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Obituary: Eduardo Asquez

EDUARDO ASQUEZ had a short career as an operatic tenor, but he became far better known, and will certainly be remembered, as an inspired singing teacher. During nearly four decades, he taught two generations of British singers, as well as many from other European countries, the Commonwealth and the United States.

The bond between singing teacher and pupil is a particularly close one, and often lasts long after the student has achieved public success. Asquez appears to have retained the trust and affection of his ex-students for even longer than usual.

Although born in La Linea, Spain, Asquez held a British passport all his life. His British grandfather was named Asquith and "Asquez" was the nearest Castilian equivalent. The family moved to Casablanca, where Eduardo was educated, and where he attended the Conservatoire. While still in his teens he sang Nadir, the tenor lead in Bizet's Les Pecheurs de perles, and other roles.

In the late Thirties he went to Paris to study further, and was caught there by the outbreak of the Second World War. During the German occupation he was interned, presumably because of his British passport. After the war he went to Gibraltar, to continue his interrupted career.

In the Fifties Asquez came to Britain, and joined the Carl Rosa Opera Company, which at that time toured throughout the UK. His roles included Gounod's Faust, Rodolpho in La Boheme and the Duke in Rigoletto, which he sung at Sadler's Wells Theatre in July 1956, during the Carl Rosa's annual visit to London.

That year he also sang Edmond in Puccini's Manon Lescaut. In April 1957 he appeared as Francesco, an artisan in Cellini's workshop, in Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini, as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, a role he repeated at Sadler's Wells the following April. Later in 1958 the Carl Rosa closed down, after the withdrawal of its Arts Council subsidy.

Among the roles he sang in London, I remember particularly his credibly youthful Edmond, the student who has a cameo part in the first act of Manon Lescaut, in which he made an excellent impression, and his Don Ottavio, which was nicely sung, though it did not make much dramatic impact - but then very few Don Ottavios manage to achieve that. Asquez's stage career was not quite over, however, as in April 1960 he sang the Italian Chef in the Frank Loesser musical The Most Happy Fella, which ran for 288 performances at the London Coliseum.

Asquez was barely 40 when he started teaching, first in the Weekes Studios in Conduit Street, behind Regent Street, in the West End of London, then in the London Music Club, and finally at Ewell in Surrey. His pupils include Marie Collier, the Australian soprano whose untimely death at the age of 45 deprived the opera stage of one of its finest, most attractive singers. Other highly gifted sopranos who studied with him were Pauline Tinsley and Valerie Masterson, both with long, varied and extremely successful careers behind them; Rosalind Plowright and Vivian Tierney, who are currently at the peak of their careers, as is the American mezzo Kathleen Kuhlmann.

Neil Archer and Patrick Power (from New Zealand) are two of the tenors who studied with Asquez while the baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore has won tremendous admiration over the last few years, both in Britain and overseas. Looking for a common denominator in these very different, individual singers, I can only find one, but that is of huge importance: they all share a respect for the musical and dramatic values of the roles they sing. Collier's Tosca, Tinsley's Elektra, Masterson's Manon, Plowright's Aida, Tierney's Gutrune, Kuhlmann's Carmen, Archer's Tamino, Power's Cavaradossi and Michaels-Moore's Hamlet are all memorable, not merely for the fine vocal abilities shown by the singers, but for their integrity. They, and many, many more can stand as Eduardo Asquez's memorial.

Eduardo Asquez, operatic tenor and singing teacher: born La Linea, Spain 7 June 1919; died Paisley, Renfrewshire 20 September 1998.