Another cluster of New Zealand singers were prominent in the great opera houses of the world during the 1960s.
A singer of stature
Opera singers are often large, but Noel Mangin was particularly so – he was 1.9 metres tall, had a chest measurement of 138 centimetres and weighed around 124 kilograms. When he first met the imposing Australian soprano Joan Sutherland, she is reputed to have said, ‘How marvellous. For once I meet someone who makes me feel small!’1
Wellingtonian Noel Mangin (1931–95) turned down an offer from the Paris Opera in 1963 in favour of a three-year contract with Sadler’s Wells in London. Following that, he sang in Prague, at La Scala in Milan, at Glyndebourne in England and at the New York City Opera before taking up the position of principal bass with the Hamburg State Opera in Germany, where he stayed for 10 years. From 1977 on, Mangin sang regularly with the Victoria State Opera in Australia, while maintaining a strong presence in Europe.
As a 21-year-old mezzo-soprano, Nelson-born Heather Begg (1932–2009) auditioned to be part of the National Opera of Australia’s tour of New Zealand in 1954. She was offered three principal roles, including the demanding Azucena in Verdi’s Il trovatore. In 1957 she set off with a New Zealand government bursary for a period of study in London, and in 1959 made her debut at Covent Garden in Wagner’s Die walküre. Superb singing underpinned by brilliant comic acting soon brought her engagements with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden, all in London. In 1964 she returned to New Zealand for three years and starred in the New Zealand Opera Company production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola. In 1969 Begg went back to London, becoming a principal at Covent Garden in 1971. In 1976 Richard Bonynge persuaded her to accept a principal’s position at the Australian Opera, where she was eventually to sing over 40 major roles.
After gaining considerable stage experience in Australia and New Zealand, tenor Peter Baillie was offered a contract by the Vienna Volksoper in 1966. He stayed with the company for 22 years, performing a vast number of roles, touring to other parts of Europe and Japan, and occasionally accepting guest engagements in London, Glyndebourne, Wexford and elsewhere.