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TRIBUTE TO LAWRENCE FOLLEY (article first published : 2007-01-19)

James Conrad, former artistic director of opera for the Natal Performing Arts Council (now the Playhouse Company), pays tribute to the late Lawrence Folley who has been described as one of the greatest baritones South Africa has produced (see separate article):

“I first met Lawry in 1965 when I joined the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company from Germany. Once a week on a Wednesday, I had to fly up to wherever the Sadler’s Wells company was - like Leeds or Bradford - to sing the one dramatic tenor role of their week’s repertoire. So the strange situation arose that we became very good friends and he heard me sing once a week and I never heard him sing.

He, however, fixed my board and lodging every week because he was into the network of digs, as it was called. I specially remember one evening in Glasgow when he turned up with me at the digs and the landlady said: ”Oh, not another giant! Where am I going to get another big bed from?”

I then returned to South Africa to NAPAC in Durban and received a phone call about two years later – 1969 – from Professor Leo Quayle to say: Did I know one Lawrence Folley and would I recommend him to sing the role of Baron du Phol in Traviata?” I said to him: “Are you flying him out for this occasion?” And he said” “No, he’s coming back to South Africa to settle here.”

So, my advice to Professor Quayle was” “Give him a long contract before anyone else hears him!”

Lawrence immediately became a star baritone. He was equally at home in operettas – playing the roles of Eisenstein in Der Fledermaus and Danilo in The Merry Widow. But his great forte was the big Verdi baritone roles. For my tastes, I think his greatest role was Falstaff in Verdi’s Falstaff.

For us here in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), he could only sing very rarely when he wasn’t tied up with PACT but we were lucky enough to have him - amongst other things - as Tonio as I Pagliacci where he brought the house down every night after the prologue. I remember Sergei Baigilden, the guest tenor from Russia who was singing the tenor part of Kanio, saying: “How the hell do you follow an act like that?”

South Africa was lucky that Lawrence returned home when he was in his absolute prime and had a career here spanning 30 years plus. He saved us a fortune in foreign exchange! I shudder to think what it would have cost if we had had to engage guest baritones for the roles he sang.

I was lucky to see him last January on a short visit when we had a small soiree at my daughter’s house and Lawry still sang Some Enchanted Evening. He will be sorely missed.” – James Conrad




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