We sadly lost June this Friday night, so posting a few photos of her in the glory days of Sadler's Wells/ENO. There's also a photo of us all together at Santore in May 2011, a track somebody had posted on Youtube of June singing, and an article from the Hounslow Guardian in May 2005 which gives good insight into her character.
There's also been an obituary for her published in the Guardian here:
When I first met Ava June I
knew she was somebody. She had rung the newspaper to say her neighbour of many
years was turning 100, and could the paper come and take a picture of him with
Twice a week Ava June brings together an elderly
couple, her long-time Mereway Road neighbours, Douglas and Hilda Barton, now
that Douglas lives in a care home.
Speaking with her on that first occasion, I
started to realise that she had travelled extensively.
"I used to be an opera singer," she
said, relieving my curiosity. Then she quickly switched back to the subject of
Turns out, Ava June used to be an international
opera singer. As principal soprano with Sadler's Wells Opera Company, company
principal with the English National Opera, a regular with the Royal Opera
House, the Scottish Opera and the Welsh National Opera. she has sung in famous
roles all over the world.
"I could always sing," says Ava,
reflecting on the childhood she spent growing up in Poplar, East London.
"My mother was a tailoress and my father
worked for Johnny Walker whisky, so singing was not really in the family."
After leaving school at 14 for a brief stint as
a theatre dressmaker in London's West End, at 16 she started having her voice
trained by Kate Opperman.
"She was the founder of my voice,"
says Ava. Kate taught and trained her for five years.
Then Ava started working with Joan Cross, an imposing
figure in the opera world.
Pointing towards Joan's portrait amongst the
several framed images of mentors on the wall, she says: "She was the first
person to introduce me to the roles of Benjamin Britten. She was a very special
The London Coliseum, says Ava, is her favourite
theatre with regard to performing.
She says: "I love going into that theatre
again. It is truly a fantastic theatre. The Royal Opera House is beautiful as
Sadler's Wells Theatre holds a special place in
her heart, as she started out there in 1953 as a 19-year-old singing in the
chorus. Things quickly progressed for thereafter: "They gave me La
Traviata," Ava adds.
Leaving Sadler's Wells, she went on to join the
English Opera Group where she was a company principal for 13 years. Recently,
Sadler's Wells Opera Company re-released two CDs featuring Ava June Verdi's La
Traviata, and Smetana's The Bartered Bride.
The walls in her quiet Twickenham home reveal a
life dominated by the arts.
There are paintings of Ava from the 1960s,
rendered in the sleek and stylish simplicity of that era, next to detailed
charcoal sketches of entire operatic casts in full costume.
She says: "I have sung at nearly every
theatre in the country. We used to take the company on tour, it was quite an
"We had good times, we worked hard."
This leads on to an expert's observation of opera singers today compared with
the old-school performers of her era.
Ava says: "Singers now do not realise how
much work there is to do in what it is they think they decided to do.
"It takes seven to eight years to train a
voice. The voice, it not only has to come from the vocal chords but from the
body. You have to train to support the voice.
"When a performer approaches an opera, she
has to study it from the very beginning, not only the music but the person she
is portraying, the people around her, her theatre costume.
"She has to fall in it, walk in it, sleep
in it. It is a complicated study and it is all very important.
"It is a dedicated life. Opera is not the
same as it used to be. The company in those days, in the 1970s and 80s, was
entirely different to what it is now, we were like a team.
"It was very special in the early days, we
all worked very hard, very disciplined people. Our lives were shut up in what
we were doing.
"Life has changed, it is a lot faster.
Everybody wants everything yesterday. But things cannot stay as they are,
everything has to advance."
Looking through a stack of old snapshots of Ava,
I get a glimpse at the drama and glamour that once fashioned herlife as she
tells me: "This was me in my 30s. And here I am in my 40s.
"They were all wonderful parts. I have met
a great deal of people and I have had a wonderful life."
Her favourite career moment was winning the gold
medal at the 1963 International Competition for Young Opera Singers in Sofia,
Bulgaria. She was 32 years old.
She says: "My life is really quite dull
now. I miss it, my opera."
Happily, she tacks on that she still sings at
her church, Spiritualist Mission in Notting Hill Gate, and confesses: "I
am working harder now than I ever have done."
Currently Ava's weekly work schedule consists of
directing a choir of senior citizens for the University of the Third Age
"for people who are retired up until 100 years old if you like",
teaching singing to professionals in private sessions in a London Studio,
travelling once a week to Christ Church University in Canterbury to teach, and
working with Stars Organisation Supporting Cerebral Palsy.
"I do not have any spare time. My life is
with music, teaching and singing, and I try to help as many people as I
can," she says.
In 1982, Ava June's husband, David Cooper, died
of a brain haemorrhage.
"One minute he was there, then he was
gone," she says, with pauses that reveal a broken heart not yet mended.
"He was 47, I was 47." At that time
she was still at the English National Opera. Having lost her husband so
suddenly, Ava June became ill and could hardly walk.
"A friend of mine said to me, why don't you
come to my church? I went that Sunday and I have been going ever since."
The Spiritual Mission church helped Ava June
regain her health and strength.
After deciding to move away from Kensington,
having shared a flat there with her husband for so many years, Ava chose
Mereway Road near Twickenham Green by driving around London in her car until she found a place where she
"People here are very friendly, very
helpful to one another. Mereway Road is a good road, even if it is near the
As her singing career had been winding down at
that point, she made the decision to leave the English National Opera in 1984
and began coaching young professionals there.
Ava June's teaching and performance CVs read
equally as impressive.
Over the years she has worked at so many
prestigious institutions, including the Royal College of Music, Trinity College
of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music, where she has been a
professor for 14 years.
One summer evening a few years before he died,
Ava June's husband, an architectural engineer, told her to get ready, because
he was going to take her somewhere special.
She recalls: "We left our flat at about 10
at night and went to a little square near St Paul's where there were benches
and a tree in the middle.
"He knew London so well because of his job.
He said to me, Now we'll sit down right here for a little while.' We sat there
and waited, I was wondering what we were waiting for.
"Finally a nightingale started to sing. It
was truly special. Buses and taxis were going by and with all that noise you
could still hear that voice."
We met up with Fi, Grae and Harvey for a bit of a wander around the stalls and shops in the market. Luckily it was a nice dry and warmish day, with lots of people out, and even street musicians out (probably the first time this year!). We stopped for lunch at The Hawley Arms, where Harvey finished off the large Fish Finger sandwich, before taking on a chocolate waffle in the market. We stopped off at a couple of pubs on the way back to the station, where Harvey did a bit of drawing.
Cathrine and her Mum Lena are staying with us at the moment along with Hedda and Trym. On Saturday we took Hedda and Trym over Valentine's Park to feed the squirrels and play in the park, which was fun as usual.