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Students of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth
The following people studied singing with Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth at their studio on the eighth floor of Polliack’s Building, Pritchard Street, Johannesburg, or at their home in Parktown North. The list is incomplete as it has been compiled from memory and from the diaries I kept at the time I was accompanying for Webster in the studio. In some cases, I have forgotten people’s full names.
LUCILLE ACKERMAN (Soprano) I was in the middle of my lesson when Lucille and her family arrived for her audition. She had spent a year recuperating after an illness on the family farm near Piet Retief. During that year she had worked at improving her singing technique. Hendrik Sussann, the well known Afrikaans bandleader and violinist, lived on a neighbouring farm. He featured her as a singer in his band’s broadcasts on the SABC. She was nineteen years old – a year older than me – and she had a remarkably mature and pleasing soprano. She was already a consummate performer, but needed lessons to improve her musicianship. She and I did several singing examinations at the same time.
During her studies with Anne and Webster, she took the lead in an Afrikaans production of The Merry Widow in Kempton Park. She went on to make a number of Afrikaans recordings and formed a successful duet partnership with the broadcaster, the late Francois van Heyningen, who became her second husband.
DENNIS ANDREWS (boy soprano) I played for Dennis and Selwyn Lotzoff at an audition for Taubie Kushlick’s production of Amahl and the Night Visitors. The audition took place one Saturday morning in Gwen Clark’s luxurious penthouse on top of Anstey’s Building in central Johannesburg. I accompanied the boys on an excellent grand piano, and afterwards we were treated to a slap-up tea with Mrs Kushlick, Mrs Clark and Ockert Botha. Neither boy won the part of Amahl as a boy soprano was imported from England.
DORIS BOULTON (soprano) Doris Boulton was originally from the Potteries district of England. Her husband worked at a pottery near Irené, on the outskirts of Pretoria. She had an exceptional soprano voice and was also extremely musical – the two gifts do not always go together! She had broadcast extensively with the SABC, but with a change of management, her file was mysteriously lost and she was required to re-audition. This second audition was not favourable, despite her being a better singer than many who continued to give regular broadcasts.
She was singing Richard Strauss’s Serenade in an impossible key, and my attempt at sight-reading this makes me blush even forty-odd years on. Doris and her husband gave Anne and Webster a beautiful white tiled table, inscribed with roses and a few bars of their signature tune, Only a Rose, made by Mr Boulton on the occasion of their silver wedding anniversary in 1963.
In 1966 Doris Boulton produced The Merry Widow in Irené and took the leading role of the widow in question, Hannah Glavari.
Doris remained friends with Anne and Webster and visited them a number of times in Penrhyn Bay. She returned to the UK some years ago and settled in Stone. I was sorry to hear from her daughter, Jan Bruns that Doris had passed away in 2008.
HEATHER COXON (soprano) Heather was a charming young schoolgirl. She had a light, sweet soprano.
ROSELLE DEAVALL (mezzo soprano) I first heard Roselle sing when she was fourteen years old. I was impressed at the maturity of her voice at such a young age. We discovered that we lived in the same suburb, and visited each other several times. I still have a reel-to-reel recording of her singing The Mountains of Morne, complete with Irish accent.
She stopped having lessons but took them up again after she left school. In 1966 Webster told me that Roselle had stopped having lessons with them as “They were unable to teach me anything more.” The last I heard was that she was singing with the Performing Arts Company of the Free State. (PACOFS).
NORMA DENNIS (soprano) Norma was the understudy to Diane Todd in the role of Eliza in the production of My Fair Lady in the Empire Theatre, Johannesburg.
Mabel Fenney (extreme left) as Jill-all-Alone in East London production of Merrie England. (Photo courtesy of Julian Nicholas)
MABEL FENNEY PERKIN (soprano) Mabel met Anne and Webster first when she appeared with them in a production of Merrie England in East London, in the Eastern Cape. At the time she was preparing for further music diplomas, so she decided to come up to Johannesburg to have lessons with the Booths.
In 1960 she came to Jeppe Girls’ High as a relief music teacher and gave a recital for the girls in the School Hall. She was instrumental in my decision to study with Anne and Webster. She won the University of South Africa Singing Bursary and studied at the Hochschule in Berlin for two years.
She met her second husband, Maurice Perkin while she was abroad and after her divorce and remarriage to Maurice, she lived and worked in England for a number of years before they came out to South Africa. During her time in England, she sang the role of Susannah in a semi-professional production of The Marriage of Figaro. I met her again in 1976 when she was living in Florida (South Africa) and we became very good friends. We sang duets together until she and her husband retired to the South Coast of Natal.
In April 2009 Mabel celebrated her ninetieth birthday. She died in Uvongo on 6 March 2011, just a month short of her ninety-second birthday. She is sadly missed but ever remembered by me.
VALERIE FIGGINS (soprano) Valerie Figgins also attended Jeppe Girls’ High School, and she too was present at the Mabel Fenney recital. Valerie had a strong voice at an early age and studied with another teacher in Johannesburg before going to Anne and Webster for lessons. I do not know how long she remained with them. We were in the Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal’s (PACT) production of Nabucco together in 1965.
ROBINETTE GORDON (soprano) Robin had a sweet soprano voice. When I first met her when I was accompanying for Webster she was singing in the Johannesburg Operatic Society’s production of Show Boat, in which the great Maori bass, Inia Te Wiata was engaged to sing Ole Man River. She went on to sing in further JODS productions of The Yeomen of the Guard, The Merry Widow and Guys and Dolls. I remember coaching her in a jazzy chorus in the latter work – Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat! She later joined PACT, where she sang in a number of operas. I was sorry to read of her death several years ago.
MARY HARRISON (mezzo soprano) Mary was an Australian who came to South Africa with a production of My Fair Lady. She and the understudy to Scottish Diane Todd’s Eliza Doolittle, Norma Dennis, took lessons with Anne and Webster while they were appearing in My Fair Lady in Johannesburg. Mary was an attractive redhead, with a lively personality and ready wit. She stayed on in South Africa after the show and established herself as a professional actress in Durban. She died prematurely some years ago. I was also sorry to hear that Diane Todd died from leukemia in London earlier this month (April 2010) at the age of 72.
DUDLEY HOLMES (bass) Dudley was completely taken aback to find me at the piano for one of his lessons. He told me later that he had never sung for anyone but Anne and Webster and was very nervous to sing in front of me. He need not have worried. He had a pleasing bass voice, and went on to do many concerts, recitals and shows, first in Johannesburg, and later in Kimberley, where he lived for many years. He returned to Johannesburg some years ago and kindly contributed a memory to my book with an article about his long association and friendship with Anne and Webster.
INNES KENNERSLEY I played for Innes, who was a miner, several times. At the time he was singing a series of Victorian and Edwardian ballads, such as Goodbye and Parted. He used to arrive at his lesson with a large reel-to-reel tape recorder and record the entire lesson. I wonder what happened to all those interesting recordings. They would certainly be of great interest to me if they are still around.
MYRNA LEACH I played at some of Myrna’s lessons and got to know her better when we were in The Merry Widow together in 1964. She had recently married and was particularly proud that Webster had sung My Prayer at her wedding. I believe she subsequently divorced and married for a second time later.
MARGARET LINKLATER (soprano) Margaret was Scottish and lived on the East Rand, where her family ran a bakery in Benoni. She had a very pleasing soprano voice. I remember her singing Gounod’s O Divine Redeemer.
ROBIN LISTER (boy soprano) Robin had an exceptional soprano voice, more like a mature female soprano than the typical Ernest Lough boy soprano. He made several recordings which Anne and Webster supervised. Through the recordings he became well known and appeared at a number of concerts until his voice broke. After his voice broke, Anne and Webster taught him to play the piano. He became an engineer and immigrated to Australia. Robin Lister sings “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”.
SELWYN LOTZOFF (boy soprano) I played for Selwyn at several eisteddfods and at the Amahl and the Night Visitors audition. I particularly remember him singing the Afrikaans song, Die Roos. He immigrated to America and now lives in New York. He is pictured (above left) with his wife.
COLLEEN MCMENAMIN (mezzo soprano) Colleen had a rich mezzo voice and she was very keen to turn professional. She auditioned for Brian Brooke’s production of The Sound of Music at the Brooke Theatre. Brian Brooke was impressed with her singing but suggested that she should take speech lessons before considering a stage career. Despite this setback she appeared in several professional productions in Johannesburg.
BRIAN MORRIS (baritone) He had a voice reminiscent of Peter Dawson’s and a confident stage presence. I got to know him better when he sang in PACT’s production of Nabucco in 1965. Anne chose Brian to take the leading male role of Danillo in her Bloemfontein production of The Merry Widow in 1965. Through this blog I have heard that Brian died in 2006 and is survived by his wife Denise. Those who heard him sing through the years will remember his beautiful voice and charming personality.
PIET MULLER (tenor) Piet Muller had a beautiful tenor voice. He was studying with Anne and Webster in 1962 and for a time had the lesson before mine. I particularly remember him singing Can I Forget You? on the day Webster returned to the studio after his serious illness in 1962. Webster sang part of the song to illustrate a particular point to Piet. Amazingly, Webster’s voice sounded as good as ever despite his illness and his advancing age. Several years ago I heard from Piet’s family member that Piet had died some years ago.
RUTH ORMOND (soprano) Ruth was my special friend at the studio. She and I joined the SABC choir,when it was resurrected in 1961, and Anne suggested that we should meet one another. She was still at school, a year-and-a-half younger than me and, like me, she was originally from Glasgow. She was short, with piercing blue eyes and honey-coloured hair. We both thought the world of Anne and Webster and we loved singing, although neither of us was filled with confidence about our vocal abilities. We did exams together and although we lived a fair distance apart, we visited each other regularly. We made up for the distance between us by making frequent telephone calls. At the cost of a tickey (3d) a call, we could afford to talk as long as we liked – and we did! We made tape recordings of our singing and impromptu play-readings. I still have these recordings in my possession today. In 1962 her mother won a substantial amount of money in the (then) Rhodesian Sweep.
Ruth went to Cape Town University to study singing in 1964 and sadly died of a cerebral haemorrhage at the end of her first term there. Her parents created an award in her name at Cape Town for the best first-year soprano. She was nineteen years old when she died. I still miss her. I have never had a dearer friend.
LINDA WALTERS Linda came all the way from Vereeniging for her singing lessons. She sang lighter material, like Fly me to the Moon.
ERNEST WESTBROOK (tenor) I did not know Ernest when he was taking lessons, but I met him many years later when Paddy O’Byrne, the broadcaster gave him my phone number. He had many of Anne and Webster’s recordings and was also an admirer of the Australian bass-baritone, Peter Dawson.
MARY WRIGHT (soprano) Mary’s brother, Desmond Wright, had conducted The Yeomen of the Guard in 1963 when Webster took over the role of Colonel Fairfax at short notice. She had a pleasant light soprano and concentrated on oratorio.
OTHERS: Richard Darley, Elizabeth du Plessis (soprano), Jennifer Fieldgate, John Fletcher, Yvonne Marais (soprano), Joan Metson, Thea Mullins, Betsie Oosthuizen (soprano), Bill Perry (tenor), Piet van Zyl (bass).
I do not remember the full names of the following: Corrie, Dell, Erica, Ferdy, Frances and Henrietta (sisters who sang duets together), Gertie, Graham, Gretchen, Miss Greyvenstein, Hennie, Janet, Kathy, Leanore, Lorentzia, Louella, Louis, Marian, Myrtle, Nellie (a mezzo-soprano who moved to the Free State), Reeka, Shirley, Winnie (a Scot who lived in Modderfontein and sang in the local operatic society).
If anyone can tell me what became of any of Anne and Webster’s pupils, or if you studied with them, I would be very glad to hear from you.
Jean Collen 12 September 2018.