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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future