Opera Singer, Self-Employed
Graham Clark studied at Loughborough Training College from 1961-64 to become a PE teacher. He later returned to the University in 1969 to study Recreation Management at Postgraduate level. Here Graham discusses his varied career in teaching, sport and opera.
I wanted to be a PE teacher in 1961 and I was dazzled by the reputation of Loughborough Training College and its extraordinary sporting alumni. In 1969 I returned to Loughborough because I wanted to be in the vanguard of recreation management and Loughborough University offered the first postgraduate course.
I was hugely grateful for the discipline and rigour of the College and the University. The courses were demanding and extensive but, most importantly, they encouraged me to think laterally and creatively. From PE teacher to Sports Council to opera, I have been an opera singer for over 40 years and I must continue to study assiduously.
Always be curious, receptive and kind.
It has been a long one and, like most people’s, a tortuous one. I was always interested in singing from a chorister at age 7 or so, to a teenager when I found I could blindly copy some of the tenors on the radio such as Mario Lanza and Carlo Bergonzi. Along came Luciano Pavarotti and I was hooked. Rugby matches always ended with a sing song in the bar and I frequently ended up singing on the table! I didn’t know what I was doing, but it seemed OK and popular enough. My teaching career was demanding, but I needed a balance and music gave me that. I took singing lessons with a wonderful old sportsman and former singer, Bruce Boyce, who used sporting metaphors to steer me through the technical maze.
I left teaching, returned to Loughborough for an MSc Recreation Management, joined the Sports Council and pursued music and singing in the evenings with amateur societies. I accumulated leave and went to a festival in Ireland in Wexford, was given two small roles, an agent saw me and invited me to audition in London. I sang for Richard Bonynge, the husband of Joan Sutherland and he invited me to sing with Joan at a gala concert at the Royal Opera in London in aid of the Darwin Hurricane Relief Fund. That opened doors and I felt it was the right time to try my luck as a full time singer, otherwise I would have kicked myself forevermore. I joined Scottish Opera in 1975. I didn’t expect to stay in the business for more than two years, but here I am in my mid seventies and still going. I have moved away from the tedious romantics of my youth to the weird and wonderful of old age. I love it.
When I was a small boy we lived near Blackpool and we would visit the circus and theatre. Naturally, as a child I was dazzled by the glamour and the glitz. Later, music became more serious when I took piano lessons. Singing in the church choir was dramatic in its own way. Finally, the sheer physicality and drama of opera was stunning, wildly exciting and irresistible. I had to do it.
As a PE teacher the daily physical timetable was complimentary in every respect. Singing opera is a physical activity with the mental and muscular control of balance, poise and timing.
Extraordinary and wonderful, as you can imagine. It was most unexpected and was a huge fillip for English National Opera and the opera, Doktor Faust by Busoni.
So many events. It’s hard to indentify one. I was lucky that I changed careers at the right times from PE teaching to the Sports Council to opera. It seemed a hotchpotch, but it worked and I managed to keep my head above water, the ultimate test. I enjoyed each job immensely, which pleased me. It was just the right time to move on.
From an operatic point of view, the greatest thrills have been working at English National Opera and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, at the Metropolitan Opera, New York and, particularly, being invited to sing for 16 summer seasons at the Bayreuth Wagner Festspiele in Germany. All of them have been extraordinary in their own ways and I have met and worked with many exceptionally talented colleagues. That is a huge privilege. I am just so grateful that I have managed to survive and I still have some enticing engagements ahead.