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Another development for Hawkes was his time at New Sadlers Wells, where he made operettas something of a speciality, notably, Lehár's The Count of Luxembourg, 'with Marilyn Hill-Smith, Vivien Tierney and Neil Jenkins as the Count', The Gypsy Princess (Emmerich Kálmán's Die Csárdásfürstin) and Offenbach's La Vie Parisienne, originally for the Brighton Festival and later at Sadlers Wells. 'George Harewood [Lord Harewood, then Chairman of English National Opera and Opera North] came to see it there, liked it very much, and decided to taken it into ENO's repertoire at the London Coliseum!'

Another unusual string to his bow, while Hawkes was still a young producer, was to direct the opera Wat Tyler by Alan Bush (1900-1995), one of those British composers of avowed Communist sympathies and hence better known in the German Democratic Republic (Berlin, Leipzig and Weimar) than in the UK. It was staged at Sadler's Wells by the 'Keynote Opera Society' (patron : Sir Arthur Bliss), formed for that specific purpose, with support (aptly) from the Workers' Musical Association. (Another now needlessly neglected British composer of pronounced leftist sympathies, Bernard Stevens, was on the committee.) Stanford Robinson conducted, and the cast included John Noble, Richard Angas and the future producer Joseph Ward, whose role of the young king, Richard II, was later taken over by Robin Leggate (now a Royal Opera House principal) due to the former's laryngitis.

Was it memorable? 'Well, I do remember that the crowd scenes were rather fun to stage,' recalls Hawkes, 'and the council scenes with the nobles. And there were some quite touching scenes between Wat Tyler and his wife, sung superbly by Valerie Masterson. The set was made out of clad scaffolding : it looked wonderful, but it was pretty ropy when you trod on it. Alan Bush, being the composer, kept popping in, but he was very good, he never ever interfered. The music is pretty good, at least in parts; I would have thought extracts deserve a recording.'

By a novel career twist, Tom Hawkes came later to head the production team at Singapore's Lyric Opera : 'I did about eight productions there : Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Rigoletto ... I remember I was initially asked to go to Malaysia, for expenses only, to do a Cosi with some ex-students from the Guildhall. We performed in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore; and a man who saw it came up and asked if I would consider doing Carmen there. So I became the Lyric Theatre's Director of Productions for three years, directing two operas a year in the early 1990s, and returning annually -- or every other year -- after that to do a single staging.'

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Copyright © 29 May 2003 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK


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