My most enduring memory of the occasion was the tea break when Anne, her hair recently cut in a rather startling Italian Boy hairstyle, drank tea and chatted animatedly with the star-struck tea ladies a few feet away from where we were seated. Little did I know then what a great influence they would exert on the rest of my life. JEAN COLLEN.
17 September 1956
Hofmeyr Theatre, Cape Town. Cockpit
Players present Spring
with Anne and Webster, Joyce Bradley, Cynthia Coller, Jane Fenn,
Gavin Houghton, Sydney Welch, directed by Leonard Schach.
17 October 1956 –
Hall, Johannesburg. Webster, Betsy de la Porte, Mimi Coertse,
Frederick Dalberg, SABC Orchestra, Festival Choir, conducted by Sir
21 April 1957 – Easter Sunday morning, The Crucifixion. St George’s Presbyterian Church, Noord Street, Webster, Wilfred Hutchings, Choir augmented with Johannesburg Operatic Society chorus, conducted by Drummond Bell.
1957 – Keith Jewell and The Dream of Gerontius
Town – and this is almost unbelievable (but it is true) – young
organist, Keith Jewell (only 27) put on the St
Matthew Passion in the City
Hall. But more than that he has another three oratorios scheduled
before the end of the year, one of which is Elgar’s gigantic work
The Dream of Gerontius,
which has never before been performed in South Africa. Webster Booth,
who has sung in a number of Dreams
under Malcolm Sargent at the Albert Hall will be taking a leading
know for a fact – he told me a day or two ago – that Edgar Cree
is itching to put it on here. While we have the orchestra, the choirs
and singers like Booth right on our doorstep, my reaction is an
exasperated: WHY NOT?
20 November 1957 –
Anne Hamblin was
awarded 95% in the Scots Eisteddfod. Webster Booth was the
23 November 1957 –
George’s Presbyterian Church and St James’ Presbyterian Church,
Malvern. Anne, Webster, Joy Hillier and Wilfred Hutchings, conducted
by Drummond Bell.
My parents and I (aged 13) attended the performance at St James’ Presbyterian Church, Mars Street, Malvern. It was the first time I had seen Anne and Webster, although I had already heard many of their recordings on the radio.
We arrived in Johannesburg in October of 1957. My father had been offered a job in the same firm as a former Scottish colleague from ISCOR in Vanderbijl Park and we were living in the Valmeidere Hotel in Roberts Avenue, Kensington until we found a suitable flat. We witnessed the lights of Sputnik flying over our heads at night and wondered whether this was a sign that we had made the right move to the big city.
boarding house proprietors were fellow Scots, Mr and Mrs Jimmy
Murdoch. They were friendly with a couple called Mr and Mrs
McDonald-Rouse. Mrs McDonald-Rouse ran a flourishing amateur concert
party and was the accompanist to all the singers in the group. Her
daughter Heather, a theatrical costumier, had recently married and
sometimes dined with her parents and her new husband at the
Valmeidere. In due course we were introduced to the McDonald-Rouses,
Heather and her husband.
Through her work, Heather had met Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth shortly after their arrival in South Africa the year before and had become very friendly with them. Through the grapevine, we heard that Webster had sung the aria from Mendelssohn’s oratorio, St Paul at Heather’s wedding, entitled Be Thou Faithful unto Death. Later I learnt that this aria was one of his favourite choices when requested to sing a solo at a wedding. Another of his wedding favourites was the ballad, My Prayer.
John Corrigan, my father’s colleague, was an elder at St James’ Presbyterian Church, then situated in Mars Street, Malvern. He invited us to a performance of Messiah to be held in the Church Hall, conducted by Drummond Bell, organist and choirmaster at the Central Presbyterian Church, St George’s. Coincidentally, the tenor and soprano soloists were to be Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth. This was the first time I ever attended a performance of Messiah, and the first time I ever saw Anne and Webster. I did not know then that Webster had been one of the foremost oratorio tenors in Britain, but I had heard a number of their duet recordings, which were often played on the radio. It now seems rather incongruous that they should be singing Messiah in a suburban Church Hall when only two years before Webster’s oratorio stamping ground had been the Royal Albert Hall, with the Royal Choral Society, with Sir Malcolm Sargent as conductor and other foremost oratorio soloists.
Since their arrival in South Africa, Anne and Webster had received a great deal of publicity on the radio and in the newspapers. As I have mentioned, their records were featured on South African radio a number of times each day. South Africans could not quite believe that such an illustrious theatrical couple had willingly chosen to exchange their successful careers and lives in the UK as the best-known duettists in Britain – possibly the world – to become immigrants in the colonial backwater of Johannesburg. My parents remembered them fondly from their frequent broadcasts in the UK, and seeing them in Variety and in the musical play, Sweet Yesterday at Glasgow theatres.
We sat fairly near the front of the hall on the right-hand side. I wish I could say that I remember every moment of that performance nearly sixty years ago. But sadly. I only remember snatches of it. Webster looked rather stern during the whole proceeding and I am sorry to admit that I was not immediately struck with the exquisite beauty of his voice. I did not know every aria from the Messiah then as I do now. In fact, the only piece I had heard before was the Halleluiah Chorus.
My most enduring memory of the occasion was the tea break when Anne, her hair recently cut in a rather startling Italian Boy hairstyle, drank tea and chatted animatedly with the star-struck tea ladies a few feet away from where we were seated.
did I know then what a great influence they would exert on the rest
of my life. JEAN COLLEN.
25 November 1957 – Messiah, Johannesburg Town Hall, Webster Booth(tenor)
December 1957 – The Dream of Gerontius, City Hall, Cape Town. Webster, conducted by Keith Jewell, aged 27. This was the first performance of Gerontius in South Africa.
He is going to Lord Lurgan’s for dinner tonight and tells me all about him. He makes a right carry on about getting himself “tarted up” for the occasion. Tomorrow is probably my last accompanying day. I am sad.
1 May – I wallow in “advanced depression” today. How will I manage after these two halcyon weeks are over? Have lunch with mum and then go to the studio and sing in that hallowed atmosphere. Go to Mrs S, chat to Elaine and teach Corrie Bakker.
2 May – Go to the studio, have lunch there and go to the lunch hour concert. I meet Webster in town and he asks me to put money in the meter for him which I do while he panics and goes to the AA to renew his subscription. He tells me he really enjoyed himself on Tuesday night. I’m so pleased. Colleen sings well but the next two are not so good. He sings duets with the last pupil. He is going to Lord Lurgan’s for dinner tonight and tells me all about him. He makes a right carry on about getting himself “tarted up” for the occasion. Tomorrow is probably my last accompanying day. I am sad.
3 May – Webster phones in the morning to tell me that Lucille isn’t coming this afternoon – I am glad! I go into the studio and entertain Mr Knowles-Lewis (who won the hymn competition last year) until Webster arrives. We have Norma and Selwyn. Anne phones to say that she is home safely and quite exhausted. . The others come and go and then all the heaven of two lovely weeks is finished. Webster thanks me and says he loved having me play for him and if Anne doesn’t feel up to coming in tomorrow he’ll phone me. He takes me home in his car for the very last time. He says quite pensively that, “I’ll miss my Sylvia Pass next week.” We part until Tuesday when I will return to being an ordinary pupil once again.
4 May – I feel sad that my two wonderful weeks are over. I go into Mrs S and have a theory lesson. The choir arrives and we are stooges for two people endeavouring to pass the class teachers’ exam. I have a chat with the TCL secretary and see dear old Uncle Mac for the last time.
I phone Ruth in the afternoon and she says Webster raved and raved about me during her lesson this morning, saying how good I was at accompanying and how the experience has boosted my ego and how he loved having dinner with me and my parents. She says Anne regarded him very coldly when he spoke so fulsomely about me! I phone Anne in the afternoon and we talk for a whole hour about everything under the sun. She tells me that they would have loved to retire to a smallholding in Devon but there wasn’t enough money to do so. I don’t have the impression that she is annoyed with me in any way. I listen to Webster at night.
7 May – Webster phones to remind me to fill in my form for the Trinity diploma exam which I have already done. Go to singing and Anne is looking a little tired. She says she didn’t like all the self-centred South African people she met on her trip around the country with Leslie Green. She says she will be a step-grandmother soon as Webster’s son’s wife is going to have a baby in December. We work at the unaccompanied folk song. Webster tells me that Uncle Mac is going to be doing the exams in September. They had him to dinner on Sunday.
8 May – Work at harmony and go to town and lunch in Ansteys with Mum. Go to SS studios and have a harmony lesson. Mummy phones in the middle of it to say that Webster phoned and wants me to audition at the Brooke on Saturday morning. There is a picture of them in the paper. Phone Anne at night and she says that BB is interested in hearing me but as this is a private audition I mustn’t breathe a word about it to anybody. She says she felt she had to do something for me after our chat on Saturday.
10 May – Go to dentist and have lunch with Mum and then a gruelling harmony lesson. Go to singing and Webster gives me tea. Anne and I go over Gypsy Moon for the audition. Anne says, “You’re a beautiful girl and if you were my daughter I’d be very proud of you.” Go over Father of Heav’n and Webster says he’s playing Kath’s record of it tomorrow night. Anne wishes me a lot of luck and is pleased to hear that I enjoyed their autobiography. She tells me to phone tomorrow night.
11 May – Go for audition at the Brooke Theatre and give Colleen a lift there. We go in and feel nervous. Colleen sings well and should get a part. I sing fairly well and Brian Brooke says I could have a small part which will give me some experience. I go to Mrs S afterwards and sing in ensemble. We see A Touch of Mink. I phone Anne at night and she is pleased and thinks I should take up his offer. I listen to Webster’s Great Voices – he plays Kath and Harry Lauder and talks about Bel Canto.
13 May – Work hard and go to SABC at night. See John Steenkamp and Mrs S. Ruth is there and we work hard with Chris Lamprecht.
14 May – Work hard. Go to singing in the afternoon. Little boy is having a lesson before me. Anne comes into the kitchen on the verge of tears to moan to me about the child. Webster is more tolerant. She tells me to watch out for Brian Brooke as he’s a wolf – the younger, the better! Sing Massenet and go through the unaccompanied song with Webster which goes well. Norma comes after me looking heavenly and theatrical.
15 May – Have lunch in Ansteys with Mum and we meet Mrs McDonald-Rouse and Mrs Moody. Former tells me to give her love to Webster and Anne. Go to Mrs S and have a long lesson. I chat to Elaine (newly recovered from mumps).
16 May – Lunch with Mum and then go to hear Adelaide Newman and Hans Mommer. Anne arrives rather late and first gives an audition to girl, Heather. I go through all my songs and when Webster arrives he records Father of Heav’n. I feel miserable about it. He makes tea and I wash up afterwards.
18 May – Go to Brooke theatre in the morning and he and Bill Walker audition a few more people. In the end there are 8 of us trying for 4 parts as nuns. Bill Walker’s wife is my rival so I can only hope for the best. BB is quite sweet and calls me darling. Go back to Mrs S afterwards and chat to Suzanne Bilski. I get Betty home on the bus. We see Days of Wine and Roses in the afternoon. I meet Ila Silanski there.
21 May – Work. Go to singing in the afternoon. We go through Love’s Sickness and Webster makes tea. Evidently Colleen didn’t get any part at all for BB was disappointed with her speaking voice and advised her to take speech lessons. They are not pleased about it. I tell them of my experience with Bill Walker’s wife! More or less at the last minute, Webster is going to take the part of Colonel Fairfax in The Yeomen of the Guard for JODS as they do not think the man currently doing the role is up to it. Should be fun. I do the French song well and am there for ages.
22 May – Work and lunch in Ansteys with Mum. I go to Mrs S for harmony lesson and chat with Gill. I do ear tests with Edith Sanders and we decide to go to the studio regularly in the mornings to do ear tests in preparation for the forthcoming diploma exams. Edith has perfect pitch!
24 May – Go to singing. Anne is there by herself as Webster is rehearsing madly for The Yeomen so I make tea for us all – Lucille is there too, having had a lesson before me. Anne tells me that she and Webster had indigestion after eating a sheep’s heart casserole! We decide to do some Landon Ronald songs for a change – she sings them for me in her heavenly voice. They are too gorgeous for words.
25 May – Go to Mrs S and then to Brooke theatre where some of the people don’t turn up. BB tells me to come back again next week but I’m not sure if I shall. We see Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Webster plays duets by Dennis Noble and himself and a song by Bennie Veenemans, the boy soprano. He played that record to me in the studio when I was playing for him.
26 May – Go to church and copy and transpose Anne’s Landon Ronald songs.
27 May – Work. Go to SABC and we have Mr Tyler once more. We work at English folk and traditional songs.
28 May – Go to dentist, lunch hour concert and library. I see Michael Newell. Go to singing and Webster is back again. Norma arrives too early and upsets things. We do the Landon Ronald songs and he is delighted with the transposition. They are disgusted about Brian Brooke.
29 May – Go into SS studio early and Elaine and I do some theory together. Mrs S comes in and tells us that Stan’s mother has died. I lunch with Mum in Ansteys.
30 May – Go to SS studios again and work hard. Lunch with Mum and come home on the bus with Margaret. She tells me that Peter Lynsky (Jack Point in the Yeomen) is a lecturer at Teachers’ Training College.
31 May – Republic Day. We see To Kill a Mocking Bird with Gregory Peck. It is very good indeed.
21 Juno Street, Kensington – our house at that time.
1 May – Picture of Anne in RDM at first night of the opera La Traviata. She looks quite gorgeous and not nearly 51! The two women with her are Mrs Bosman de Kok (husband is SABC musical director) and the pianist Adelaide Newman. They are probably far younger than Anne but she looks by far the best.
Song by Webster on radio If With All Your Hearts from Elijah. Beautiful song, lovely diction and wonderfully restrained.
2 May – College. Marion Levine gives an interesting talk about communism.
Go to studio once more. Webster answers door and takes me into the sacred presence who is very affable and I pay her. She asks if I can come next Monday because they’re arranging the programme for the ballet and have to be at the theatre at 7 o’clock every night, so can I come at 4 on Monday. She feels so embarrassed having to change me around all the time.
Webster brings me a cup of tea which I really need, and then we start on the lesson. Webster is very authoritative, and after singing scales he says I get down so low I should be a contralto. Anne retaliates and says (once again) that I’m a very high mezzo. “You mustn’t forget that high B!” Webster is stubborn and I don’t have any say in the matter at all. I sing “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose…” and Webster sits facing me and criticises me. I must be more resonant on the low b and we practise this for ages. Webster gets up and gives a beautiful demonstration. Anne sings too – quite nasally – probably owing to the lowness of the note. As she says, it’s miles too low for her.
Webster then makes me sing from Messiah – He Shall Feed His Flock. Asks whether I can sight-read music. I say I can only do that on the piano and Anne says that it is exactly the same with her. She learnt to play the piano when she was six and could never sing at sight, but Webster is wonderful at that because he was trained to do it as a choir boy. However, I sing this to accompaniment without hearing the tune and it is reasonable. Find the jump from high C to low C difficult and Webster is quite hurt because of his belief in my contralto abilities.
He says of one particular note, “If you could get all your notes like that one you would be a singer out of this world, Jean.”
One teeny-weeny compliment opposed to a thousand retributions. At one stage of the proceedings, he gets up from the chair and can hardly walk. He looks really agonised and I feel sorry him. It must be arthritis or some such ailment. Poor old Webster.
Take departure – all very affable. Must look over Ave Maria for next week. Anne says of noise, “God, just shut up for heaven’s sake.” Her nerves are sorely tried – shame. She wears a lovely tweed suit with brown jersey and little furry collar and looks lovely, but she would never do to be anybody’s mother because she doesn’t look half her age and she’d steal her daughter’s boyfriends. But she is a honey all the same.
3 May – College during the day and then we go to the opera at night. What can I say of opera? Mimi Coertse has a voice like a bell. With what seems like little effort she sends out notes that ripple and thrill. She plays her part well with great feeling and her high notes are really excellent.
Bob Borowsky as her baritone father is the only other cast member who sings really well but he lacks expression and tends to be lugubrious. The chorus, in my opinion, is bad. The tenor was sweet at times but his voice grew very throaty towards the end.
4 May – College. We go to lunch hour concert. The soloist is young pianist, Yonti Solomon who is really brilliant. He plays a Schumann concerto with Edgar Cree conducting.
At the moment I’m lying in bed waiting for Webster’s programme. Introduces it with the usual, “Hello everyone,” in honeyed accents. First he plays the Jennifer Vyvyan recording of Rejoice Greatly conducted by Sir Thomas B and says, “Here it is, so hold yer breath!”
Next he talks about the opera and how nice it was and plays an aria from Rigoletto sung by Mimi Coertse and George Fourie. He then plays record by instrumentalists including Maxie Goldberg. “What a name to say with a cold in the nose!” says Webster! Next the Fledermaus with the Melachrino strings and then he reverts back to oratorio. He talks about Kathleen Ferrier who lived opposite them in their home in Frognal and who used to entertain them with Lancashire stories. During her long illness, they used to visit her often. He plays her recording of Father of Heav’n and I lie in bed and cry during the whole recording. Her voice is beautiful and rich. No wonder she was considered the greatest contralto in the world. From her letters in her biography she seemed a lovely, adorable creature, one I would have loved to have known but never shall. It is so sad that she died at such an early age.
He then plays his own recording of Sound an Alarm also from Judas Maccabeus and it is excellent. He introduces the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore and says that Gilbert made a great parody of this and sings a snatch of it from Pirates of Penzance – Come Friends, Who Plough the Sea… His last recording is the overture to the Pirates and then goodbye for another week.
6 May – We see Elmer Gantry in the afternoon. Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons. Best picture I’ve seen for ages, adapted from the book by Sinclair Lewis – shades of Miss Scott who told us all about Sinclair Lewis.
7 May Go to Diamonds in the afternoon. They play records – tenors, tenors, tenors – mainly Kenneth McKellar – obviously their favoroute!
8 May College again. Shorthand and typing are blooming dull.
I am transported in the afternoon when I go for singing lesson. Webster answers the door and shows me into the kitchen. Anne is on the phone talking to a girl, Mary about her lessons. Webster goes into the studio and informs her of my arrival. She greets me and then disappears once more, has an argument with Webster about the credit note he got from the bottle store for 8 dozen bottles at 3d each – I ask you! I think Anne realises that I am actually there and innocent to the horrors of the bottle store, so while Webster has a late lunch, Anne makes a second entrance and says, “Well, my little one, and how are you and what are you doing with yourself these days?”
I say I’m still at college which sounds infernally dull. She asks what I thought about the opera. I say that I adored Mimi but wasn’t too fond of the French tenor. Anne says, “He’s only a baby of 23 so the two roles were a bit much for him.” Webster says that the role was far too heavy for him anyway. She says, “Weren’t the scenery and costumes terrible?” I didn’t actually think so, but what do I know?
The letters arrive and Anne is quite excited that they have been asked to do a concert tour to Witbank and various other towns in that area. I hope they don’t go! Anne says she wants to ask me a question and can’t wait to see my face, and insists that he sees it too. Would I like to enter the Afrikaans eisteddfod? I grimace wildly and Webster says, “Her profile was enough!” I don’t commit myself however and Anne says that I could enter the ballad section and sing The Lass with the Delicate Air. She says, “Get it anyway and you can see what you think. It’ll be good for you and get you moving.”
I do scales and Anne says I must look happy about them and takes me over to that damned mirror and makes me sing a scale happily. I can’t! She says, “Do it just for me, Jean, dear. I mean this quite sincerely.” Will try.
Webster makes tea for us and I say, “Thank you, Webster,” and Anne says, “Thank you – waiter!” Webster doesn’t look very happy about this. I sing Roslein and it is pulled to pieces again, mainly by Webster who says I show my teeth too much and says he can’t show his when he’s singing. He tries and succeeds in showing a horrible set of teeth altogether. No matter, we proceed and all goes better. At the end of the lesson my little “friend” Roselle arrives and we smile at one another when I leave. Anne asks if I’m going to the ballet and I say, “No.” Rather blunt but true – I loathe ballet anyway.
11 May – Sunday school picnic – walking, standing and working! Listen to Webster at night. He starts with He Shall Feed His Flock by Norma Procter, a contralto with whom he sang a few years ago and thinks could be a worthy successor to Kathleen Ferrier. He plays a record by Roy Henderson who trained both Kathleen Ferrier and Norma Procter and was chorus master of the Huddersfield Choral Society. He says he has a sweet small voice with perfect diction.
He talks about Mrs Fenney who stood in for Miss Heller at Jeppe for a term. “Anne and I had the pleasure of putting Mabel Fenney through to a scholarship to study lieder in Berlin and she and Anne worked very hard on the set piece by Bach.” He plays this piece sung by Margaret Balfour.
He goes on to the opera Samson – the opera, and goes into all the gory details of the plot and says, “Nice people!” Plays an excerpt from the opera by Jan Peerce. Then comes music from Schubert’s Rosamunde and after that his own recording – excerpts from Carmen with himself, Dennis Noble, Nancy Evans and Noel Eadie – lovely.
14 May – Church. Dull and unimaginative with sermon by Mr R and ravings from Peter about Song Without End. Shorty gives Doreen and me a lift to her house where I have tea and we run down the camp concert committee and the Lombard family! Play piano and sing. Dad has a cold and I’m heading in that direction too.
16 May Cold is still rotten so I am absent from college and any idea of going for singing lesson is curtailed. About midday I phone in bleary-eyed fashion to Booth’s house. Woman answers the phone and I ask, “Is that Anne?”
She answers, “No, this is Anne’s maid.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Is Anne there?”
“No, they’re both at the studio. Do you know the number?”
“Yes, thanks. Goodbye.”
I must have spoken to Hilda, their St Helena maid. She sounds remarkably well-spoken. Phone the studio and Anne answers.
“Is that Anne?”
“Yes!” in startled tones.
“This is Jean speaking.” (Vague affirmation)
“Anne, I’m terribly sorry but I have a horrible cold so I shan’t be able to come today.”
“Oh, Jean, I’m so sorry. Are you in bed?”
“I don’t know how I can make the lesson up to you” (Pause) “But there are five Tuesdays in this month.”
“Yes, that’s what I was thinking.”
“Then we’ll see you next week? I can hear you talking through a cold. I do hope you feel better soon.”
“Thank you – and I’m sorry, Anne.”
Pause “Yes, so am I! Goodbye, Jean”
Spend a miserable day.
17 May – Retire to bed permanently! Voice practically non-existent. Minister comes in the evening but I remain silent and still.
18 May – Still in bed. Listen to Webster at night which is cheering. The first record (not obtainable here) was lent to him – Requiem by Verdi, written after the death of Rossini. He says that he’ll play an extract each week. It contains arias sung by his favourite tenor (Jussi Bjorling?). He plays a choral piece – Sanctus.
The next record is from Elijah, Oh, Come Everyone That Thirsteth by a quartet – Isobel Baillie, Harold Williams, Gladys Ripley and James Johnston.What a wonderful recording. Next is an aria from the work by Webster with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Warwick Braithwaite – often cut from the oratorio. His voice is just perfect. There can hardly be another tenor in this century – and I do believe this – to touch his voice at its best! Next is the overture to the Magic Flute, written by Mozart in “Viennar” – intrusive r terribly and wrongly distinct. He says that this was considered his best work.
He then plays an aria from the opera by Oscar Natzke… Then some more Mozart sung by “that versatile young singer”, Elisabeth Schwartzkopf. He reverts to operetta – The Chocolate Soldier and says, “Anne and I have sung in The Chocolate Soldier many times. It is an adaptation of Shaw’s Arms and the Man, as My Fair Lady is an adaptation of Pygmalion but I do wonder whether we shall hear My Fair Lady fifty years hence as often as we hear the Chocolate Soldier now. Plays the duet Sympathy with Risé Stevens and someone else. Then, says Webster, “Let’s play out with The Gypsy Baron. Very nice programme indeed. Webster has a slight wheeze tonight.
19 May – Still ill – until 22 May!
23 May – Manage to go to college once more after a cold and go to the studio in the afternoon. Anne ushers me into kitchen while they usher two old women – very old-maidish – out, while they chat brightly about the best radiograms to buy. Webster answers them in very indifferent tones. They depart, having thanked them too, too eloquently for sparing some of their valuable time. They call me in and Anne says, “God – we’ll need another cup of tea after that. Will you have one too, Jean?” “Yes, thank you, Anne.”
She says that the women took an awful lot out of her. She says I still sound very nasal after the cold. Convinces me that I am just about dying of illness! We start on scales and all goes reasonably well. Webster says I shall never need my very high or very low notes.
Anne tells me over tea that the tiny dilapidated cottage they bought two years ago and redecorated themselves needed fresh plaster above the curtain rails in the hall, so she spent the weekend on top of a ladder, scraping old plaster off, and as she was literally breathing plaster, she doesn’t know how she is managing to talk today. Webster says dryly, “It must be all the liquid refreshment you had while you were doing it.” Anne pauses and replies, “Oh, yes, I had plenty of tea, coffee, cocoa and – an occasional gin and tonic to go with it!” Another dramatic pause and then she asks, “Do you like gin, Jean?” I say that it’s not very nice. “Don’t you even like sherry?” “No.” “Do you smoke?” “No.” “Well don’t ever develop any of those bad habits.”
We go on with singing The Lass With the Delicate Air. Webster mimics all my mistakes mercilessly and makes me laugh. He says that my “delicate air” sounds like “delicatessen” – the height of insult!
We go on with the song and Anne says, “Watch the time,” and I think she had said, “What’s the time?” I say “Twenty past four!” She says, “That was well picked up!” I stare in confusion and she tells me what she had said and we have a good laugh. Finish with Roslein and Webster says I open my mouth too wide for low notes – a good fault – but it will take too much out of me to do it.
Anne asks if I can come next Monday instead of Tuesday as an uprising by natives before Republic Day is forecast. They have to go to Durban to give a concert on Wednesday and don’t know what they will do if there should be an uprising. That doesn’t strike me until I leave that Wednesday is Republic Day. I hope that they will be safe. Say goodbye (cheerio) effusively and see Roselle, whom I always feel is a far better singer than me. Play piano, sing and listen to radio – Ivor Dennis and Douggie Laws at night.
25 May – College. Go with Jill and Audrey to the lunch hour concert. The soloist is Laura (someone) – a pianist of insignificant looks but with very significant playing!
At night I decide to go to choir practice at church. All make a pretence of being happy to see me. I sit next to Joan Spargo and make myself as insignificant as possible. Ann’s father, Mr Stratton is the choir leader. He certainly has a resounding voice and mimics everyone’s musical and vocal faults aptly.
Come home and listen to Webster on wireless. He starts off with Dies Irae (from that rare recording of last week with chorus and bass (George Tsotsi) with Vienna Philharmonic. “It’s a bit noisy, so I suggest you close the children’s bedroom door!”
Webster plays his own record – a Recitative from Jephtha which is quite gorgeous – every word as clear as day. He goes into some detail about the finale of Samson and Delilah which, says Webster, is “very awer inspiring!” The singers are Rise Stevens, Robert Merrill and Jan Peerce.
He plays a record by Dawie Couzyn from Magic Flute and says that he thought this production was better than Don Pasquale. DC sings it in Afrikaans with horrible diction and a clicky quality to his voice. Not terribly enjoyable. Webster plays complete selection from The Desert Song which Springs Operatic is doing soon, sung by Gordon McRae and Lucille Norman. He says, “Shades of my old friends, Harry Welchman and Edith Day.”
He ends with the overture to Ruddigore – about a witch who forced a family to commit a crime a day – Nice folk! And then, goodbye and so to bed.
26 May College – we have a party for Terry French who is going overseas soon.
27 May – Go into town in the morning and am stopped by terribly handsome young German student who was selling postcards. I buy one, of course! Go to Kelly’s and buy Where E’er You Walk by Handel, a most gorgeous song!
Have lunch in Capinero with Mum and Dad and then we go to the Empire. In the powder room I meet Pat Eastwood looking terribly smart with bouffant hairdo and also a bit fatter. She is most affable and says, “I haven’t seen you for ages. When are you coming to the rink?”
I say, “Oh, yes, I must come soon…” How lovely to talk so casually to the South African figure skating champion and Springbok.
We see The Great Imposter with Tony Curtis – very good.
28 May In Gary Allighan’s radio crit this morning, he says, “Praise be to Webster Booth, whose On Wings of Song combines familiar music with personal reminiscences, although he should not be so modestly sparse with his own songs.” Shot for good old GA! He’s a man after my own heart – politically and artistically.
Anne phones just afterwards and greets father with, “Mr Campbell, this is Anne Ziegler here. Can I speak to Jean please. I am called to the phone and informed by Anne, after she asks how I am, that she’d like me to come at 4.30 instead of at 4. Would this be convenient? “Certainly.” “Are you sure?”….Sing in choir at church at night. All convivial.
29 May – First day of strike evidently a flop as there are no strikers to be seen. I go to the studio in the afternoon and Webster asks me to have a seat for a while and pour myself some tea. I do this and drink tea feeling terrible blasé, and wash the cup afterwards. He plays over tape recording which is rather funny. I giggle to myself.
Anne comes from nowhere and is charming. She tells me to go in and she’ll be with me in a few moments. I look closely at pictures of the royal family at their performance – King George, Queen Mother and the princesses. Webster talks to me about the strike and says that RCA have no workers but Decca have all their workers. He says the town is nice and quiet with not so many people around. We talk about the success of receiving papers and milk and Webster says direfully, “Tonight will be the crucial deciding time. Just as long as they don’t come out and kill us is all I hope for.” Cheery attitude to life this!
Anne returns and we start with scales and they are thrilled at the new quality of my voice and ask what I’ve been doing to bring about the improvement. I sing Roslein to them and they continue to be quite happy about it all – 2 hours practice a day must help. Feel quite embarrassed.
Webster makes me sing He Shall Feed His Flock for all the low notes and sings this along with me – gorgeous! During Lass With the Delicate Air there are many faults. I crack on middle C on “fill” and Webster makes me do it over and over again and takes me over to the mirror to show me how to produce it correctly. When I sing it again he suddenly doubles up on the piano with a look of agony on his face. Anne looks horrified and says, “What’s the matter?” He doesn’t speak for a moment and then says, “Nothing. I just wanted to listen to Jean sing.” Do not for a moment believe this – poor Webster. He recovers and says I must emphasise “gin” in virgin and sings “virgin” and then “pink gin”! Anne and I nearly die laughing. Anne writes down next to it “pink gin!” She says that my diction is generally good. He sings O, Thou That Tellest from Messiah. She asks whether I’d like to do some oratorio. Tells me about a singer in Don Pasquale and says that she couldn’t hear for about five or ten minutes what language she was singing in, her diction was so bad!
Webster goes down to bring the car nearer to the studio and Anne goes on with the lesson – she gives me a whole hour. She feels my breathing and says that my bust mustn’t move and I must watch it. Gives me a demonstration of her own breathing. If I could even breathe like her, I’d be very happy.
I leave at 5.30 and she tells me that she’s going to Durban for a concert at the weekend and tomorrow they have a show at Wanderers. During lesson Webster asks, “Where’s that contralto album Mabel left us?” I meet him coming from the car and we say goodbye and “Hope there’ll be no riots!”