Grandfather: Paris 1919

(For background on Grandfather, please find 'Grandfather' on the browse drop-down menu and click through to the Slovenia story).

He and the stranger banged on the Opera’s stage door and demanded to see me as I was changing out of my costume after the rehearsal. They asked me for tickets: ‘I was Secretary of the Ashby Musical Society when we hired you for a performance before the war,’ he said. I remembered the concert but not the man, but it would have made no difference: ‘I can’t get you tickets, I’m afraid’.

Paris was full of soldiers, like these two, and full of people attending the Peace Conference at Versailles. The National Opera was staging a one-off performance of ‘Faust’ for the Conference delegates. The performance was a sell-out; everyone wanted tickets, there were none to be had. The two young soldiers’ disappointment was palpable, and I had an idea. Many of the men in the Opera’s Chorus had been killed in the War or had not yet been demobilised, so there was a shortage. I arranged an audition. They passed.

Instead of getting a ticket to watch the sell-out show of the year, these two British soldiers sang in the Paris Opera Chorus. Afterwards, as the chorus master paid the stranger his twelve francs I heard him suggest the truth: ‘your ambitions may be better directed at the church choir than the Paris Opera’. 


[As an interesting footnote: when Grandfather was on Desert Island Discs in 1956 he chose the Paris Opera singing Faust as one of his eight pieces of music.]