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Fontes

Michael Fontes

14 September 1941 – 2 February 2022 

Michael Fontes
14 September 1941 – 2 February 2022 

We are very sad to bring the news that Michael died, totally unexpectedly.

Michael was very much part of the Grange Park Opera family and has written for the season programme book every year since 1999.  His pieces for the 2022 programme book were submitted a month ago, and two days before he died, Michael was in touch with Wasfi discussing pictures for his articles on DutchmanBroucek and Otello.

Between 1966 and 2002, Michael was a don at Winchester College teaching Economics and many divisions. He retired to Najac in South-West France, where he established and ran Les Orchidées de Najac, selling his photos of the wild orchids and butterflies of the area.

In 2016 Michael became a Black Brother of St Cross, the medieval almshouse in Winchester, founded between 1132 and 1136 by Henry of Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror.

Michael was full of funny stories. Please tell us your anecdotes which we will compile as a tribute to an utterly brilliant man.

4 February 2022

Tributes

Michael Fontes

What a joy! And what a perfect teacher, one who, in my case, inspired a lifetime!

My precious memories of Michael stretch back 55 years, to the moment in September 1967 when, aged 13, I found myself in his French class. What struck me first was his forceful physical presence, that of a young man who played sports very well, and his curiously unexpected voice, high-pitched, often exploding into laughter, sometimes stagily outraged. I had no gift for sport, so it was music brought us together: singing in Chapel Choir and Glee Club, concerts and trips to the opera (London, Glyndebourne). And above all those magical sleepy Winchester weekend afternoons… and a thrill in discovery which has never left me… when I would set off skullduggerously on a secret mission, along Kingsgate Street, through War Cloisters, across Meads and at last into Chamber Court, up the clumping mediaeval steps in the corner, and into his gorgeous, airy, high-ceilinged flat (no wonder he chose to spend his last years at St Cross!). There he would welcome Martin Pickard and me for tea – which in those days he never drank, though he assiduously warmed the teapot in a most peculiar way – and cake, and sometimes strawberries and cream (once Martin spilt the cream on to the polished dining-room table-top and Michael never let him forget it; every excuse for a tease was irresistible).

Spread out on squashy armchairs and sofas, while his adorably beautiful red setter, Sean, snored on the rug, we bathed in waves of Wagner, Mozart, Strauss, all new to me (though not to Martin). I had never seen anything like that record collection or indeed those enormous speakers. From a ‘Lucullus’ of sumptuous recollections and revelations, I take only the trio from Rosenkavalier; I had not known such music or such singing could possibly exist. But what I remember even more vividly was Michael’s amusement and pleasure in watching, like a tiger from the corners of his eyes, a small boy discovering something wonderful for the very first time, while at the same time he himself, revisiting for the umpteenth time music he could hardly bear to stop listening to, revelled dishevelled in the sound, lying back, beatifically sprawled on his own cushions, arms and legs flung out like Danaë, that wicked smile on his face. “Being crucified!”, he called it. And then he’d check to see whether we were shocked.

 

Gerard McBurney
San Francisco
24 February 2022