Moran Caplat

Commander for more than 30 years of 'the good ship Glyndebourne'
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The Independent Online

Moran Victor Hingston Caplat, actor and opera administrator: born Herne Bay, Kent 1 October 1916; Assistant Manager, Glyndebourne Festival Opera 1945-47, Manager 1947-49, General Manager (later General Administrator) 1949-81; CBE 1968; married 1943 Diana Downton (one son, two daughters, and one son deceased); died Tunbridge Wells, Kent 19 June 2003.

On 1 October 1945, his 29th birthday and the day after he left the Navy as a lieutenant-commander, Moran Caplat, to quote his own words, "joined the good ship Glyndebourne". He was to remain on board, first as Assistant Manager to Rudolf Bing, then as Manager, then as General Manager, and finally as General Administrator, until his retirement in 1981.

The son of a French father and an English mother, living in Herne Bay during the First World War, Moran Caplat was educated at Herne Bay College. At the age of 15 he was taken in a school party to see Twelfth Night performed by the Ben Greet Players in the Canterbury Chapter House garden, and became stage-struck. In 1933 he applied successfully to become a student at Rada, where his finest moment was playing the Lion in Androcles and the Lion, his passing-out play, in front of the author, George Bernard Shaw.

Caplat worked at the Margate Rep, then at the Croydon Rep. He toured with Matheson Lang and appeared in a film of the life of Edward Whymper, the great mountaineer. The Challenge (1938) was partly filmed on the slopes of the Matterhorn in Switzerland. He acted in Stephen Spender's first play, Trial of a Judge, at the Unity Theatre in London, and played the Dauphin in a film about Napoleon and Josephine, A Royal Divorce (1938). His last appearances in the theatre were with the Sevenoaks Rep.

In 1938 Caplat, a keen yachtsman, who had taken part in races such as those to Fastnet and La Rochelle, joined the RNVSR, the Royal Navy Volunteer Supplementary or "Yachtsman's" Reserve. In October 1939 he was called up and after only a few days' training at HMS King Alfred in Hove, he was sent to Thurso to join a ship on the Northern Patrol. While on leave at the beginning of June 1940, he sailed from Ramsgate to Dunkirk in a paddle steamer to help in the evacuation of the British army. He next went to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to collect one of the old US destroyers offered to the Royal Navy, and for a while was on convoy escort duty in the North Atlantic.

Transferring to submarines, Caplat joined HMS Tempest, and sailed for the Mediterranean. There the Tempest was sunk by an Italian torpedo boat, and he was taken prisoner. While in a camp in Tuscany he directed Twelfth Night. He was eventually repatriated to Britain via Port Said and Cairo. In July 1943 he was appointed to the submarine Tradewind, but six months later moved to a shore establishment and spent the rest of the war in administration. He was waiting to be demobilised when he received a letter from Glyndebourne (where his uncle by marriage was estate manager) offering him a job as Assistant Manager.

Glyndebourne, the opera house built in Sussex by John Christie for his wife, Audrey Mildmay, a singer, had opened in 1934. It was run by the conductor Fritz Busch and the director Carl Ebert, both refugees from Nazi Germany, and they were joined in 1936 by Rudolf Bing, who became General Manager. During the war years Bing had a job with the John Lewis Partnership, but by 1945 he had opened a London office for Glyndebourne. It was here that Caplat was interviewed and given the job of Assistant Manager. Bing was already planning the Edinburgh International Festival, and in 1947 he left Glyndebourne, and Caplat became Manager.

By this time the English Opera Group had already presented Benjamin Britten's chamber opera The Rape of Lucretia in 1946 at the Sussex opera house with Kathleen Ferrier in the title role. Albert Herring followed in 1947. The Glyndebourne company appeared at the Edinburgh Festival, but not at Glyndebourne itself until 1950, when 14 performances of two operas were given. Moran Caplat was now firmly settled in as General Manager. Carl Ebert remained as Artistic Director until 1960, when the conductor Vittorio Gui as Head of Music, and the director Gunther Rennert as Head of Production, became Joint Artistic Counsellors. By then the number of performances had risen to 70 of six operas.

Caplat, meanwhile, had had to arrange visits abroad as well as to Edinburgh. In 1954 Glyndebourne took its immensely successful production of Rossini's La Cenerentola to Berlin. In 1958 the company took Verdi's Falstaff and Rossini's Le Comte Ory to Paris; in 1967 Glyndebourne visited Scandinavia. The tour opened in Drottningholm, near Stockholm, with Don Giovanni and Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto, both perfectly suited to the 18th-century theatre; the circus then moved to Oslo, to Gothenburg and finally to Copenhagen. Two years later Glyndebourne took Cavalli's L'Ormindo to the Cuvilliéstheater in Munich.

Caplat's maternal great-grandfather Ebenezer Hingston had been stage manager of the St James's Theatre in London. Later he became lessee and manager of the Opéra-Comique in the Strand. Caplat no doubt inherited some of Ebenezer's skills - very useful at Glyndebourne, where he had to deal with sometimes temperamental singers and conductors, though, according to his 1985 autobiography Dinghies to Divas (alternately titled "Comedy on the Bridge: some memoirs of a compulsive sailor in troubled waters"), stage carpenters could be just as temperamental as leading sopranos.

On 1 October 1981, his 65th birthday, Caplat "stepped down from the bridge of Glyndebourne". John Christie had been succeeded by his son George; all Caplat's contemporaries had either died or retired. But the ship he had commanded for 32 years and its company were, again in his own words, "in good nick to continue the long voyage".

Elizabeth Forbes

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