TWIRLING A BATON
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
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.