1st-person exclusive: The tenor who disappeared.

Six years ago, Julian Gavin was one of the busiest operatic tenors on the circuit, popular with colleagues and audiences alike. He caused a stir by withdrawing from Calixto Bieito’s toilet-singing Ballo in 2002, calling it ‘an act of artistic vandalism’. He made his Vienna debut as Don José in Carmen took over in Don Carlos from Roberto Alagna and made it his calling-card. He was a stalwart at English National Opera and Opera Australia. His diary was full of work for years ahead. And then he disappeared.

Now Julian tells the full story of what happened to him here for the first time. He wrote this article during nine weeks of renewed treatment at the National Hospital for Neurology in London. We salute his courage.

Don Carlos - Verdi
Opera North
Grand Theatre Leeds 090430

Don Carlos -  JULIAN GAVIN **
Elisabeth - JANICE WATSON 
Monk -  ROBERT WINSLADE ANDERSON   
Rodrigo -  WILLIAM DAZELEY         
King Philip - BRINDLEY SHERRATT             
Eboli - JANE DUTTON            
Grand Inquisitor - CLIVE BAYLEY          
Thibault - JULIA SPORSÉN       
Voice from Heaven - REBECCA RYAN        
Flemish Deputies - GRANT DOYLE,  JULIAN CLOSE , STEPHEN RICHARDSON,   RICCARDO SIMONETTI         
Royal Herald - GRAHAM RUSSELL
Count Lerma - STEPHEN BRIGGS
Countess of Aremberg - VICTORIA SHARP
Victims -  Actors 

Conductor - RICHARD FARNES
Assistant Conductor - ALEXANDER INGRAM
Director - TIM ALBERY
Set Designer - HILDEGARD BECHTLER
Original Costume designer - NICKY GILLIBRAND
Associate costume designer - STEPHEN RODWELL
Lighting Designer - CHARLIE EDWARDS
Translation - ANDREW PORTER

 

I remember the moment that I first learnt the significance of these three letters, ABI, and their specific application to my circumstances.

Acquired Brain Injury.

Needless to say, these are not letters after my name that I would have willingly sought after at any time, yet I can’t help wondering whether I might have brought it upon myself.

Firstly, at the risk of being flippant, I used to joke that I was envious of Andrea Bocelli with his distinctive title as the blind tenor. What could I be? The Australian Tenor? No, too many neighbours jockeying for position of that to be a viable singularity. The deaf tenor; rejected for obvious reasons,. The same thing applied to the Dumb tenor. There are already enough jokes about us to make it a cliche. However, I can honestly say that The Brain Damaged Tenor was not a sobriquet that I would have willingly chosen for myself!

In all seriousness though, I do wonder whether the lifestyle of an international opera singer might have had some direct bearing on my mental and physical health.. Perhaps it was the fact that I carried a tuning fork with me for getting the correct pitches when warming up in my dressing room and I would get it vibrating by banging it on the side of my head. Maybe there was just one blow. Whatever the reason, I don’t expect to get an answer this side of eternity but I wanted to try to tell the story of the past five years and chronicle the devastating effects that they have had on me and those whom I love most dearly. There is also a strongly positive motivation for undertaking this task. Now that I am starting to emerge from the worst of the difficulties and I can look to the future with some degree of hope, I realise with great humility and awe just how many people have helped to get me to this point and I want to honour them.

In order to do that I need to head back to 2010. It was during the second half of the year that I started to notice some unusual symptoms. The year itself had proven to be the most successful, rewarding yet demanding thus far. It began with a hugely successful run of performances of Manon in Sydney. Des Grieux is one of my favourite roles and I had a suspicion that this might be the last time that I would get to sing it so I put everything into it.

At the same time I was preparing for my first performance of La Damnation de Faust which followed on in Melbourne straight after the Manon. The lead up to this performance proved to be one of the most difficult ever. It is an enormously demanding role but it worked out well and the late, great John Amis was generous in his praise for my contribution.

The next job was one that was very close to my heart. My sister and I had the opportunity to record two of my mother’s song cycles for a small independent label in Australia. Due to my subsequent illness, its release was significantly delayed and it has only just arrived on the market in the last couple of months.

Please allow me to digress with a shameless plug. If you go to tallpoppies.au.com you will find more information about the disc and how to purchase it. I am proud that were were able to get this music into the public domain where it belongs, a worthy addition to the great tapestry of twentieth century English song. I returned to London in mid February for a matter of days before flying to Moscow for a televised performance of Carmen with Pletnev. Shortly after returning to London I began a very intense rehearsal period for Catherine Malfitano’s new production of Tosca. This turned out to be a considerable artistic and box office success and something that I remain proud to have been  involved in. During the long run of performances we lost one of our dearest friends to cancer. My wife Lisa spent countless hours at her bedside in the weeks leading up to her death. At the same time we were undergoing frantic preparations for our second daughter’s marriage, less than a year after daughter number one. During the second half of the Tosca run I began rehearsals for Francesca da Rimini

I have gone into some detail about the workload that I had undertaken in 2010 not because it was particularly out of the ordinary, but more because I believe, with hindsight, that there is a connection with the strange symptoms that I started to experience in the second half of the year. It started with what I can only describe as chronic fatigue. No matter how much I slept, I awoke feeling wretched and exhausted. I felt as if I was permanently jet lagged. During the rehearsals for Francesca da Rimini, whenever I was not deployed on stage I would sit down at the side of the stage and promptly fall asleep much to the amusement of my colleagues. Driving home after performances was a perilous battle of willpower to stay awake.

Shortly after my daughter’s wedding, I flew to Australia for my first Radames. I was totally shattered after the flight and even though I had prepared the role with great care I was, uncharacteristically, having trouble with memory. The performances went off successfully but I had to have stage management checking on me to make sure that I hadn’t nodded off between scenes. I knew that there was something seriously wrong when, having dinner with some dear friends who had flown up to Brisbane from Melbourne to see the opera, I broke down and started crying while describing the symptoms that I was experiencing.

I had five short weeks home in London before undertaking, yet again, the epic journey of a day in an aeroplane back to Australia at the beginning of December for the Zambello production of Carmen. I saw my doctor who diagnosed stress and exhaustion and recommended r&r. This resulted in round the clock sleeping where I would only emerge from the black lagoon of the bedroom to forage for platefuls of carbohydrates and sugar laden food.

The date of departure arrived and I awoke with an almost overwhelming sense of dread. The thought of leaving the bosom of the family for nearly 3 months was devastating. The trip out to Heathrow was funereally quiet. I only found out later that Lisa was wrestling with a powerful compulsion to turn the car around and take me home. At the drop-off point we clung to each other in desperation and I sobbed like a baby.

“It’s only a few weeks and you’ll be busy”.Lisa tried to console but she was already starting to lose her fragile equilibrium. We were attracting attention and a gathering storm of security attendants meant that our farewell was all too brief. Little did either of us know that our separation was also destined to be very brief.

I arrived in Melbourne in a state of collapse. My brother-in-law, a dentist (and also a very fine tenor) managed to work out that the problem was neurological in origin. Shortly afterwards we arrived at our destination. As I greeted my sister, I saw the look of shock on her face. She and her husband were performing in a Carols by Candlelight that evening. I slept while they were out so it seemed as though they had been away a matter of minutes when my sister burst through the door and bundled me in the car and took me off to the Austin Hospital.

After a seemingly endless barrage of questions, a barrowful of blood tests, an M.R.I. An E.E.G. A couple of E.C.G.s, more questions, memory tests, co-ordination tests, the team arrived with their preliminary diagnosis. It was an auto-immune encephalitis. My body’s usually efficient immune system had gone into overdrive and the infection had crossed the blood-brain barrier and there was extensive inflammation in the brain that had to be brought under control. This was done with high doses of IV steroid. What I didn’t realise at this stage was that I was in serious danger of not making it. My concern was getting the thing sorted so that I could get up to Sydney and get on with rehearsals.

When I did finally arrive, the shocked looks on the faces of my colleagues were not at all encouraging. I particularly remember Teddy Tahu Rhodes’s terrified look as we began to rehearse the Act 3 knife fight in Carmen. The end result of all this sudden pressure was a massive relapse and we were summoned back to Melbourne. This was also the beginning of the process whereby virtually all of the outstanding international work that I had booked up for the subsequent few seasons was lost. Every time that a decision had to be made, it was clear that I was not well enough to fulfil it. There is not sufficient space for me to go into all the details but basically it meant the loss of my entire income and the repercussions for our family were enormous. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Once we got back to Melbourne , the aim was to stabilise me so we could get back home our family in London and continue with treatment there. It wasn’t until the beginning of February 2011 and my care was transferred to the National Hospital for Neurology, Queen’s Square in London, an excellent institution with which I have become depressingly familiar over the past five years.

They ran all the tests that I had undergone in Melbourne again plus quite a few more and in the process they managed to establish that there had been some damage to the brain from the encephalitis. The main areas of concern were those governing the sleep/wake cycle, it was confirmed by sleep studies that I was suffering from narcolepsy, which meant that I could be forgiven for falling asleep in an Italian restaurant in front of dear friends from overseas! My memory also seriously affected making the learning of new material particularly problematic. I found that I had difficulties with time management. The correct sequencing of simple tasks took much more time than they should have. They also found out that I had hypothyroidism thus explaining why I was wearing a coat indoors while everyone else wore tee-shirts.. To add insult to injury, the life saving treatment for encephalitis kicked me into steroid-induced Type 2 diabetes. My appetite was insatiable and I had to face the ignominy of a sugar addiction, particularly in relation to chocolate. When the lock appeared on the pantry door and I had my credit cards confiscated, I had a dim dawning of realisation that I had a problem on my hands. I completely ruined my youngest son’s gap year. He had stayed home to help me and he had to endure endless game of cat and mouse over food as I undermined the lessons I had taught my children over the paramount importance of truth in all your dealings with other people.

The initial time at Queen’s Square did throw up two things. Firstly, the problem of my eyes was identified. It was a supra nuclear gaze palsy or Parinaud’s syndrome and without going into all the gory details, it meant that I had limited upward and downward gaze and that my eyes didn’t work together anymore. In an indecently short space of time I found myself issued with a walking stick that collapsed down into 4 parts and was self-erecting, which amused the grandchildren when accompanied with a magical incantation, a freedom pass and a certificate declaring that I was officially blind.

The second significant find was the result of a CAT scan which revealed a small cancerous tumour in the tonsillar bed which was the initial driver of the encephalitis. Ironically, the encephalitis turned out to be a life-saver in providing an early warning of the tumour which was removed without the need for any additional radiotherapy, the only downside was that during the operation I’d had to have an emergency tracheotomy which managed to get infected and this really stalled my recovery and knocked my confidence. Just a year after this I had two grand mal seizures which left me in a coma for several days and meant that I had to introduce anti-epileptic medication into the already over-ripe cocktail of drugs. Getting the balance right so that I am able to function on a day to day basis has proven to be an ongoing problem,.

Although I have written far more than was requested, I have only managed to tell a part of the story.There is so much more that I could have written and it was difficult to know what to leave out. I am in the process of writing a book but I haven’t got to this part of the narrative yet, so this document represents my first thoughts on the matter.

I also haven’t really got to grips with what these events have meant for me artistically and emotionally. In some respects, I am still too close to the whole affair to gain the necessary objectivity, but I will make a few observations. Much of the time over the past few years, I have had to play emotional catch up. There was a massive delayed reaction of grief which, when it finally did arrive, threatened to de-rail me and prevent me from taking the very steps that I needed to in order to get back to some semblance of the person I was before the A.B.I.

I desperately missed my colleagues and artistic creativity that is part and parcel of a positive rehearsal period. In fact, as this vital aspect of my being has been largely unsatisfied, it has manifested itself in almost nightly, performance related dreams, no substitute for the real thing.

What has satisfied me though and bodes well for the future has been my teaching. I feel very fortunate indeed to have the opportunity to work with some genuinely talented people. I see my role as that of a mentor and guide who can hopefully help the student avoid the many pitfalls and dangers that surround them. Moreover, it is a privilege and deep responsibility to pass on what I know of an authentic and living tradition.

 

julian gavin-2

Julian, recently in hospital

I would like to close, however by singing the songs, in a few short sentences, of the unsung heroes because without them, I would not still be here . Moving from the general to the particular, I can say with absolute certainty that I have experienced the NHS at its best. From the domestic staff through to the nursing staff, to the surgeons and professors who are world leaders in their area of specialisation, I have had first class care. My questions have been answered fully and frankly, my needs have been anticipated rather than just met, and no stone has been left unturned and thus , no expense spared in what has been an extremely complex case. I feel duty bound to get better to repay such noble efforts.

We had the magnificent, life-saving support from three outstanding music charities, Help Musicians UK, The Royal Society if Musicians and The ENO Benevolent Fund. At all times they have been compassionate and sensitive in their dealings with us and their tangible help, together with that of our family and friends in Melbourne and the United States, literately kept a roof over our heads and helped us to avoid losing everything. Moreover, our friends helped us sow the green shoots of recovery for our new life in Bletchingley. They will be named and famed in the forthcoming book. I want to thank my children for their love and support over the past five difficult years. They provide a strong impetus for me to get back to work and repay the trust they have shown me. I am enormously proud of the adults that they have grown into. They approach the challenges that life throws at them with seriousness, integrity and joy.

The final word goes to Lisa, the love of my life. I could write twice the length again of what I have written thus far and still not do justice to what she has done for me. Because of her self-sacrificing love, I am able to declare, once again that I am a half glass full man, looking forward to the future with hope and trustful surrender to Divine providence.

(c) Julian Gavin/Slippedisc

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  • Thank you, Julian, for these powerful and moving words. I am so sorry to learn about the difficult journey that you have had to take over the last few years and I hope that a much brighter and more positive future now awaits.

  • Bless you, Julian, for writing this. We had no idea what you have been through. Divine providence, indeed. Like the biblical Esther, your story is for now. Esther 4:14. Keep singing! Ben Oxley

  • Julian you are an inspiration, having known you and Lisa since your early days in the UK, I can’t think of a more hard working singer, having all those lovely mouths to feed spurred you on to fulfill your destiny. The loss of of creative artistic life, is, as you say a bereavement, I too can relate to this. I wish you and your family so much love. The singing aside, you are and have been a passionate family man and a person of deep integrity. Good luck old pal xxxxx

  • Julian, you are an inspiration, having known you and Lisa from your first arrival here in the UK, you are probably the most determined, hardworking and passionate musician I know. Having so many mouths to feed, pushed you above and beyond to fulfill your destiny as a singer of distinction. The loss of ones creative artistic life is a bereavement, and I relate to this on a personal level. Not only are you a wonderful man, you’re commitment to marriage and family values is equally as important. Love and luck to you old pal xxxx

  • I can and do empathise with you, Julian. I can only hope that I have over the years been as brave as you. For 52 years I have had to deal with a long list of conditions that are iatrogenic — in my case, the outcome of a catastrophic chest operation — and those conditions have caused others to develop, the whole lot of them degenerative. At one point, I had to write an account of my condition — that took up eight pages of my small hand-writing, single-spaced. After I finished it, I put my copy aside. Months later I gritted my teeth and read it. So it was that I said to my fine doctor, “That thing reads as if I’m someone with PTSD”. “Yes”, he said, “I noticed it.” Such is the toll these things can take on us. I can only deeply hope that one day you will once again be able to take to the stage. I send my warmest wishes to you and your family.

  • I am Julian’s sister, and I have never been more proud of my big brother than I am now. Julian, what you have written shows your greatest gift, finer even than that golden throat of yours….your humanity and courage. Bless you and Lisa. You have so much to look forward to.

  • I was so happy that Julian found his way to my dressing room at the ENO during a run of Norma in February. We had done a beautiful run of it several years before. I was so thrilled and grateful to put my arms around this wonderful guy. He is fighting the good fight and he knows how I love him.

  • What a terrifying story. I am in awe of Mr Gavin’s courage, both for sharing his story in this public forum and for simply persevering in the face of such devastating circumstances. All the best to him and his family for the future.

  • Oh, what courage it takes to wrangle with life’s uncertainties. Tenor Gavin’ s story is a gift to us all. I am reminded here of the American tenor Marcus Haddock who suffered a devastating stroke at the height of his operatic career. He, too, tenaciously fought back. To all tenor Gavin’s family, fans and friends I sent only the best of thoughts.

  • Thank you for the courage to relive that five years nightmare in writing about it. I look forward to hearing you in the Dame Joan Sutherland Opera Theatre here in Sydney soon. My best wishes for a full recovery.

  • I remember singing in the Chorus for an Opera North production of Giovanna d’Arco in 1998. Julian was singing the lead male role, and I remember not only his fabulous, easy voice, but also his sheer NICENESS. He was always so friendly to everyone, and very humble. I wish him the very, very best in his recovery. It sounds like he has a wonderful, supportive family.

  • Heartbreaking to read, Julian – and beautifully written. I have very fond memories of those early years in London in our opera quartet, and I remember then admiring the integrity and care with which you and Lisa approached the complexities of combining music and family. Your success was hard won and richly deserved. My thoughts are with you both, along with my admiration for the fine personal qualities you both bring to your lives and to those around you.

  • Julian, as I read your story I literally felt I was reading my own. I, too, was at the top of my career in 1989 when I kept trying to get through whatever was making me unable to do even the simplest of things: eat, stand, breathe, control my nerves, sing, or sleep. I put myself into hospital at the end of 1989, and was in it for 6 weeks. They suspected multiple sclerosis, but the lumbar puncture was negative so they diagnosed major depression/anxiety attacks. But this didn’t explain the physical difficulties. I luckily was able to recover my singing voice, which I learned later most people hardly ever do after what I’d been through. So after putting one toe in the water at a time, I returned to Houston Grand Opera and Theatre Under The Stars. Throughout this, my husband was not supportive, found my infirmity a drag, and a drag on his income as well. My feeling of guilt was awful, though misplaced. When I went back to singing, I was stronger than ever, as I’d discovered that physical exercise helped me regain my ability to move, sing, and dispel stress. But I couldn’t escape what I knew was a failed and abusive marriage, as my husband had convinced me I was stupid, weak in every way, sick, and basically a wreck.

    In 1999, I realized that I had to divorce him in order to survive. I had no idea how I’d make it, but decided to get computer training and go for my Master’s Degree in Theatre Arts. To my shock, I graduated Summa Cum Laude, at the top of my class. I wanted to teach at University level, but the only jobs teaching at that level are as adjunct. So I went for my public teaching certification, started teaching Theatre first in a middle school (VERY hard!), then at a top-rate high school.

    I interject that in 2002 I was hit by a large SUV, which ended up with neck surgery resulting in replacement of discs in my neck with bone plates, a large titanium bracket, and 6 bolts. I tripped and fell a month or so later, and that harmed my singing voice more than the accident had. But I could still teach, and ended up, much to my shock, a multiple-award-winning teacher.

    In 2006 I woke up one Sunday with no vision in my right eye. My opthamologist declared that I had MS, but I didn’t believe her. I went on teaching full-speed, and in May the top MS neurologist in many states said that I DO have MS, and that I needed to stop working. I joked that I’d do that if he wanted to pay my mortgage! He looked at my brain MRI’s back to 1989, and stated that I had MS then, it just wasn’t diagnosed properly. But I soldiered on, working at the school most nights until 2am.

    In summer 2010, I was hit by a Mack truck. MS did indeed disable me. My neurologist said, “That’s it. I’m now ordering you not to work anymore, you’re legally prohibited from work of any kind, you are to go home and rest. You have two choices: You can either be disabled and on a cane, or disabled in a wheelchair.” I took the cane. It was devastating in every way. I had no support from my family. My friends, being Theatre folk, didn’t understand and left me behind as they continued with their lives. My ex-husband became a sort of friend, but discovered that despite the MS, I have a very strong and perceptive mind and speak the truth as I see it. In the end he turned VERY physically abusive, so I had to have a restraining order taken out against him.

    So: I’m not a singer/performer anymore. That’s who I WAS. And I’m not a teacher anymore, that also is who I WAS. So who am I now? I began editing a friend’s books, have now done 22. It keeps my brain active, but furthermore, these are excellent books, and we’re now getting them published little by little. I’m praying for their success, as the income they provide will hopefully allow me to stay in my small townhome. Learning to be grateful for what God has given you when so many things are taken away is arduous at best, but when you peel back the layers of the onion to the bare kernel, you find who you ARE. You are grace.

    Julian, I lived in London for years and wish I were still there now. The care for neurological conditions is far superior to that in the US. You are a lucky man to have a wife who’s stayed with you, and grown children who also support you. Many of us find ourselves alone. I’ll look for your book, and am eager to read it!

  • Hi Norman,
    Having worked with Julian at OA, I was profoundly moved by this article. I have set up a gofundme page for Julian if any of your readers would like to donate to helping him out through this tough time.
    Jane Ede

  • Dear Julian, we sang Tosca together in Denver a number of years ago. I had no idea that this had occurred until I read this. My heart goes out to you and I send my love and support. You are not alone. All my best, Peter

  • Dearest Julian, I wish you nothing but love and hope for a speedy full recovery. You were always a joy to perform with, and we spent many wicked naughty nights together onstage. Sending you all my best wishes my friend.

  • What courage you have shown and what heroes have surrounded you and the unfailing love of family. I Did not know you personally but this story has touched me deeply And as a former singer I salute you and hope for a shiny future for you all big hugs from Sydney
    Beverley Bergen x

  • Dear Julian. I had no idea that you were unwell. I want you to know that Prayers and care are going up for you from this place, and please let all of your friends know how you are getting on. Sincere good wishes. Fa` Richard D.

  • Julian I’m lying here in bed on a Sunday morning with flu and have been so moved to read of your story.
    Thanks so much for sharing this with the industry; it costs to do so.
    I nearly died from encephalitis in 89 so I read this moving account in tears.
    May God continue to bless you with your future and your lovely supportive family.
    All the best
    Jv

  • I wondered what had happened to the guy I used to do the Times crossword with in Amsterdam in 2003. What a harrowing tale. Wishing you a continuing recovery.

  • Dear Norman,

    Could I please suggest that you post a follow-up to this story with the link to Jane Ede’s above-mentioned gofundme page. The outpouring of support here – probably the world’s largest community of sympathetic art-focused readers – is tremendous, and I’m quite sure Jane’s clever, practical initiative can yield significant financial aid, with the right reach.

    This is the link:
    https://www.gofundme.com/24aas7yc

  • Julian, I don’t know you, but have worked in and around the opera world for a few years as a photographer and writer. Everyone has obstacles to deal with, but I’ve never read anything like your story. All best wishes to you and your family, and your family of friends and colleagues.

    Thanks, George Porter, for posting the link to the CD. I’m interested in buying a copy… was just checking the comments to see if there was an update on the link.

    Thanks to Jane Ede, as well – sharing what I can.

    Chau chau, from Uruguay…. Martha

  • Julian you and Lisa have been and are still in our prayers. May you continue to go from strength to strength and mske s complete recovery.

  • Julian it’s Lizzie & Din, We have been so privileged to be part of your recovery. Our time at OZ may not have been our happiest times in the nightmare of rehabilitation, but it brought our families together and we will always be friends whatever. You write beautifully and I think that God has given you another artistic outlet lots of love xxx

  • Absolutely extraordinary story Julian. Thank you for being brave enough to share these trials of your life with us. Your riveting, intense portrayals of Don Carlos at ROH are still with me. Every blessing to you and your family.

  • Julian…so shocked to read of your devastating circumstances, wish I was in the UK so I could come and say hello…..soon I hope..
    I have fond memories of Stowe 🙂 and other adventures in the UK..
    Wishing you a full recovery and can’t wait to hear you sing again..
    Much love to you, Lisa and the girls
    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • Julian
    I had no idea and am horrified to learn of the awful situation that has befallen you through this terribly disabilitating illness. The affect its clearly had on your family and your career must have been devastating and hard to come to terms with. Your very brave to tell your story in such a frank way here.
    I’ve always enjoyed working with you and enjoyed your company since you first came to understudy at Opera North all those years ago and was so happy to see your deserved career flourish.
    I wish you all the best and hope you recover quickly so you can once again delight people with your wonderful talent.
    With love and best wishes
    Jeremy xxx

  • Dear Julian. I remember with such fondness working with you at OA. Apart from being a great artist, you were always such a friendly and giving colleague, and you remembered everybody from one season to the next. I was genuinely shocked but also inspired to read your article. I wish you all the best for a full recovery and also for your teaching which must bring you such joy and satisfaction.

  • Julian
    Thank you for your honesty and courage in reliving your devastating experience You are an inspiration. I am so sorry to hear of your suffering and the interruption of your wonderful performing life but so happy that you have found strength and solace in your teaching Your humanity shines through and because of that your students will benefit greatly.
    I am thrilled that one or two of my past but still precious students hope to study with you next year. Stay strong God bless

  • Julian, thank you for sharing your story. John and I send you, Lisa and your family so much love. Proud of your performance work, proud of your teaching and proud of your faith and strength under so much hardship.

  • Dear Julian,
    I too, have never met you but as an ex-operatic performer my heart goes out to you. Courageous? Extremely! Thank you for your wonderful but harrowing account of your sickness and journey back to a beginning of better health. I also have moved on to teaching and now educating teachers with a passion. My wish for you is that you will grow in new ways, continuing to uncover new passions! Heartfully

  • I remember you singing in your Boronia home at magical soirées with your amazing family. As a girl your voice touched my heart. Now your story has. Such strength and determination. May the future be bright for you and your family.

  • Poor Julian
    Joan Carden shared this dreadful story with me.
    How totally courageous you have been and to have the ability to document the story. You are blessed with your loving family and friends. At times you must have felt isolated alone and fearful. Now you probably are faced with wondering what the future holds.
    The fact you’ve managed to come this far shows you’re going to make it.
    You’ve made a difference by sharing your spirit. More powerful even than your marvellous performance career in which you have inspired different strengths and emotions in others.
    I wrote a couple of books in an attempt to make a difference to people in pain.
    But my years in hospital and disabled years I hope are now over and I’ve learned that trying to inspire hope in others may just about be our best gift. You certainly have done wonders and my suffering was as nothing compared to yours.
    May you enjoy the rest of your life and may all those who love and admire you continue to enfold you in that healing love. Love is the cure, isn’t it?

  • Dear Julian,
    Something compelled me go straight to the computer when I woke up this morning and type in your name. I wasn’t surprised to see this posting but so deeply shocked to hear of the rough time you have been had over recent years! In those few years we worked together as teaching colleagues I developed an enormous respect for your talent, your energy and your great integrity, and these elements all come through in this description of your remarkable journey. I can only wish that you make a strong recovery and am able to fully enjoy your “senior” years. Wonderful to hear how successful your professional time has been and the evolution of the Gavin family along with the enormous support you have had from friends and colleagues. With warmest regards to you and Lisa. Be well! 🙂 O

  • Hello from Julian (number 2)! You were always julian number one at Queens Square, somehow i hope you get to read this my friend. Wishing you all the best.

  • Hello Julian, me again – I pop up every twenty-five years or so! I sit here stunned and very emotional after reading of your extraordinary battle. The positives are of course your courage, the wonderful care and love of your family and the genuine hope that you are now on the road to recovery. I certainly hope so and send you love and prayers for just that.

  • Julian, When we spoke on the phone all those years ago, I knew that there was something wrong. But then we lost touch and I didn’t try hard enough to make contact. I’m so pleased to hear that you’ve survived this terrible ordeal and look forward to catching up in the future. Rosie and Stu

  • Julian
    I am so sorry to hear of your trials. Such a difficult and long journey. May the Lord sustain you and your family. He will!

    Regards from your former music colleague at Wantirna High School
    Anne-Marie Modra

  • Hi Julian,
    This is Greg L, Carl and Shirley’s nephew. (Tenor 1 in the Sydney Phil).
    Shirley shared your story with me a few weeks ago. I dedicated tonight’s Beethoven 9 performance in SOH to you. V Ashkenazy conducted and TTR baritone.
    Stay strong and hang tough 🙂
    All the best from Sydney.

  • Dear Julian,
    Have only just found and read your story and am so very sad that you have suffered so enormously. But your dignified account is absolutely inspiring and I can only wish you the very very best for your future and continued recovery.
    I was La Vecchia in OHPs unforgettable L’Amore Di Tre Re when you and Amanda Echalaz were sublime. It was a great honour to listen to you and share that stage with you just for a short but very special time then.
    My heart goes out to you and to your loving wife and family.

  • Dear Julian, What a moving article! I have many wonderful memories of hearing you sing with the ENO in Hoffmann, Ernani, and Trovatore, among others. I had no idea that you have been so ill. It’s clear from your article that you are not only one of the finest lirico-spinto tenors of your generation, you are also an extraordinarily courageous and resilient human being.

    With all good wishes to you and your family, and prayers for your complete recovery.

  • I had the pleasure of meeting you and Lionel this morning at Bletchingley Activity Hub, and have just googled The Tenor That Disappeared. What an amazing story, it bought a lump to my throat.
    Will be in touch shortly with a view to you doing some volunteering work with us.

    Best Wishes

    Cathy

  • I have read emotionally the story of a man, the toughest test he had to face. Today I met this man, and it happened in a natural and friendly way. I can say I’m proud to have met him and know him so strong and courageous. Life can be beautiful or difficult but I think it’s always worth living. Best wishes for your future Julian.

  • Dear Julian and Lisa,
    This is Harry and Ria Janssen in Melbourne, remember the ones from the clapped out Holden- Kingswood we lend you years ago when you came to Melbourne those many years ago,
    We found your extraordinary story when Ria entered your name as she wanted to hear your voice hoping to reminisce the wonderful concert soirées the Gavin family gave on a monthly basis, and of course the rich and extraordinary supper which was provided free of charge after each concert.
    Thinking about it now, the year 2006 was also the last time we were in London and met you and the family after Mass in the Ortory and went to the cafe there for coffee and cakes. That was also the time I was. Already very sick myself which ultimately landed me inLinz Akademisch kranken-Haus with perforated intestines late at night and later on Ria told me that th3y send her to our friends house as there was no use sitting there waiting
    and she woke up not knowing if she was already a widow. But as you see I am still here and Julian if I can make it already to my 85th and 60 years married,you who are so much younger and with your will power can do the same, Your story touched us both deeply, but we are certain that with your voice trusting coming back, the good Lord has given you a talent to share for many years to come with all your friends and family all over the world. You have the right mentallity and strengths to come through this all.
    We look forward, not just to your return to the opera, God willing but also to
    The book you are planning to write. We certainly like a copy when it is out.
    To you and Lisa and the children who may or may not remember us all the very best and we will remember you in our prayers.
    Vaiya con Dios, or as your mother used to say: Deo volente.
    Love Ria and Harry.

  • Hello – this is Diane Davis, I met you all while we were all living in Thornton Heath…… I wonder if you remember? I got to know Lisa first and we would help each other out, looking after our young children together. It must be 28 years ago!
    I have often thought of you all – Julian, Lisa your children. I was sad that we lost touch. Today, for some reason I just googled your name Julian and found this article. My, what a journey you have been on and I can only imagine some of the pain and shock you have been through. Thankyou for writing this article – for how positive you are. Love to you both xxxxx

  • Dear Julian don’t know if you will see this wishing you a speedy recovery with this new Covid mountain you have to climb remembering you and Dad Paul from Wantirna College

  • Hi Julian

    I was at Wantirna High School in 1987 where you taught me in Music B (music appreciation, I think). Although I pursued a career in science (I have a PhD in invertebrate taxonomy), you had a profound affect on me in that you demonstrated that it was ok for a teenage male Australian to swoon at Mozart’s muted strings – and from that a love of the intrinsic beauty of classical music blossomed. Nowadays, people who are in offices next to me in the university where I work and teach will hear little snippets of oboe sonatas, piano concertos or the odd Puccini aria and know that I am in my thinking space. Sometimes during these forays into the imagination my thoughts drift back through my own personal musical journey and I can see you teaching, opening a book called ‘Listen’ or telling us that we will be going to a matinee of La Traviata with Joan Carden. I remember these things like they were yesterday and there you are. And for all of that I say thankyou. Thankyou very much and I wish you all the very best. Matt Nimbs

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