldn’t afford the extra money to hire her, so we agreed to split whatever winnings we made. There were none.

When Gordon decided to form a new musical company, I was the first to volunteer. Gordon also coerced two of his AO colleagues to help out. Greg Yurisich, now in charge of a musical college in his native Perth, Western Australia became musical director and Stuart Maunder, now an executive at Opera Australia, agreed to direct. The company became known as the Lane Cove Light Opera and its first production was the Gilbert and Sullivan double-bill of HMS Pinafore and Trial by Jury. I appeared in the latter. When the conductors were chosen, Vince Collaguiri, another final-year student from the conservatorium, was selected for Trial and I suggested my young protégé for Pinafore.

And that is how, on Wednesday 20th April 1983, Simone Young raised a musical baton for the first time.

Randolph Magri-Overend


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