Tuesday, November 29, 2011



I met MARITA NAPIER- the South African soprano -for the first time in New York when she joined the Metropolitan Opera in 1986. I heard her in Johannesburg in 1978 when she came out and sang Abigaille in Verdi's "Nabucco" while I was still living in South Africa.

Marita Napier as Sieglinde in La Scala's  production of  "Die Walkure"

 A 1979 I bought a book on the La Scala Opera House and  she was pictured in "Die Walkure" as Sieglinde.

She was a wonderful Chrysothemis in Richard Strauss's "Elektra" and sang with Birgit Nilsson in Berlin in 1978. Marita's high register was her strength so she did very well will high  opera roles like "Turandot" and "Elektra".She was mostly known for her roles in operas by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss.

Birgit Nilsson and Marita Napier Berlin 1978.

Watch Marita Napier here as Chrysothemis with Janis Martin as Elektra
  Helga Dernesch as Klytemnestra;-


Napier as "Turandot " in Orange France.

Wagner's "Lohengrin" with  Marita Napier and Leonie Rysanek.

"Ariadne auf Naxos"

Marita Napier as Senta  in "Der Fliegende Hollander"  San Francisco.

"Lohengrin"  in Berlin  with Marita Napier.

Marita Napier "Ariadne auf Naxos" in Vienna.

"Der Ring des Nibelungen" Metropolitan Opera .

Beethoven with Lorin Maazel.

"Tanhäuser" San Francisco, Marita Napier, Jess Thomas and Leonie Rysanek.

I also love her recording of Arnold Schoenberg's "Gurrelieder" with Pierre Boulez.
Click here to listen to Marita as Tove.

At this time she was the only South Africa singer that completed the Grand Slam and sang at the five top opera houses in the world .Deon van der Walt and Johan Botha would follow her a few years later.

Cornelia Street Cafe.

I was introduced to her by friends who  knew her from Germany .She knew few people in New York so she was thrilled to meet another South African and we could speak Afrikaans. I asked her out to dinner and we went to the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village that she wanted to try out.

Marita Napier during her Metropolitan Opera  days.

The Ansonia.West 72nd street .

She was staying in the Ansonia ,a famous residential hotel  near the Metropolitan Opera on the Upper West Side.The Ansonia housed the  infamous Continental Baths, in its basement during the 1960s and 1970s.  Bette Midler started her singing career at the Continental Baths, with Barry Manilow as her accompanist.Opera stars like Enrico Caruso, Teresa Stratas, Eleanor Steber, Geraldine Farrar ,Feodor Chaliapin.Enzio Pinza, Lily Pons and Laurence Melchior lived there as well as  musicians like Arturo Toscanini, Igor Stravinsky and Yehudi Menuhin.
By this time it was rather run down and soon after it was sold as condos. Marita decided to move to Queens where she shared an apartment with one of the costumiers at the Metropolitan Opera.She did not like to be on her own and told me Sundays killed her when everybody had somewhere to go except her. She was also doing a course in interior design that she enjoyed very much.She enjoyed travelling to exotic places and travelled to Japan and China with the Metropolitan Opera.

Marita Napier in Thailand.

She was rather complicated person and I found it difficult to talk to her.She could be very quiet and that made me nervous .She and Jerry got along like a house on fire- so I knew it was me and not her .Later I realized I must communicate with her  as Marita ,and ignore the opera star. When we stopped talking about opera ,we became friends. She loved to go to different restaurants and there is a on Mexican Restaurant on University Place that she loved. I still think of her every time I go in there.We also loved eating in the Indian Restaurants on East 6th Street.

"Turandot" Metropolitan Opera New York.

In 1988 Marita  sang "Turandot" in the Met's wonderful Zeffirelli's production of this Puccini opera.It was the first time that I went backstage and into the dressing rooms of the Metropolitan Opera. Salome, Jerry and Alayne- we all went that night and was photographed in her dressing room afterwards.  It was a great triumph for her.

Jerry, Alayne, Marita, Salome and me -backstage at the Metropolitan Opera after "Turandot"

She gave me a ticket for "Gotterdämerung " when she sang one of the Norns . I was hooked on Wagner after that.One's heart started to beat slower and you just relaxed and flowed with the music.

One night around 9:00 pm I called her and she started to laugh when she heard it was me .She just covered her face in a mud pack and as she was the cover for Ghena Dimitrova singing "Turandot" at the Met that evening -she thought it was the Met calling for her to come and take over.

In New York.

By this time she was at the Met for almost 5 years and wanted to go home.I don't think she was very happy in New York and she was tired of all the travelling .She told me her life consisted of lonely hotel rooms and waiting at airports.I then started to realize that the glamorous world of the opera singer was not what I thought it was. Later on when I  met more singers I realized more and more what a lonely life it really was. Full of stress and tension.That is what takes it toll on most singers and  not that they can not sing anymore.

Thys Odendaal, Marita, Jerry and me.

Marita and Jerry at her home in Cape Town.

Jerry and I went to visit South Africa in 1992. It was his first trip to South Africa  and Marita was then staying in Cape Town where she bought a house in Oranjezicht.She invited us to her house for a birthday party. There were a lot of people and she seemed to be  more centered and much happier. She came to the USA now and then and we would see each other then.I also visited her in her apartment in Cape Town  in Sea Point near the swimming pool.

Marita Napier in her apartment in Sea Point, Cape Town.
Photo by Philip de Vos.

She told me  that she saved 40% of every salary check .She decided that once she  retired, she would be comfortable off .By this time she had saved so much but the rate on the Rand and the Euro was so good ,that she was  living  off her German pension only . She did not touch her capital.

Johan Liebenberg, Marita and  me.

In 2001 I was in South Africa and friend told me that Marita was ill  and that she was in Johannesburg and I should call her.She was staying with her niece- her sister's daughter and her family - that she loved. The kids where like her own -and they adored her.When she came out of the house to meet me, her hair was short and grey She lost most of it during her treatment but  she was very serene and looked beautiful .Almost calmer than I ever knew her to be.We went far down in the garden and sat in a gazebo and just talked.I can't recall another time that we were so close and so relaxed in each other's company.She was the strong one and she told me that she has been fighting cancer for almost 25 years and that she was tired of the battle and was ready to move on.

When we said goodbye I realized it was most probably the  last time I would see her -and I was very sad.She achieved so much in her career but I felt she missed out on life and love. Her marriage had ended  by then and one almost got the feeling she was asking......"Is that all there is?"
She did a TV interview not long after that and people that saw it told me how sad and depressing it was.
In January of 2004 I was in Johannesburg and  heard that she was nearing the end of of her life.
  I called her apartment in Cape Town and got her sister on the line. I told her who I was and just asked her to give Marita my love.When Marita heard it was me she took the phone and we spoke a little .She was very weak but not depressed and we said our final goodbye.I thanked her for all the pleasure she brought to so many people's lives with her voice.

Here is Marita Napier as Brunhilde  in Wagner's "Gotterdammerung."

She died almost three month later on April 10 2004.
May she rest in peace.

Friday, November 25, 2011


"La Scala" Opera House in Milan, Italy.

The human voice has the power to reach the soul , more so than any instrument. A big church organ, piano or violin comes close- but the human voice singing - evokes such emotion in me that I can involuntary choke up while listening to it.

As a boy growing up in South Africa I was blessed with a good boy's soprano voice .I even did some recordings for the SABC of children's songs composed by Maria van der Mark with my friend Famke Boersma.

Esther Mentz

I won the Johannesburg Eisteddfod's gold diploma for boys singing in my age group from the age of  8 until I was 13 years old. The judges were singers like Esther Mentz - who was  Emma Renzi's first singing teacher -en Anna Elizabeth Pohl.

When I was 14 my voice has still not broken and I was still a boy's soprano.
When I got to Linden High School and they discovered that I could sing ,I sang the soprano role in the Cantata "Ruth" by J. Witty .In the above article dated August 3 1962 I got a mention-and the voice reminded the author of the Vienna Boys Choir- no less.
When my voice broke and it was all over. I could still sing but became a second tenor in the chorus.

I still remember the power I felt when I walked onto a brightly lit stage with a big black grand piano to sing.The look of awe when the sound reached people ears and they became still and listened to the story you were telling. I could not wait for the climax of the song and the high notes that I could sing so well as a boy soprano. At that moment I had the audience  in the palm of my hand and it was a wonderful feeling.
 I can understand why so many singers do not want to give up this power and crave the applause that comes soon after that .
My stupid little voice was nothing in comparison to the glorious voices of  professional opera singers but I do understand a little of their passion for this life in music.

The first opera I saw was "Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro". It was performed at the Civic Theater in Johannesburg   in 1963 . Nellie Du Toit, Jossie Boshof and Leonora Veenemans were the singers.

Nedda Casei.
When I was a fashion student in Cape Town in 1969 . I sang  in the chorus for the Cape Town Opera (called CAPAB in those days.) The company was backed by the government and it was a professional choir. My  first opera was Bizet's "Carmen" .Our Carmen was Nedda  Casei from the Metropolitan Opera  in New York.

"Carmen" Nedda Casei in the middle .

Here is Nedda Casei with Leontyne Price in "Madame Butterfly" at the Metropolitan Opera 1973 

Nellie Du Toit.

The next opera was Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" with the South African soprano NELLIE DU TOIT and Ge Korsten. It was great to be part of the opera world and I love the first rehearsals with the orchestra when it all came together. Hearing these  singers perform ,and to be part of it, was great.
Here is Nelly Du Toit singing "Ernani, Involami"  from Ernani by Verdi .

Joyce Barker.

I also heard the  South African soprano JOYCE BARKER as "Turandot" for the first time  and sang in the chorus for  "Un Ballo in Maschera" "Fidelio" and "Martha"  during this period.
I was hooked on opera and never looked back.

Here is Joyce Barker  in Verdi's  Requiem" Libera me"

Yours truly on the left.

Elsa Wolfaard and Henry Schickerling backstage Cape Town Opera 1969  "Ballo in Maschera"

Alhambra Theater. Cape Town.

Soon after that I left South Africa to study in Italy and that was the end of my singing - but not the end of my love for opera. Only the beginning....



Mimi Coertse. As Aithra on the right.

No South African opera lover could not be influenced by the South African soprano MIMI COERTSE. Specially if one was a Afrikaans speaking South African. We are so proud of her achievements.
Mimi left South Africa in 1953 to study in Vienna  and in 1956 become a member of the Vienna State Opera at the tender age of 23 .She sang  there until 1978 and had a spectacular career. In 1966 she became the first South African singer to become a Kamersängerin in Vienna .She was also know to be the  soprano that performed with Fritz Wunderlich the most.

Mimi Coertse Strauss "Ariadne aus Naxos"

Coertse and Wunderlich.

In 1973 she returned to South Africa but  still sang and promoted opera in South Africa- and internationally .
She is an icon in South Africa and in Vienna.

Here is Mimi Coertse  as Tatania in "Mignon"  by Thomas.
Recorded when she was 23 years old.

Mimi with Waldemar Kmett  in Vienna 1978.

Personally she also inspired me .Whenever I felt lonely during my student days in Europe, I would think of her at the age of 23 in Vienna and I would man up and say to myself ;-
" You are not alone - Mimi did it and survived , so can you !"
 I would have loved to design a gown for her, but that opportunity never came.

In 2000 I read an article  in the Opera News about the  just released set of the 1970  recording of  Richard Strauss's  "Agyptiesche Helena" with Joseph Krips from the Vienna State Opera .The singers were Gwyneth Jones, Jess Thomas and MIMI COERTSE as Aithra.

In the piece the writer said that Mimi stole the show in this recording, and that it was a must-have for every opera lover.I thought that she might like to have this article and wrote to my friend Renee who knew Mimi very well -and asked for her address .A few weeks later I received a very kind note from Mimi inviting me to visit her when I come to South Africa again.
A few months later I was back in South Africa and called her .I went to her house and after we went out to lunch, she invited me back and we spent the afternoon listening to her private recordings and talking about her life and career.She showed me some of her gowns that she had kept and wondered what would happen to them.
It was one of the highlights of my life to meet her and spend some  time with her.  I had been an admirer of hers for many years. She has a great sense of humor and can be very funny telling stories about her life. She also  gave me some of her recordings that I did not have.
When her daughter Mia ,and her husband, came to New York to run in the NY Marathon ,I spent time with them as well.

Mimi , me and Renee.

When Jerry and I went back to visit South Africa a few years later Mimi graciously invited us to dinner  and we had a great evening with her -and some other guests- at her beautiful home in Pretoria.
 We have kept contact and I see her whenever possible when I am in South Africa.
She is an inspiration to many- me included.

Jerry in the light blue shirt -me in the white at the back.

Onse Mimi  -better  know as Kamersängerin Coertse.
Mimi Coertse 2014


When I went  to Europe- and later the USA - I  had the opportunity to go to the opera more often and the last 28 years in  New York I had the Metropolitan Opera on my doorstep and attended the opera regularly ,seeing up to 15 operas a season. It has been a privilege that I appreciate every time.

Performer's view of the Metropolitan Opera's 4000 seats.

Jerry comes in from Pennsylvania and we go to the Saturday Matinees .These performances are usually broadcasted on the radio world wide and the High Definition Broadcasts are also the Saturday afternoon performances, so that Europe can see-and hear them .The performers are on their toes as they know the world is listening. These performances are very sought after and some people even will their subscriptions  to their families.