After so many weeks without understanding French or Italian -I was thrilled to be able to understand people and talk to them .In the taxi driving from the airport it was heaven to understand and hear a radio station in English .I felt very much at home in England as South Africa was a British Colony for so long.Through my trusted travel companion " Europe on $5 a day" I found a very nice hotel at a very reasonable price on Sussex Gardens near Paddington Station. I had my mail forwarded to South Africa House on Trafalgar Square so the first chance I got , I rushed there to get my mail.it was so much fun to read the letters from my parents as well as some friends. I felt I belonged somewhere again!..
South Africa House Trafalgar Square.
Alitalia uniforms by Mila Schon.
Through the Alitalia Airlines ( Mila Schon designed their flight attendants uniforms at the time ) I met a woman that agreed to teach me Italian .She was a retired Italian opera singer married to a Polish gentleman. The problem was that she was so busy. The only time she could see me was 8:00 am 5 times a week. I was to come to her house at that time and she told me she would be dressed but I will have to come into her bedroom and while she did her make-up the lesson started. When she was done there, we went into the kitchen and while she had breakfast I got the rest of my hour Italian lesson + coffee!She decided to teach me only one past tense- and one future tense. The vocabulary mostly had to do with fashion :- what is the word was for a dress, a coat ,hem, dart ,neckline etc. After the three month I could tell them in Italian-I went, I was going tomorrow and I am going now.....She was fantastic.
Meanwhile I could not wait to get the Royal Opera House. I went to the box office and saw that Grace Bumbry was singing in Richard Strauss's opera "Salome" there.After my experiences in the Italian opera houses of Rome and Mila,-I was longing to see a "La Traviata" "Rigoletto" or "Aida" .That was my type of opera at that stage of my life , but I could not miss the chance to hear Miss Bumbry.
Royal Opera House
I was in seventh heaven walking into the opera house with its small red light shades ( in those days) and the beautiful red velvet curtain. After the light dimmed and the music started- I could not believe the magnificent music I was hearing.When the half naked Bumbry walked on to the stage and started singing I was mesmerized by it all. The opera is very sexual and exciting and seeing this was her first try to sing a opera in the soprano fach -when she was mostly known as a mezzo- the place was packed .What an introduction to Strauss's opera that was for me.I was hooked on this composer for life!
Grace Bumbry as "Salome"
Soon I realized that if you wait outside, before a performance, and wave a pound in the air, you can get a ticket for that night performance. It depended on how desperate people were to get rid of a ticket.Very often a wealthy patron would just give you the ticket or only take half of what the ticket price was-realizing that one was a broke student. I was so thankful when that happened, that I try and do the same now if I have an extra ticket for a performance.In this way I got a ticket for "La Sonnambula" the Bellini opera and the singer was Renata Scotto.I was mad about the female voice in those days - so to my shame I can not really remember most of the tenors and baritones or bases I heard. Scotto was small but what a fire cracker .A friend in New York gave me a recording of that performance later and when I listen to it I realize once again that I heard something outstanding that night. The audience loved it .They are rather reserved in London but the applause went on and on.
I had the opportunity to meet Miss Scotto a few years ago here in New York and told her about that experience I had .She thanked me but she said what she remembered about those performances were the great tenor she sang with.....It was Stuart Burrows the Welsh tenor. I thought that was very kind of her to praise another singer when she did not have to. Later at the Metropolitan Opera I heard her a few times in much more dramatic roles like "Francesca di Rimini"
One of the great singing actresses of opera .
I met an English guy, Don Keyte in the opera one night and we started talking. He was from Coventry and come to London a few days a week. He was a big ballet fan as well as an opera fan. I did not know much about ballet .I knew about the two most famous ballet dancers in the world at that stage. I was thrilled when he offered to sell me a ticket for that sold out performance of "Swan Lake" in a few weeks time with Rudolph Nureyev and Margo Fonteyn.What I found so amazing was that when you see a star you know it- you don't know really why- but it is larger than life. Be it a singer, a ballet dancer or a baseball player. That night I stopped breathing.Ballet is much more visual than opera but it was just as wonderful to see the human body being so graceful. I will always be thankful to Don that he introduced me to ballet.Unfortunately he passed away in 2014.
Nureyev and Fonteyn
One day at South Africa House I met another South African guy Neil Britz.
He just arrived in London as well to start his studies in Pottery at the Harrow Art School. He had a Doctorate in Botany but after his parents where tragically killed in a motor car accident in South Africa he decided to come to London and study pottery.
Neil on Trafalgar Square .
We went to the National Gallery and got along very well. My hotel was costing me quite a bit as well as the Italian lessons.My father was not thrilled that he had to support me for an extra 3 months before I went to Italy, so we decide to share an apartment in a private house in Willesden Green a North West London suburb. This made it a bit easier on the finances .
I met Margaret Smith in South Africa before I left for Europe. She was a freelance writer on fashion for the South African Newspapers in London. She was Scottish born but to me very British .She was very sweet but had her barriers that you could not cross. She lived in "The White House "in Regent Park. We did become very close friends and would invite me to lunch at The Bistingo in Soho every week and also to fashion shows and other fashion events.
She knew a lot of people ,but with the offer from Mila Schon I decided to give that a go first.
I wanted to work in a European Couture House and London was more instant fashion with Carnaby Street, Biba's Veruschka and Twiggy .I was not really interested in pop culture - having very long hair ,wearing skintight clothes with bell bottoms and boots . We all did that up to a point, but the art of elegant couture was what I was interested in .I think when Margaret realized I was not after her to find me a job- she relaxed much more and we became great friends even with almost a 20 year age difference.Between the Italian lessons, the opera, ballet and theater- the time went so quick so before I knew it the three months were up and it was time for me to return to Italy
Loris Abate and Mila Schon.
I did receive a telegram from Mila Schon during this time, telling me that she would be in London. I went to her hotel and had a drink with her and Loris Abate that was her business partner. She did not speak much English so that was the reason I had to learn Italian, so that we could communicate when I got to Milan. My Italian teacher arranged with some friends in Milan that I would rent a room from a widow that had a son my age. With my three month course of Italian behind me- a place to stay-,as well as a job- I was set for Italy.