David Hughes Pop Star to Opera Star
Introducing DAVID HUGHES: David Hughes was a pop idol in the 1950s who became a celebrated opera singer. David was born Geoffrey Paddison on October 11th 1925 in Birmingham and affectionately used his father’s name, David Hughes Paddison, as a stage name. After being demobbed from the RAF in 1947 David began a career in singing. Record contracts and television shows made him a household name by the end of the 1950's. His fans fondly called him Mr. Heart-Throb. He made a brave decision early in the 1960s to switch to singing in operas. The end of the 1960s established David Hughes in the opera world. Amongst his performances were Idomeneo at Glyndebourne, Don Jose in Carmen with the Welsh and English National Opera Companies and in Verdi’s Requiem in Genoa, Italy. In October 1972 David collapsed on stage while performing Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly. He revived and went on to complete the performance but died in hospital the following day of a heart attack. Click on the musical notes to hear David sing “None Shall Sleep Tonight”.
David was an extremely handsome man who was health conscious in terms of food, non-smoking and being teetotal. Despite all of this, in the summer of 1961, he suffered his first heart attack. David was working very hard, his wife was pregnant with their third child and the illness was a disaster personally and professionally. There is a history of heart disease in the family, my Grandfather died in his fifties, but this was a total shock for everyone. David was just 36 years old.
It is tempting to look back at this time as a necessary event in David’s life; one that was to stop him in his tracks and set his life upon a different course. David was a philosophical man, intelligent, honest and spiritual. He had earned his place as a well-liked and talented singer. I don’t believe it was enough for David or ever could have been. He yearned for further training to take the ‘pop-star’ into the realms of opera. Cruel as it was, recovering from the heart attack gave him time to review his life, his work and his aspirations. Supported by his wife, his family, fellow musicians and many friends David decided to strive for a career in opera.
The transition period took many months. It was a very hard time for his wife and their three young children. David knew that singing opera would put extra strain on his heart and threaten his life expectancy. The family were worried. It was so clearly his destiny, however, so obviously part of the man.
David trained and studied tirelessly until he developed the glorious tenor voice that was his gift. He mastered the languages needed to perform the operatic roles he craved. He recorded a range of wonderful music, which thankfully has been released as CDs in the last few years. In July 1964 David was given the role of the High Priest in Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo’ with the Glyndebourne Opera Company.
I was invited down to Glyndebourne. It was my sixteenth birthday and I could have not had a more memorable one. David had rented a perfect country cottage for the season. My Grandmother had been staying with him for several weeks. It must have been wonderful for her, but for David it must have been a significant start to his dream. He arranged everything for us at the opera house; the performance, strawberries and cream on the lawn the whole experience. I was just a teenager with a head full of 60s music. He was patient, considerate and interested in us all. He gave me a very precious memory. That was typical of him.
David achieved so much in what was to be a short life. The Welsh and English National Opera Companies welcomed him and David was established in the roles of Don Jose (over 100 performances!) and Pinkerton amongst other major roles. David was thrilled to travel with Sir John Barbirolli to perform the Verdi Requiem in Italy and other concerts in exciting cities. He must have been so very happy.
The story of this wonderful man with a glorious voice ended in October 1972. Busily rehearsing Pagliacci, he was asked to take over the role of Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly at the London Coliseum while the lead tenor was indisposed. Although busy he agreed. He collapsed after a performance there and died of heart failure shortly afterwards in hospital. Fortunately his wife was at the performance that night and able to accompany him to hospital. David was 47 years old. A memorial service was held at St. Paul’s, Covent Garden. Associates sang music from his favourite operas and his friend Pete Murray read the eulogy. Family and friends were stunned. There is a plaque for David Hughes in the Musicians Chapel of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in London.●