By Kevin Mills: member number ??
We are pleased to be able to present another chapter in our continuing occasional series on the impact of Wagner on the lives of people in and around Sydney. This issue’s story is from a now retired singer who worked for many years with the Australian Opera as well as in overseas companies. As with Phillip Bennett, Kevin Mills stumbled onto Wagner at an early age and was also transformed for life by the experience.
The following are extracts from Kevin’s Biography. For those of you who are interested in reading more about Kevin’s eventful, but not always operatically rewarding, life, the full Synopsis from his biography is available on the Society’s website (www.wagner-nsw.org.au). I trust that you will find Kevin’s story interesting and worth thinking about. [Ed.]
A Synopsis from THE BIOGRAPHY: “NOT ALWAYS THE UNDERSTUDY”. The influence of Richard Wagner on my Career and my development as a Heldentenor. (Heldentenor: n (German). A singer with a powerful voice suitable for operatic parts. Also called “heroic tenor.”) By KEVIN MILLS.
About fifty-five years ago, as a naïve country lad, my first Singing Teacher gave me a lovely gift. It was Christmas. The gift was a large album of Wagnerian Music Treasures. Beautifully bound and illustrated, the book stimulated my imagination and instilled in me an ambition to become an Opera Singer. At fifteen years of age I had no conception of the difficult career path that lay ahead.
In those times there were only wax recordings or radio to listen to. My favourite item was the Pilgrim’s Chorus from Tannhäuser. Wagner was considered to be ‘highbrow’. The culturally deprived still consider that to be so, even today. Fortunately Wagner’s music is more accessible now and those who appreciate his legacy can delight in his music whenever we desire it.
Two years later I found myself a new teacher in Sydney. That is where my realistic mind told me I should go if ever I was to realise my ambitions. The highly regarded Richard G. Thew O.B.E. took me on and guided my progress for 10 years and more, until 1957 when I won the Sydney “Sun” Aria Competition. Also that year I was the NSW. Winner and a Commonwealth Finalist in the A.B.C. Vocal Competition. The previous year 1956 I was the NSW. Winner and Commonwealth Finalist in “Mobil Quest”. I have also won the Adelaide Vocal Championship, which embraced the whole field of vocal endeavour: English Art Song, Oratorio, French-song, and German Lieder.
As a student in Australia I was known as an Eisteddfod singer. One of the many who entered voice competitions anywhere, whether it was in the country, the metropolitan areas, or interstate. It could be a costly way of becoming known to the public while enjoying the vocal sounds and skills we assumed that we had. Prize money, (if one was fortunate to win a placing), rarely covered the preparation cost for the event. We did it for the love of singing! Perhaps too, for a fleeting glimpse of glory.
Striving to make one’s advancement, as a singer is not an easy task in Australia. An operatic career is a rough road to travel no matter what country one is born into. Fortunately there are better conditions and better circumstances now-a -days than existed half a century ago. If an Australian Singer wanted a career in Opera, it was imperative to go abroad for it. The cultural differences in languages and educational backgrounds were then a big challenge to the ‘ Aussie Battler.’ That some young singers overcame these difficulties is a great credit to them. We now have had a few homegrown Australian National and Regional Opera Companies presenting world-class productions on a regular basis. Thus giving local talent a small opportunity, if only for a while, to work in their own country.
My first introduction to Wagnerian Opera was as a supernumerary in “The Mastersingers of Nuremberg” at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 1950. Richard, (or Mr. Thew), as we all addressed him, told me it would add to my stage experience. It was a short season of six performances, conducted by Sir Eugene Goosens who was the Director of the ‘con’ as well as the conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The production contained singers of the calibre of the Bass, James Wilson, and the tenor, Alan Ferris. It was a gigantic effort to present this opera in such an unsuitable venue. In hindsight, the production left much to be desired, but the experience gained was considerable.
After my “Sun” Aria success, I headed for London with aspirations to study further and work in Opera if possible. I had a few introductions, but not all brought a positive result. Richard Thew had given me the price of two tickets to Covent Garden Opera House. I was to spend my first night in London at the opera.
The opera was Parsifal with the Canadian tenor Jon Vickers singing the title role. Tristan und Isolde was my next Wagnerian ‘treat’ among many other operas in the repertoire. Perhaps the most memorable performance I ever saw at Covent Garden was that of Gedda Lamars as Electra. She had been flown in at the last moment to replace the scheduled artist. It was an electrifying performance I will never forget.
For two years I submerged myself in studies with such teachers as Clive Carey and Gustave Sacher. I also had regular coaching sessions with Paul Hamburger, Geoffrey Parsons, Ivor Newton and others. Sacher’s method of teaching was a revelation. In those two years he had changed my voice from a Baritone to a voice with potential to cover a three-octave range and beyond. My voice grew in size, but also I was capable of pianissimo singing that could project to the back rows of any Theatre or Concert Hall while maintaining an excellent quality of sound.
Funds were running out after six months of daily tuition. I had auditioned for Covent Garden and Sadlers Wells Opera Companies, but nothing had been offered to me. Naturally enough I was becoming a little disappointed and disillusioned.
For the next few years Kevin grabbed opportunities when and where he could from sharing a recital at Australia House with Beryl Kimber the Australian Violinist to working as a featured Vocalist in Seaside Revue with “The Fol de Rols,” a famous Revue Company throughout England for more than twenty-five years, and the Carl Rosa Opera Chorus, recently been taken over by Sadlers Wells Opera as its touring component with proposed productions of “The Merry Widow”, “Land of Smiles” and “Orpheus in the Underworld.” Kevin was also called upon as Understudy of Yamadori in “Madam Butterfly” with the illustrious Dame Joan Hammond. [Ed.]
I believed I had ‘made it’ in London’s West End when I got the opportunity to perform the juvenile male lead of Count Gustl opposite June Bronhill as Lisa in Lehar’s lovely operetta, “Land of Smiles”. Peter Grant was performing the role of Gustl when he became ill. I replaced him for the last eight performances of the London season.
On returning to Australia for a holiday at Christmas 1959, I made a decision to remain.
In the following years, Kevin worked again with the Sadlers Wells Opera Company presented productions of “The Merry Widow”, starring June Bronhill in Australia, and “Orpheus in the Underworld” and with the Tivoli Circuit, which had asked him to join their production of “The Student Prince” and, for the Tivoli Circuit in 1961, he also played Franz Schubert in “Lilac Time”. Later, during 1965 Kevin had a very diverse year, but fortunately, the Federated Music Clubs enabled him to continue singing regularly in Recitals and Concerts. There was also a period when he drove Tourist Coaches! [Ed.]
I produced and directed “The King & I” in Wingham and Wauchope for the Wingham Dramatic Art and Musical Company. The experience of conducting the pit band was another string I added to my bow. I was very much a ‘one man band’ in bringing the show together. In the years that followed I was to produce and direct many musicals in Wingham and Taree. Among them were Victor Herbert’s “Sweethearts”, “The Glass Slipper”, (a musical based on the Cinderella story), “Carousel” and “Music Man”. As well I was the founder of the Manning Valley Festival of Music in 1974, which resulted from the formation of the Manning Valley Youth Choir and The Manning Valley Choral Society. Later it was renamed The City of Greater Taree Choral Society.
I instigated and made a suggestion to Taree City Council and the Public in 1974, that an Entertainment Centre should be built to accommodate the many music functions and activities of a growing Society. Leading on from this The Manning Entertainment Centre was built. It opened in 1988 with my spectacular production of “The Best of Times” Grand Variety Concert and in 1989 another production of “The King and I” involving a double cast and over 200 performers. In my capacity as a Choral Conductor there were many Sacred Cantatas performed locally, on tours to neighbouring towns, to the Cities of Newcastle and Central Sydney. There was a Concert version of Bizet’s opera, “Carmen” and the Oratorios “Requiem” by Gabriel Faure and “Messiah” by Handel and Benjamin Britten’s “Saint Nicholas.” There was also a locally composed work, “In Praise of Wisdom”.
I return now to 1966 when I first joined the Elizabethan Trust Opera Company to sing Figaro in “The Barber of Seville” on an Arts Council Tour of 4 States and lasting six months. The roles were shared to enable singers to rest every second day. Returning to Sydney I sang performances of Count di Luna in “Il Trovatore” and also in Melbourne. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation recorded the performance with me singing di Luna and it was broadcast on the National Programme. There were also Figaro performances that Season in Sydney and Melbourne.
“Don Pasquale” in 1967, featured June Bronhill singing the Norina role. I sang the role of Dr Malatesta on a shared basis with Ron Maconachie. The Arts Council (Queensland Division) toured the opera in two separate periods. Rehearsals and the main Repertory Opera Season Tour was sandwiched in between.
I was required to sing Marullo in “Rigoletto” and a few scheduled performances of Figaro and Dr Malatesta in Sydney and Melbourne before resuming the “Don Pasquale” tour in Queensland. The Understudies I took on in 1967 were: Guglielmo in “Cosi fan Tutte”, Rodrigo in “Don Carlos”, Bitterolf in Tannhäuser, Wolfram in Tannhäuser, and Tannhäuser . All this, in addition to my regular responsibilities in the Chorus, whenever required.
As a means to ‘proving one’s worth’ in a repertory opera company, it is normally essential to agree to sing as a chorister for a period of time. One has to be careful not to get ‘stuck’ there in the Chorus for several years. But that predicament can suit a lot of less ambitious singers. Small parts, principal understudies and minor roles are often filled by choristers if that person has potential and can handle the responsibility. When one is contracted, the ‘small print’ can often tell you that you are “to perform as directed” by the Management! Managements will use that advantage!!
Our tour manager for the Arts Council Tours was a German man named Wolfgang Seyd. He was the first to tell me that he could hear a Heldentenor quality developing in my voice. I had mostly sung as a Baritone all my life up to this moment. Some considered me to be a very good Baritone and should never have considered a change. I was about the right age for a change to take place. Heldentenors usually develop from the High Baritone voice at thirty-five years of age. I had just reached 35! To back up Wolfgang’s statement, I received a similar opinion from Stephen Beinl who was a Producer with the Elizabethan Trust Opera Company. He was working on the production of Tannhäuser in 1967. Kenneth Neate was to sing the title role.
Ken, an Australian, had established himself in Europe over many years and was a regular artist in Wagnerian Opera at Bayreuth. [See below for more information on Mr Neate. Ed.] I never considered him to have a true Heldentenor voice. His sound had a lighter lyrical quality. But Ken was versatile in the roles he performed. One needs to be if one wants to make a living. So, returning to Australia to sing Tannhäuser, Ken’s voice was showing signs of degeneration near the end of a vibrant career. His voice sounded tired.
Consider my heavy workload for the year, as listed [above]. My workload was about to be increased again. The Opera Company was certainly getting good value for my services! Raymond Myers was to sing the role of Wolfram. As his Understudy I knew he would never give me an opportunity to replace him.
One sunny day at the Rehearsal Studios that were located in Dowling Street, Sydney, I was rehearsing my understudy role of Wolfram with Henri Penn. I felt I knew the music very well. I confidently said to Henri, “I know this role pretty well, let me have a go at Tannhäuser for a change!” I was singing for a little while when the door was flung open and into the room flowed Stephen Hagg, John Young and Stephen Beinl. They had rushed down from the Administration floor above to hear whom it was that was singing Tannhäuser. Two weeks later I was officially notified that I was no longer the understudy of Wolfram. I was now the Understudy of Tannhäuser and was advised to concentrate all my effort in that direction. I was told also that the man who had been covering the role had had a nervous breakdown while trying to prepare it and he had since left the company.
Predictably, an Understudy rarely, is given production calls sufficient to the needs of the role. In the course of working in other productions, one is expected to observe the moves of the person chosen to sing the role. Be it in the rehearsal room, while performing onstage or observing from the wings. Somehow you are not expected to get an opportunity to replace the star that might or might not be getting a good monetary reward for his services. So it was that I became Kenneth Neate’s Understudy. I had only been given production rehearsals on Tannhäuser’s first scene in Act 1, when I was called upon to take over his role.
It happened in 1968. I was undertaking the roles of Scharrone in “Tosca”, Sid in “Girl of the Golden West”, Ping in “Turandot”. I was also the Understudy of the principal tenor role of Calif in “Turandot” and still performing my duties as a Chorister.
I had arrived at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Brisbane to sing in Tannhäuser as a Chorister. It was Saturday evening 25th May 1968. The Stage-Door man told me that Kenneth Neate wished to speak to me in his dressing room. Ken warned me that he was not feeling well. I should prepare myself to sing his role the following Monday evening. I should see the Company Manager, Doug Abbott, to get permission to watch tonight’s performance from the audience. I was filled with dread!
Seating myself in the front stalls I endured the rise of the House Curtain to hear Ken’s first vocal utterance. It was a horrible sound. I slid from my seat and under the row of seats in front of me. I knew Ken would not be able to complete the opera. Very soon Doug Abbott came to the row of seats where I had slid to the floor and he beckoned me to follow him back-stage. I was hastily dressed in Ken’s Tannhäuser costume. Ken had struggled through his first scene. No one knew how he got through it! It was the only scene I had been rehearsed in. Now I was to complete the opera not knowing the stage plot or the complete text.
The performance was sung in German. What I couldn’t remember, I invented. I took some consolation in the probability that few in a Brisbane audience would understand German. The music I knew very well and that supplied me with the drama to interpret my way to the end. By the time I rendered the Rome Narration (which takes 40 minutes to sing), I was starting to feel I was meant to sing the role. I could feel that my colleagues were helping me through by subtle support from their glances, indicating that I should be in another part of the stage. When they were not themselves required on stage they were taking a ‘peek’ from the wings. At the conclusion, the conductor, Maestro Carlo Felice Cillario swept me into his arms and gave me a big hug. I must have given him some anxious moments for which he granted me his forgiveness.
On the following Monday evening the 27th May I did it all again in its entirety.
Three weeks later the Company was back in Sydney. On 22nd June at a Matinee in the old Empire Theatre off Railway Square, a performance was rescheduled and I sang the role again to enable the bosses to see me perform the role. Having been given a producer to work with for a week, I at last had direction that gave historical detail and the role became understandable to me. The audience gave me a prolonged ovation, which must have lasted at least ten minutes.
In an article published in “The Sydney Morning Herald” on Wednesday 3rd July 1968 the music critic Roger Covell wrote the following extract:
“Kevin Mills, singing the title role in a matinee performance of “Tannhäuser” had a voice of considerable fresher timbre than Ken Neate and needed less audible effort to maintain the flow of a phrase. The baritonal colouring of his tenor (he was a baritone before retraining himself as a tenor) makes him potentially apt for the special tone qualities of heroic Wagner singing.
It was in the third act, as if releasing himself from nervousness or apprehension that he began at an altogether higher level of accomplishment. His narration of Tannhäuser’s Rome pilgrimage was especially impressive in its promise of future development.”
For the following two years I believe I became an embarrassment to the opera company. There were no plans to present Wagnerian opera in the near future. Virtually I became what’s known as a “walking understudy”. For two years I was on salary but not required to perform very much—just learn roles suitable to a tenor. I did sing a few minor parts in 1968/9 including Ping in “Turandot”. ...There was Florestan in “Fidelio” in 1970 conducted by Warwick Braithwaite, who told me he considered my performance of Florestan to be the best he had heard. That comment from such a great conductor was very humbling!
In 1971 I was the Understudy of Otello in “Otello” and was scheduled to sing the role in the ACT in the Canberra Theatre Season. I was visiting my family for the weekend when I heard on the news that Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney had burnt to the ground and all sets and costumes in the current Opera Season had been destroyed in the fire. The “Otello” production was included in the fire and the remainder of the Sydney Season was cancelled. So too, was my opportunity to sing Otello. The opera was cancelled in Canberra and the great chance to launch my career to a higher level of distinction never eventuated.
In reconciliation to the Sydney public for the disruption and abandonment of the Opera Season at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney, there were instead Operatic Concerts at the Capital Theatre in the Haymarket area of the city. Later a similar series of Opera Concerts were given in the Palais Theatre at St. Kilda, Melbourne. My contributions to these concerts were two arias by Richard Wagner: Sigmund’s Love Song ‘Wintersturme wichen dem Wonnemond’ from “Die Walküre” and Walter’s Prize
Song ‘Morgenlich leuchtwend inrosigen Schine’ from “The Mastersingers of Nuremberg”.
It was perhaps a realistic time for renaming the company as The Australian Opera. Not knowing what to do with me, the opera management offered me a small scholarship to help me go to Europe for further study. With sufficient cash to buy a return air ticket and my salary reduced by half, I was to consider myself still under contract to The Australian Opera. Off I embarked to Europe.
I was committed to use some of my Scholarship money by having some coaching with Jani Strasser of Glyndbourne Opera. I had worked with Jani when he was in Sydney as a Guest Repetiteur coaching singers for The Australian Opera. When I contacted him in London, Jani was going through a period of illness. Consequently my work with him was disrupted and in many respects most disappointing in view of his considerable reputation.
Before I started working with Jani I visited Sadlers Wells Opera at the Coliseum Theatre where I had worked for them in 1959. My intention was to say ‘hello’ to any former colleagues I might find there. ...Within two weeks I was working with Tom Hammond, Head of Music Staff, on the role of Canio in “Pagliacci”. Donald Smith had been offered the role but he was not able to accept it. It was now offered to me...
Having made preliminary arrangements for the proposed “Pagliacci” engagement during the two and a half week period after my arrival in England, I took a train to Glasgow, Scotland, to audition for Peter Hemmings who was then the Director of Scottish Opera. (Later he became a General Manager of The Australian Opera for a limited time.) The Scottish Opera was presenting Das Rheingold and Siegfried. I was invited to attend the performances. They did not make a lasting impression on me. I was too tired to enjoy them?
The Australian Baritone Raymond Myers had invited me to stay for a time in his home at Belsize Park. I was there when negotiating my fees for the “Pagliacci” performances on the telephone with Edward Renton. I became aware that Ray was listening in on our conversation. He became furious when he heard me negotiate a fee that was three times higher than the fee Sadlers Wells was paying him per performance. I had not expected to be vetted! Ray in a vile mood of jealousy and pique evicted me from his home! It was time to move on.
The Canio performances in London were a few months distant; there was plenty of time to take up my studies in Germany. Taking a train from London on Saturday 12th June 1971 I connected with the ferry to cross the Channel and then caught another train to Nuremberg. I booked into Adelman Pension the next day.
On Monday 14th June I had an appointment with Erich Riede at 11 a.m. Herr Riede was a prominent Opera conductor throughout Europe. He was to coach me in Wagnerian opera roles at 20 DM per hour. I worked with him each day for two weeks. At that time he was conducting “The Mastersingers of Nuremberg” in the local Opera House. I attended a performance the night I arrived in Nuremberg. It was some-what provincial in its conception, but I was amazed by the size of the Chorus. I counted six hundred bodies on stage at one time. The singers were drawn from a dozen or more choral groups from the surrounding countryside. I was very impressed with their enthusiasm and vocal ability.
Erich Riede was an associate and friend of Max Lorenz. Lorenz was famous as a Heldentenor. He had sung regularly over many years at Bayreuth and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. At Bayreuth he was particularly a favourite singer of the German Dictator, Adolph Hitler. Kenneth Neate had put me in touch with this renowned Heldentenor. Ken himself had studied Wagnerian roles with Max. Considering this, I assumed some political politeness was warranted to Ken, so I chose to have a few lessons with him while waiting to start with Lorenz. The experience was of no particular benefit to me in the short or long term.
Lorenz was by now retired from the opera stage and was teaching and coaching Wagner roles to singers, from his home in München and from his holiday house on the fringe of Salzburg. On auditioning for him I was immediately accepted as a pupil. Excitedly he telephoned Bayreuth and told someone that he had discovered a new Tannhäuser. He wanted to know if the person on the other end of the telephone line could call into Salzburg to hear me sing. I was soon to be in Salzburg. It was holiday time and as fortune will dictate, it was not possible to arrange a meeting.
Over a period of four months I had lessons with Lorenz four and five days each week. Soon I had to send home for more money to pay Max’s fees of 25 DM per hour of each lesson.
My work with Max Lorenz was greatly beneficial to the expansion of my voice. I mainly worked on vocal technique and studied in particular, the Siegmund role in Die Walküre.
A big man, Lorenz had a large stature and a jovial personality. Singing Lessons were never dull. Always there was a laugh to be enjoyed. One day when attending lessons Max was in a flamboyant mood. He appeared with what appeared to be his arms full of jewellery that he then proceeded to drape around himself. There were long strings of pearls, diamonds, rubies, sapphires and all manner of treasure. It reminded me of the Jewel Box scene from Gounod’s “Faust”. I could tell that the jewels were real and not imitation stage props. Max said Adolph Hitler had given him the jewellery. It was then to be given to Max’s wife, now deceased. (Spoils of War, I wonder?) Max’s wife was Jewish and Max claimed that she was spared from the Gas Chambers because of Hitler’s love of Wagner and Max’s singing of it. It is not certain that Max Lorenz was a Nazi. I doubt that he was. But his close association with the Bayreuth Wagner family brought him into the social circle of Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich.
By 14th August 1971 I was back in London, and had moved into a flat in Sussex Street S.W.1.
Rehearsals were soon to commence for “Pagliacci” and the opera opened at the London Coliseum on the 29th September. The Sadlers Wells Opera Company was now renamed The English National Opera.
In 1971, Kevin returned to Australia for performances of “Pagliacci” (Stephen Hall’s in Sydney) , with the singer playing Nedda, complaining to the management that he was too violent in the role of Canio. “I frightened her, she objected!”, Kevin writes. [Ed.]
Wishing I had stayed on in England in view of the five year Contract that Edward Renton had advised me to accept, I was keen to clarify my position with The Australian Opera. The AO Administrators, had made a promise to me that I would be declared to be a Principal Singer with the Company on my return from my studies in Europe. Now that I had returned, they told me the Company ...were unable to take me on as a Principal! If I wished to remain with the Company I would be required to resume my position as a Chorister in the Australian Opera Chorus! Ironically my so-called Contract that they had used against me to bring me back to Australia was about to expire. I resigned!!
Kevin moved to Brisbane in Queensland and took a position as a Tenor and as a trainee in Opera Administration with The Queensland Opera Company and his new boss to be, John Thompson the Manager of Queensland Opera, arranged for him to obtain work with Twelfth Night Theatre as Stage Director for their production of “Winnie the Pooh”. [Ed.] “Another experience and another string added to my bow!”
From 1974, Kevin again undertook a variety of tasks, from the tenor role of Saint Nicholas in Benjamin Britten’s oratorio “Saint Nicholas” in Brisbane, to presenting that oratorio in Taree, singing the title role while also conducting his City of Greater Taree Choral Society. Then there were Gilbert & Sullivan Operas with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra at Brisbane City Hall; the Watkin Shaw version of “Messiah” with Queensland Symphony Orchestra; several opportunities to sing both the Bass and the Tenor solos in Handel’s “Messiah” between 1974 and 1992. [Ed.]
Eventually I returned to The Australian Opera where I remained for several years. I was granted one month’s ‘leave of absence’ during 1983 to attend the Bayreuther Festspiele in Germany. As a member of the Sydney Wagnerian Society at that time, I was accorded tickets to the Season of Richard Wagner Operas at Bayreuth. Werner Baer and his wife Sybil were our Escorts and the Tour was a wonderful experience for all who participated in it. For the first time I was able to see the entire “Ring Cycle” plus Parsifal and ““The Mastersingers of Nuremberg”. The treasured memory of that occasion will last forever!
My quest to be recognised as a Heldentenor capable of singing principal Wagnerian Roles had by now become eroded. Since my Tannhäuser induction in 1968 there had been many opportunities to sing as a Tenor for almost twenty years. The Australian Opera seemed determined to use me mainly as a principal Understudy. Prior to my trip to Bayreuth in 1983 there was a long list of understudies as well as small parts and occasionally, major ones. Among them were: Arnfelt in “A Masked Ball” 1976, The Innkeeper (Understudy) in “The Cunning Little Vixen” 1976, The Innkeeper, also Marschallin’s Major Domo in “Der Rosencavalier”1976, Fortune Teller in “Lakme” 1976, Messenger in “Aida” 1977. Both Registrar and Goro in “Madam Butterfly”1977 & 1979, Abdullo in “Nabucco” 1978 & 1980.
It was not until 1978 & 1979 that I was involved again in a Wagnerian Opera. This was again “The Mastersingers of Nuremberg” in which I jokingly complied with filling a space on-stage as Eislinger, one of the Mastersingers. He had comparatively little to do, or sing!
I covered the role of Siegfried for the ABC Concert performance of Götterdämmerung at the Sydney Opera House. I almost got the opportunity of singing the role. Another missed opportunity!
After my visit to Bayreuth it was potently clear to me that my work and loyalty to The Australian Opera over nearly twenty years was not about to be rewarded by their further support of any potential that I might have to be a prominent singer of Wagnerian Opera. When setting out on the long career road in pursuit of my original aim to become a leading Operatic Artist, I was unaware of the many deviations and obstructions there were to be encountered along the way. I concluded that there must be another way of life for me to enjoy outside the disciplines and the dedication required of an operatic career. Considering the twilight years now approaching apace, I again tendered my resignation from The Australian Opera on 4th March 1984. Six months’ notice was required, but by mutual agreement the time was reduced to about three months.
I was then offered a position [in 1994] as a Singing Teacher at NASDA (National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art) in Christchurch, New Zealand. I worked with some of that country’s finest young singers in my capacity as Lecturer in Voice and Musical Theatre Repertoire. I returned to Australia in 1997 where, encouraged by my family, I again took up residence in Taree. I remain there today in retirement.
Looking back over more than seventy years, I have not been able to achieve all that I wished to do when I was young and naïve with aspirations to succeed in my chosen quest. There have been many disappointments and ‘bumps’ along the roads I have travelled. But ultimately, I achieved far more than I originally intended or imagined.
At the Manning Entertainment Centre Taree, on the 10th June 2004, during the Manning Valley Festival of Arts 2004, Dame Joan Sutherland made a public presentation to KEVIN MILLS on behalf of Greater Taree City Council. The “Visual and Performing Arts Award” was presented in recognition of his special contributions to Cultural Development in the City of Greater Taree.
The end, and a new beginning.
Kevin Mills, Member
Newsletter 100, June 2005