Sharing a lifelong passion for opera

Patrick Shaw relaxing in Fuengirola.
Patrick Shaw relaxing in Fuengirola. / T. B.
  • The 68-year-old language teacher's fascination with opera began while singing in St Andrews University Choir. He went on to perform at several world-class opera houses and now shares his knowledge of the genre with the U3A in Fuengirola

As in most parts of the world, the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Fuengirola is run by group leaders who offer their services free in order to share their knowledge and skills in an activity of their choice. No qualifications are required but groups are usually formed based on the experience or knowledge of a group leader in a particular field.

Sixty-eight-year-old Patrick Shaw discovered the U3A in Fuengirola in 2009, after a friend he was visiting in Fuengirola introduced him to the group. Patrick is now the U3A's Opera group leader and he uses his vast knowledge as a performer and aficionado of the subject to deepen participants' knowledge of significant works and icons in the world of opera and ballet.

Patrick retired from active performing several years ago with a season at the Arena di Verona, where he performed on the same stage as Andrea Bocelli and Cécilia Gasdia. During his performing years Patrick appeared with The Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera and the Opera National de Paris, and he now uses his experiences to enhance his forthrightly classes at the Lux Mundi Ecumenical centre in Fuengirola.

Fascination with Spain

Patrick became fascinated with Spain after a holiday in Madrid and has since come to love the country he calls home for six months of the year.

"I fell in love with Spain in the mid-80s when I stayed with a friend in Madrid. I first came to Fuengirola about ten years ago because a fellow teacher from Tokyo had bought a flat here and I came to visit. He had been a member of the U3A and it was knowing this that led to me joining," Patrick explains to SUR in English.

Patrick was born into a musical Scottish family in 1951. His mother was a professional pianist, while his father was a member of Glasgow's renowned Orpheus Choir. Patrick attended The Glasgow Academy and quickly showed an interest in sport and music. He captained the school swimming team and enjoyed rugby, but he got great pleasure from singing in the school choir and Madrigal Group.

In 1969, Patrick enrolled at St Andrews University, the oldest university in Scotland, and it was here that he had the privilege to sing in the University Chapel Choir under the British musician and composer Cedric Thorpe Davie.

On Graduation, Patrick gained employment with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC). After passing his Association of the Institute of Bankers Exams, he was posted to Hamburg.

"Somewhat amazingly, I successfully passed the bankers exams and was posted to the bank's Hamburg office. It was a ridiculously culturally rich year for me, especially as the Hamburg Opera House was literally around the corner," he recalls with affection.

In 1976, Patrick was transferred to what was then HSBC's head office in Hong Kong. In 1979, he left the world of finance and joined the British Council, where he was employed to design, write and teach courses to Chinese bankers. He next moved to Tokyo to work at an English language school, where one of his pupils was the celebrated Japanese conductor, Tadaaki Otaaka.

Patrick took up a full-time teaching position which allowed him to work at a number of universities, teaching a variety of subjects ranging from Elementary to Advanced Phonetics, the History of the English Language and Business English. It was around this time that he began working with foreign opera companies that were touring Japan and this gave him the opportunity to mix with some of the genre's most revered performers.

"I began working at La Scala in Tokyo in the late 1980s. Their principal sponsor advertised in the Japan Times for foreigners wanting to perform in Wagner's Ring Cycle. I somehow got the job. I met all of the singers at various parties, and once met the new Japanese Emperor when he came backstage after one show," he says.

Today, his time is largely divided between the UK, the Far East and Fuengirola. His opera classes are informative and fun and have become popular with U3A members.

Patrick has dedicated much of his life to music and the arts and he obviously gains great pleasure from helping other people understand and appreciate opera. He believes passionately in the maxim that 'Art should flow through the blood of all young people'.

"All of the U3A members are stellar in one way or another. It is a colossal privilege to have been given the opportunity to introduce them to the opera that I have found uplifting and spiritually nourishing," Patrick concludes.