Visitors to Slipped Disc bring us amazing, unsuspected glimpses into the great unsung dramas of performing life. These are tales that generally go untold beyond the backstage bars and the friendships that performers make throughout their careers.
We are privileged to present the extraordinary story of the English tenor Brian Galliford, presently singing in ENO’s Caligula. It’s a life-and-death struggle equal to anything you will see on stage. Here’s what he told us:
A year after moving to Amsterdam in 1991, suspect tissue was found under Brian’s tongue. He had regular check-ups and was assured all was well. Meanwhile, he sang Old Deuteronomy in Cats for 6 months and got regular work with the Dutch National Reisopera. ‘A big break came in 1997 when I was booked with one audition to sing Piet vom Fass in two separate productions (of Ligeti’s Le grand macabre) for Hanover and the Reisopera. I went on to sing Piet 60 times in Hanover, Lisbon, Antwerp, the Netherlands and in Barrie Kosky’s production at the Komische Oper Berlin between 1997 and 2005.’
Brian auditioned for the Royal Opera in 2001 and was engaged as The Rector in the 2004 Grimes, as well as Tanzmeister with Welsh National Opera. He sang Herodes for the Landestheater Bregenz in February 2006 and went to Glyndebourne in 2006 to sing Lopez in Prokofiev’s Betrothal in a Monastery. But that’s when the cancerous tissue began to mutate.
‘At Glyndebourne I was in quite a lot of pain. At the beginning of September 2006 my specialist in Amsterdam said it was too dangerous to continue without a thorough investigation as if the cancer took hold I wouldn’t make it past Christmas. After several weeks of tests a malignant tumour of 5cm deep by 3cm wide was found in my tongue, which had to be treated immediately. My specialist was a jaw surgeon and his preference was to cut everything out, which would have left me severely disfigured. However, there was also a proposal to treat with just chemo and radiotherapy. In any case I wasn’t expected to sing again. The chemo and radiotherapy treatment was successful, but not before the hospital had made a mistake and I suffered blood poisoning and kidney failure.
‘A few months later the infection was discovered to have severely damaged my heart, with the consequence that in April 2007 I underwent heart surgery to install an artificial heart valve and a double by-pass to repair an abcess in the wall of the heart. There was one final month in hospital when my leg blew up like a black ham with an embolism where veins had been removed for the heart surgery.