Now a sprightly 86, Australian tenor Robert Gard looks back on filming the role of Aschenbach for Tony Palmer.

It was back in 1976 that Peter Pears first asked Tony Palmer to film Benjamin Britten’s final opera with its original cast, if possible, in Venice. By the time the film director got around to it in 1980, however, Pears had suffered a stroke and things were far from plain sailing. Step up Robert Gard, Australian character tenor of the moment, who had just played the role in Adelaide to considerable acclaim. “I got the call at the end of the year”, Gard remembers. “Peter was going to be incapacitated for a while and would I come and help with the recording. The idea was that I wouldn’t be recorded but I would sing the role for the other artists to bounce off. It was a great experience – I saw a lot of old chums and I met John Shirley-Quirk who was so charming and such a lovely companion. I was there at Christmas and thought that was the end of that.”

By June the following year the situation changed. Gard relates the story: “Unfortunately Sir Peter didn’t think...

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