Everyone at Opera Holland Park is very sad to hear the devastating news that Ron Freeman died yesterday. Ron was our Head of Wigs and Make-up at OHP for 12 years, from 2002 to 2014, after spending over 40 years at the Royal Opera House, receiving a long service medal.
Over the last few hours, as the news spread through the opera family, many of the wonderful messages sent to us use similar words to describe Ron: a legend; a one-off; old school; a treasure. His death marks the end of an era.
Known throughout the industry for his dedication to his art and skill, Ron was a true legend in the opera business. He was renowned for his manner – particularly when he was in his element, in the wigs and make-up room just before curtain-up, preparing an artist to go on stage.
Ron had a passion for theatre-making, for the details. More crucially he used every means he had to create the right atmosphere for each and every artist, so that they could go on stage and perform at their best.
Ron understood singers’ needs, regaling them with stories of the old days and the preparation routines of some of the great artists of the past, keeping the narrative going, a thread of experience that goes from generation to generation.
He understood that some artists need calmness and quiet (and if they wanted it Ron made sure they had it) and that others need noise and distraction to quell their nerves. Many a bawdy sing-song was heard from Ron’s room, led by the man himself. Other singers loved the quiet moments when Ron was their confidante and counsellor.
Ron had worked with everyone, including Luciano Pavarotti, Dame Joan Sutherland and Diana Rigg. Yet if you were a young singer just starting out in the business, you were treated with the same respect. That said, no one could curse as well as Ron Freeman.
Ron was hooked on opera as a school boy. He then managed to get a job as tea boy when Albert Sargood was in charge of the wig department at the Royal Opera. He left in the late 60s to go to the National Theatre, then run by Sir Lawrence Olivier. He returned to the ROH as Wigmaster around 1973, and met his wife Elaine when she joined the company in 1974.
Ron was introduced to Opera Holland Park by director Tom Hawkes and designer Peter Rice in 2002. He was brought in to help out on the production of Adriana Lecouvreur but once he was in place and we had seen what he could achieve, we were never going to let him go. He stayed with us until his retirement in 2014.
On the last night of the 2014 Season we were able to pay tribute to Ron as a company – introducing him on stage so that all of the Opera Holland Park team and audience could celebrate his work. We also had stories from the artists he had worked with throughout his whole career printed on all the backstage walls.
Anne Sophie Duprels and Amanda Echalaz summed up the feelings of many:
We have a lost a giant of the opera world and a truly great friend. The thoughts of everyone at OHP are with Ron’s wife, Elaine, and their son, Charles.