Australian tenor Robert Gard, whose career spanned almost six decades, died on Saturday aged 93.
“It is with sadness that I received the news of Robert Gard’s passing,” Opera Australia Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini said in a statement. “Bob was an esteemed tenor with the Australian Opera for many years and was a wonderful colleague. His comedic gifts were legendary. I send my condolences to his family.”
Born in Cornwall, England, in 1927, Gard studied at the Guildhall School of Music with Dino Borgioli, whose students also included Australian soprano June Bronhill.
“Bob came to Australia in 1960 with a tour of The Merry Widow and returned to star in a production of Lock Up Your Daughters in Melbourne in 1961,” conductor Brian Castles-Onion said in a statement for Opera Australia. “This was followed by roles in Kismet, Once Upon a Mattress and Showboat before he was invited to join Opera Australia in 1963. Bob was immediately welcomed into the Australian operatic community.”
What followed was an incredible string of roles for Opera Australia between the 1960s and his final performance for the company in 2008, including roles in new Australian operas such as Richard Meale and David Malouf’s Voss, and Alan John and Dennis Watkins’ The Eighth Wonder.
He performed in operas for other Australian companies, including Much Ado About Nothing, La Belle Hélène, The Grand Adventure, Orpheus in the Underworld, Death in Venice, Regarding Faustus, The Emperor of Atlantis, Die Frau Ohne Schatten and Trial by Jury, as well as Titanic the Musical.
“He appeared in the early ABC television opera broadcasts of The Devil Take Her, Manon, Louise and The Fall of the House of Usher,” Castles-Onion said. “His appearance as Aschenbach in the feature film of Britten’s Death in Venice was a highlight in his illustrious career.
Gard replaced Peter Pears in the film, who was unable to do the film due to ill health. Gard spoke to Limelight’s Clive Paget about the role in 2013. “Aschenbach sings about his loss of a wife and daughter and that happened to me also – a daughter in 1970 and my wife died in 1980. The whole thing was right for me,” he said. “I did it on stage here in about 1990. I thought they were my best performances.”
“Those of us who knew and worked with Bob remember his charm, friendship and infectious humour,” Castles-Onion said. “At times, it was difficult not to be distracted by his sense of fun in the rehearsal room – let alone on stage. Audiences adored him. He radiated charm with the strength of a lighthouse beacon. He lit up a room on entry and it remained shining during his stay. Indeed, Bob was the master of the ‘entrance’. At the quickly organised rehearsal of singers who had worked with Joan Sutherland (assembled to sing the Nabucco Chorus at her State Memorial), we were already several minutes into the music-call when the door flung open revealing Bob in full splendiferous pose ready for his entrance applause. He got it!”
“His career covered almost everything from opera, operetta, musicals, television, film and lasted almost six decades,” Castles-Onion said. “His affinity with the operas of Britten, combined with a Leading Man status in operetta, brilliance in character roles along with his excursions as a Wagnerian tenor displayed his total command of his art. We remember him for so many things. We loved him. He is in our hearts.”