The inspiration behind the character of the Eccentric in Lucca...









Albina Bini, soprano and pianist, was born on 11 July, 1899 in Florence, Italy.

She was brought to South Africa in 1904 when her parents immigrated, and received her initial musical training at St Mary's Convent School in Cape Town. As an 11-year-old schoolgirl, she was engaged to play the piano at the Claremont Cinema every night, for a monthly fee of three golden sovereigns. At the age of 15 she began serious pianoforte study under Madame Niay Darroll, a primary founder of the South African College of Music (SACM), and won numerous contests and gold medals at Eisteddfodau. During the First World War she was much in demand as a participant in war relief concerts.

After obtaining her teachers' and performers' licentiates at the SACM, she taught pianoforte privately and made her debut as a concert pianist with the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra. Noteworthy performances range from piano recitals during the Beethoven centenary in 1928 to her association with Albert Mallinson, the British composer, of whose songs she gave recitals between 1941 and 1945. In 1947 she sang in the City Hall Gala Concert in honour of the Royal Family's visit to Cape Town, when the Municipal Orchestra was conducted by Albert Coates. Apart from her concert work, she became an examiner and adjudicator of repute in South Africa and the former Rhodesias.

After the inception of the University of Cape Town's Opera School and the appointment of Giuseppe Paganelli, formerly a member of the Sistine Chapel Choir in Rome, as lecturer in singing and opera (1926), Albina Bini became his pupil and sang the role of Rosina in his first production, The Barber of Seville, again with the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra. This marked the beginning of an operatic career which, over the following years, was to cover much of South Africa. The leading roles she sang included those in the operas Don Pasquale, La Traviata, Rigoletto, La Boheme, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and No Play by WH Bell.

After her retirement as a pianist and a singer, she continued to adjudicate in the Cape, Natal, and Transvaal and was on the opera committee of the Cape Performing Arts Board (CAPAB).  She also established the Florence Chamber Opera Group, which gave performances throughout the Cape Peninsula.

Albina Bini died in San Gimignano, Italy, on 24 March, 1998.




Professor Désirée Talbot was born on 24 October 1926, in Cape Town, South Africa. 

She was educated at Collegiate Girls' High School in Port Elizabeth and afterwards at Rustenberg Girls high School in Cape Town. She registered for a BMus degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT), taking piano as first subject. When her left hand was permanently damaged in a car accident, she switched to singing as her main subject, studying with Ernest Dennis and Adelheid Armhold. She obtained Teachers and Performers Licentiate Diplomas from both the University of South Africa (UNISA) and UCT. She worked as a music teacher at various schools before working for the South African Broadcasting Commission (SABC) as a music programme compiler. In 1954, she joined the staff of the UCT Faculty of Music as a teacher of singing and piano.

During her career as a singer, which extended more than thirty years, she sang leading roles in over 500 performances of 28 operas as well as giving concerts and broadcasts in South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, England, Scotland and Italy. She gave concerts in London's Wigmore Hall and was accompanied by Erik chisholm at the piano on a tour of Great Britain. She also sang in the first British stage performance of Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, as well as the role of Magda in Menotti's The Consul in London and Glasgow.

In 1960 she received a bursary for advanced study in Italy from the Italian Government and studied with Gina Cigna in Milan, where she sang a performance of La Boheme. She was interviewed and sang on RAI (the Italian state broadcaster) as well. She was invited to audition at La Scala and in Rome, Menotti offered her the soprano part in Verdi's Requiem at the Spoleto Festival, but reluctantly withdrew the offer when he discovered she was a South African.

In 1984/5 she was appointed Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Music at UCT. In July/August 1984 she accepted an invitation to conduct master classes and lectures at Melbourne University and the National Conservatoire of Music and Opera in Sydney, Australia. She was interviewed on the Austrialian Broadcasting Commission and recorded a series of four talks on Singing and Singers for them.

In 1990 she was approached to serve as examiner at the countrywide musical examinations for UNISA and in 1991 the SABC asked her to assist in redesigning their National Vocal Competition repertoire lists.  At her retirement from the Faculty of Music, UCT, she was made Emeritus Associate Professor. She continued as a part-time vocal teacher at UCT until the end of 1994.