Opera Scotland

Ivor Klayman, versatile baritone

Posted 29 Apr

Ivor Klayman is a talented baritone (and lawyer), who has been around the musical world in Edinburgh for many years, and he has some fascinating memories and reflections. Opera Scotland talked with him about his varied singing career.

I keep on saying to my friend George "I owe all my career (such as it is) to you". If he hadn't suggested we join the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group in first year in 1963, I don't know if I would ever have done much more than sing in the bath.

My introduction to singing Mozart came when I sang in the chorus of Marriage of Figaro with Opera Da Camera . The following year we did Don Giovanni and I understudied Masetto with Dougie Burke, who with his wife still does some singing in the SCO chorus. It's a very incestuous world Edinburgh. Then I auditioned for the role of Belcore in L’Elisir d’Amore which they did the following year and that was my first principal role in opera. Alan Suttie was conductor and during the week before the show we had rehearsals and for no reason I can understand I sang in a whisper, (it was probablyfrom nerves), but I was OK for the week of the show.

I was purloined by somebody who was repetting for Edinburgh Grand Opera to come and audition for Silvano in Ballo in Maschera, . I learned the audition piece and got the gig. I didn't realise that Silvano had to come back and sing with the chorus later on so that was a rush job learning that! I came in very late. Neville Garden who ran it didn't really audition people - he tended to select people. He selected me to sing Plunket in Marta which was very interesting then Macbeth which was even more interesting and I just sort of fell into roles with them and here and there.

In fact, Edinburgh University had an opera club. It didn't start till after you'd left I think.

That’s right I think but I got involved with it some years later. We did Les Indes Galantes by Rameau, Don Procopio by Bizet, where one of my colleagues was Brian Bannatyne Scott, now well known around the world but rather neglected at home, Sir John in Love by Vaughn Williams, where one of my colleagues was Christopher Bell, now better known as a conductor and chorus master, and various concerts.

There were quite a few companies on the go at the time, I think.

It got very complicated. The Edinburgh Opera Company began at the end of the 19th century and continued up to the fifties. They used to provide the chorus and substructure and buy in professionals for the major roles. Neville wanted to have an opera company where everyone was amateur and so there was a schism and he and Isobel went off to form Edinburgh Grand Opera (with Richard Telfer in 1955) and the Edinburgh Opera Company kept going for a few years, but it fell on hard times and vanished.

Another company called Opera Camerata started up and Neil Mantle was conducting that. It was actually founded in 1983 under the name of "Sinfonia Opera" by Neil & his then wife Inga. The company's aim was, and still is, to put on productions of small-scale operas suitable for the Church Hill Theatre. Its first production was Mozart's Don Giovanni. In fact, my wife sang in two or three of their productions while Neil was in charge, and then it changed hands and my wife and I did a number of shows with them – in Gianni Schicchi I was Schicchi and she was Lauretta. Someone came up to her afterwards and said to her "I did so enjoy your performance, it must be wonderful working with your real father".

I understand you performed at Ledlanet?

Yes. I also remember seeing Il re pastore (Oct 1968) with Philip Langridge, Jill Gomez and Richard Angas. I remember particularly Philip Langridge's gold kilt, which was very short - with gold underpants too.

I can't remember how I was recruited. I sat next to Neil Allan, in the basses (a procurator fiscal, the legal connection being purely coincidence) and he was a very good sight reader so he kept me right. The conductor was James Loughran. Most of the chorus were recruited from amateur opera societies. I think we rehearsed in Boroughmuir School Hall. The first year we did the Vivaldi Gloria - it was a big adventure for me. I'd never done anything like it and going up to Ledlanet was quite an interesting trek in those days, in my old car.

I don't remember much about the house, but the performing area had a parquet floor. The staircase branched like a Y with a gallery above and we sang spread out in the stairs and the orchestra was on the flat.

I think it was the following year that we did the Mozart Vespers and one of the soloists was Josephine McQueen then performing in Scottish Opera as was Peter Morrison, later famous as a singer of light song. I recall Josie McQueen coming exhausted from whatever Scottish Opera were doing. She said she was knackered and she went off to bed, lying down for the rest of the day and then came down and sang Exultate Jubilate beautifully without rehearsal.

As for Edinburgh Grand, I first sang with Edinburgh Grand in 1968 and apart from two years off for various reasons I've sung with them ever since.

One year off was when we got married when they did La boheme and Frank Carroll was the baritone, and one year when they did Cav and Pag.  I went along to the audition, and said “I've got a cyst on one of my vocal chords so I don't know if I can sing”. It was strange because I found I couldn't sing around a C. They arranged an operation, I went along for a pre-examination and the damn thing had gone. It was very strange because I had to relearn how to sing and things worked quite differently for a while. Apart from that I think have done every season since 1968 and that's going back a bit.

From other sources, we hear EGO have not found it easy?

The company put on a number of big productions in the last 10 years, which haemorrhaged money. Queen of Spades in 2002 was I think was the thing that destroyed the bank balance of some £20,000 credit basically, and brought it down to about the same debit and it's been an uphill struggle ever since.

Have you ever been involved in the management side?

I was on the committee for many years and I chaired it for three years when Christopher Bell was the Music Director which was interesting.

I think enthusiastic management is often to blame for deficits, something shared with professional companies. Most of the problems are due to an inability to say no to doubling, or there was a lot of money spent on sets and costumes and stuff.

I have a friend who sings in the Welsh National Opera chorus and I remember we were going to go down and see their Peter Grimes. As it happened we couldn't go. He phoned me up and talked to me about the production, and Peter Stein. WNO spent £40,000 building the set specified. Stein came in and said "I don't like it, take it down - build me another one" and so they had to junk £40,000 of set and build another one. And so it's not just in the amateur sphere.

Do you go to opera for pleasure?

Not as often as I could and not as often as I should. It's like the Festival Chorus. I have sung with the chorus, apart from a couple of seasons off for various reasons from April 1970. The performance season for choral societies and so on tends to be up to March or April, starting again in September, so there's nothing much happening in the summer.

I originally joined the Festival Chorus at a friend’s suggestion but apart from the high standard of performance and the chance to work with international stars,  it keeps me singing during the summer. If I didn’t have something like that I would probably not do any singing at all for three or four months a year, which is not terrific.

Once I see an opera production I really enjoy I rarely go back, particularly if it's the same production because you often feel it wasn't as good this time as last time .

I'm a bit of a stick in the mud. I've never actually seen the point of updating stuff. It's all very well, the ”Gangster” Rigoletto by Jonathan Miller or Scottish Opera's Tosca. They were very good but I'm not sure that it added anything to set Tosca, for instance, in the Mussolini era. It's still the same opera. I've no great thing for wigs and frock coats - but I prefer a piece to be left alone by directors. It’s the singing that’s the important part for me..

Looking back over your singing career what strikes you as the best productions you were involved with?

One that stands out in my mind is Edinburgh Grand Opera's 40th anniversary production, Peter Grimes, in 1996 which was a phenomenal production by a then staff producer at Scottish Opera. We hoped he would come back but he got a 'proper' job elsewhere. Also we had as Grimes, a very young Ian Storey who was singing chorus and small parts with Scottish Opera at the time. He’s done well!

Thanks, Ivor!

Check out some of Ivor's roles here, then listen to Ivor talking about the start of his singing career.

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