<< -- 2 -- Bill Newman THE DESIGNER TOUCH
'Finally, I got my dates and deadlines. One opera per month to research, and think about the thing! Fabric swatches, and no time for models, which took a month anyway. I had to hire a research person, because I just didn't have the time. We were in Salzburg, in a big house and a room on the top floor. I took my records and record player, my paint and all my cigarettes, and went into the attic for six weeks. Then I went to London. Four months at the Westbury Hotel, where the artist rate was 4.60 a night. In a big back room I had banqueting tables, drawing tables, hi-fi. Maybe I had given up smoking, but I just worked away. I hired a girl student from the Victoria and Albert Museum to do research work for me. The hall porters were so sweet, asking whether I had recently been outside, taken a walk, checking that I was still alright. I had to deliver a package to Panton Street every month. I went to Australia on "Ricky" trips, and everyone told me not to get wool for my costumes, as it was very expensive. There, I met the people I was going to work with.
'Away for the whole winter, I got the job in August 1964. I delivered one opera a month, and the last was finished while I was still in Australia. I'd never painted a mountain before, and I was very traditional. Around my neck I wore a chain with a key for the theatre, and I had one free day during which it poured hard continuously. The chap in the Gents Wardrobe across the hall called me "Dora", and had ladies working for him. He was such a nice guy, and I had an enormous office in Her Majesty's Theatre. Melbourne. I still recall his "Tea's Ready!" and my very long table with seven In and Out trays -- one for each opera. As time passed, I began to have nightmares. Wrong props, drops, flies, because no one had a clue about what belonged to each opera -- they were all so different! In those days I had to draw absolutely every detail. Two opera costumes were made in Sydney, and Faust was the last of our open nights. The costume material had to be stylised from the middle ages, beiges and browns, heavy folds, with bleached head dresses for the ladies. Most of the scenery didn't touch the floor, but just hung. It was very effective, strong and simple. Four different theatres -- Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. I only stayed for the last. I'd had enough and left, and it wasn't my problem. They had to be designed so that they would fit. There was no such thing as separate sets.
'The big, burly man who ran the ladies wardrobe on the first floor I didn't like, but we managed. "Why all the hanging scenery? -- Oh, it's the hems", he said. The curtain went up ballerina-like during the dress rehearsal, and all my heavy medieval scenery was ballerina in length! When I picked my heart up off the floor, all I could say was: "But Ricky Bonynge didn't want it to be touching." I say this now as it was some time ago, but I was so angry that I went out slamming the door, Doráti-style. I went up to my hotel and let it all out before returning to the theatre, but I had made up my mind not to have anything more to do with the production. We had all worked together very hard, all the time. They had given me this German who wanted to do it his way, and he had his material which I requested he remove. He was a pain in the xxx -- it was a case of "please don't do that, it is very unprofessional", and I was beside myself ending up working on my own, which I loved. I now phoned two critic colleagues: "What you are going to see is nothing to do with me! Please disassociate me." I was very hurt, and stupid. But I couldn't say a thing, and if I wanted to work for them again they could have done me a lot of harm. I was in a tight corner.
Copyright © 8 April 2006
Bill Newman, Edgware UK