T H E P E R S O N
The diaries run from 1945 to 1974. And although the entries are far from methodical - with detailed coverage of shopping trips but sometimes totally blank pages on days when she premieres a new opera or makes a major recording – they reveal a woman working frantically, often to the point of exhaustion. The overall impression is of someone with spirit, generosity, a loving, warm (if vulnerable) nature, and a wicked sense of humour.
She writes down jokes and ludicrous exchanges – often between herself and her mother 'Biddy'.
Much of the time her insecurities are related to tiredness – there are many diary references to staying in bed with fatigue – and illness. The first signs of the bronchial condition that would eventually cause her death emerge in 1956 just before she goes on tour to Russia [for more, click on COLD WAR CULTURAL DIPLOMACY]. For good reason, given the potential consequences for her singing engagements, she keeps the problem a secret: consulting doctors, signing up for various drug regimes, entering discreet private clinics and taking rest cures in France and Italy (where, in desperation, she resorts to prayer!).
How critical this secrecy became is indicated in a later letter from her husband (Jan 1959) in which he worries that she might acquire a reputation for being ‘no longer reliable’.
Her devotion to Clayton was solid through until his death; and it extended to the organisation of a group of friends (including Britten and Pears) to finance his eventual care costs.
In stark contrast to the grim practicalities of this offstage nursing role, her onstage personality was upbeat, glamorous and celebrated beyond the strict confines of musical reportage. She made the general news and fashion pages of the press; and not for nothing do her diaries carefully note which dress she wears for each engagement: ‘old black lace’, embroidered’, ‘blue brocade’ etc.
With that sort of profile went admirers. And she had many, including one who compiled and eventually presented her with a voluminous cuttings book [to view, click on APPRECIATION]. But the admiration sometimes became over-zealous; and from several diary entries it appears that she either had, or feared she had, stalkers. ‘Door bell rings 2.15am. Car drives away’, she writes in 1954. And in 1955: ‘Strange call from ‘admirer’. Didn’t like voice’.
More personally there were, throughout the 1950s/early 1960s, three men in her life: one of them Ivan Clayton, another an ardent Portuguese suitor (source of the expensively lost jewellery) with whom she had a tempestuous on/off relationship that erupted into high drama. An example was during the Dutch tour of Midsummer Night’s Dream where her diary records: ‘Went to theatre in trembling state but in my anger sang better than usual’. Not for nothing was her chief success in fiery roles.
Meanwhile, waiting patiently through all this, was a Marylebone-based accountant called Leon Crown who looked after her business affairs (as he did for many of her fellow artists). She finally married him in 1962.
Surviving correspondence suggests that her settling down with Leon was welcomed with relief by friends but perhaps not so obviously by her wider family. He was middle-class Jewish from the East End of London, she was Christian with aristocratic connections. And although the marriage endured with evident success until her death in 1974, the religious divide did surface from time to time over matters like the baptism of her son, which proved contentious.
But running a career, a family, and fighting ill health proved too much. In 1973 her health broke down dramatically and she was admitted to hospital. She recovered enough to resume work later in the year, but in 1974 her respiratory problems returned and this time proved fatal.
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R A D I O 4 D O C U M E N T A R Y O N
J E N N I F E R V Y V Y A N :
O P E N I N G T H E B O X E S,
O R I G I N A L L Y B R O A D C A S T
T U E S D A Y A U G U S T 1 8 T H,
1 1 . 3 0 P M
When JJennifer Vyvyan died in 1974 she left behind a husband, a small son and an awful lot of stuff – which was put in boxes and stored in a loft for almost 40 years until it was re-examined and turned into the material for this website.
Opening the Boxes is a reflection on how all this happened. Presented by the music critic Michael White, who did the research and wrote the site, it features contributions from conductor Steuart Bedford, stage director John Copley, soprano April Cantelo, and Jennifer Vyvyan‘s son Jonathan Crown. Listen to the documentary on iPlayer here (may be up for a limited time).