OBITUARIES Don White

"Yorkshire pudding, Toad in the Hole, Shepherd's Pie - with real shepherds!" as Jim Cocks, seaman from Bristol turned chef to cannibals, so eloquently phrased it in Don White's translation of Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe. White, an illustrious figure in advertising, first as copywriter, then as creative director, started his career in Australia, before moving to London, where he won many awards, including the Sunday Times Prize for Script Writer. He became involved with opera in 1970, when he co-founded Opera Rara with Patric Schmid. White became general administrator of the organisation, dedicated to reviving and recording obscure operas by Donizetti, Mercadante and other early 19th-century composers.

In 1972 White inaugurated a series of brilliant translations, mainly from Italian and French comic operas, with Donizetti's Le convenienze Teatrale staged at the Camden Festival as The Primadonna's Mother is a Drag. This outrageous farce was followed in 1973 by an equally funny but much more subtle version of Robinson Crusoe, also staged for the Camden Festival. This production proved enormously popular, and was revived by the London Opera Centre at Sadler's Wells in 1974, and later recorded. In 1983 Kent Opera produced Robinson Crusoe in White's translation, with equal success; in 1988 it turned up at the Guildhall School of Music. White also made delightful translations of Offenbach's Le Chanson de Fortunio for Abbey Opera and Prince Joseph Poniatowski's Au travers du Mur, originally given at Hintlesham and later revived at the French Institute in London.

White next turned his hand to writing an original libretto. In 1876, the centenary of American Independence, Offenbach had visited New York and other cities in the US, conducting operas and concerts. He was asked to compose a new work especially for America, but never found the time. To celebrate the bicentenary in 1976, Opera Rara provided that "new" piece, with music taken from Offenbach's La Bote au lait and several other scores, set to a libretto by Don White entitled Christopher Columbus. In his version, Columbus is washed ashore on Manhattan Island, where he marries Princess Minnehaha and discovers - not gold, but something equally valuable, the coca-cola nut, a "lump of liquid happiness".

Columbus was premiered at the Ulster Hall in Belfast and then given a performance in London, where it was repeated the following year, before arriving for its US premiere in Minnesota.

Meanwhile Opera Rara was producing up to four recordings a year. Donizetti's Ugo, conte di Parigi, Maria Padilla, Gabriella di Vergy, Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth, Rosmonda d'Inghilterra and other operas, many receiving their British premieres, were given concert performances and recorded. White was responsible for the excellent booklets and texts that accompanied the recordings. Cimarosa's Gli Orazi e i curiazi was staged by Opera Rara for Camden Festival in 1981, while the same year White translated the dialogues of Supp's Zehn Mdchen und kein Mann which, as Ten Belles Without a Ring, was an uproarious success at the Guildhall School of Music. In 1982 he translated Donizetti's one-acter La romanzera, a skit on a lady novelist updated to the 1920s, with a heroine resembling Elinor Glin. This was double-billed with the same composer's Francesca di Foix at Camden.

Throughout his life Don White travelled widely, especially in Asia, for which he conceived a passion. Around 1990 he retired from advertising and went to live in Manila. He continued as general administrator of Opera Rara, which is at present preparing a recording of Rossini's Ricciardo e Zoraide and which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Elizabeth Forbes

Donald Edwin White, librettist and opera administrator: born London 14 November 1935; died Manila, Philippines 30 April 1995.

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