Encounter with Donald Arthur

I met Donald Arthur through the Toronto Wagner Society, our guest after publication of the memoirs he translated & edited for Hans Hotter, the great Wagner baritone.

I jumped at the chance to offer Donald a bed overnight in our home. The next day we made him breakfast, and then I took him to the airport. I wracked my brains trying to recall when that was. I was on the TWS executive for a time, a regular contributor to their newsletter between 2004 and 2008. I found the inscription he wrote into the Hotter memoirs, that tells me October 2006.

In addition to the Hotter memoirs Donald’s name also appears on the cover of Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey and he participated in Astrid Varnay’s memoir, a book that I will eventually read.

Donald also shared excerpts of a draft he was writing with James King, although the tenor died in 2005. I don’t know whether they had finished writing and editing, but the book has not been published. I saw some parts available online from a university library’s collection of King’s collected writings. I wondered, not for the first time, about the complicated life of the collaborator, especially when their subject passes away, and how (or even whether) Donald was compensated for his work on the King book, done perhaps in expectation of future sales that never happened.

We’re coming up to the five year anniversary of his passing, on September 21, 2016 in Munich, roughly half a year short of his 80th birthday. Donald was born on April 29, 1937 in New York.

I used to say “I wear many hats” as writer, singer, keyboardist, academic, composer, a bit of a jack of all trades. But my hats are off to Donald Arthur, a uniquely versatile individual. He was a writer and ghost-writer, a translator, an actor, singer, voice-over artist, in multiple languages.

His entry on IMDB (37 acting credits and another 16 in other disciplines) is remarkable, including a surprise. The 1981 film Montenegro credits three writers and Donald Arthur is one of them. I wish I could have asked him about that, one of my favorite films of that decade, that I haven’t seen in a long time.


Here’s the one example of his work in English that I found on YouTube.

Alas we drifted apart. I regret that we seemed to lose touch with one another, partly because I was swamped on several fronts, but most likely because Donald was so busy. For example, here’s an excerpt from an email he sent in December 2006, not long after his visit to the Wagner Society and our little home in Scarberia.

Dear Leslie;
Well, after doing my dog and pony show, in a manner of speaking, across the map of North America and beyond, I finally made it back to home base and am slowly digging myself out from under the ever-growing mound of responsibility, but mind you, I’m not complaining. The beauty part is that when I asked a lot of potential customers if they wouldn’t mind waiting for me to come back, it never entered my mind that most of them would, bless their cotton socks. But the biggest surprise came about in San Francisco, where a friend of mine currently reading a book on linguistics by a distinguished professor of the subject in Manhattan showed me a footnote in which he despaired about the failure of the German version of SOUTH PARK to convey any of the flair of the original except for the guy who dubs Isaac Hayes as the Chef, and even sings Isaac’s songs in German, who comes across as a carbon copy of the original! That’s high praise, and I guess that makes me an honorary soul brother.

I was a bit frustrated when I tried to find examples of Donald’s voice-work in Germany. After a long search, I found two very brief samples of Donald singing in German, once I figured out that I needed to search for “Chef Koch”. Perhaps there are more.

Not bad.

But let’s get back to the encounter during Donald’s visit, when I found out something that Toronto was known for…

Donald split his life strategically between two homes. In summer he lived in Germany, but would winter in Malta.

…Donald asked me to find a Maltese bakery he had heard of, located in the west end of our city, a bakery that was known in Europe. I was to take him there en route to the airport. I was a bit astonished that our Wagner society guest would want to stop for a coffee and pastizzi at the “Malta Bake Shop”. But there it was on Dundas St West, conveniently located in our path westward to the airport, where the bakery exists to this day.

Pastizzi were new to me. I remember enjoying my first pastizzi plus coffee through Donald’s visit to the bakery before going on to the airport.

It wasn’t the first time I thought that Donald really knows how to live.

Years later, I looked up the Malta Bake shop, confirming that yes they are still in business, as of 2021. They offer their wares at multiple locations around the GTHA as I discovered via their fan page on Facebook.

a graphic I found on Facebook

One of the locations on that list is not far from me in Scarborough.

A couple of weeks ago Sam the dog gave us a bit of a scare, an occasion to visit the emergency vet up at Birchmount and Ellesmere here in Scarborough, not so far from the Highland Farms location that carries products from Malta Bake Shop. Yes, I found pastizzi in the freezer at Highland Farms and thank goodness Sam is okay after all. But with all the disruptions of our day at the emergency vet clinic, we needed to grab something fast to eat from Highland Farms: including the pastizzi.


When I baked them I wondered, perhaps the ones you get fresh at the Dundas W location are better? But these were pretty amazing. If I could bake them without messing them up, that’s a good recipe. They’re delicate in flavour & texture. And hard to resist.

I will end recalling the way Donald closed email, a true gentleman.

Fond good wishes to Erika and your good self – Ésanyam, too!

“Ésanyam” means “and to mother” directed to my mother in law Irene whom he had met here on his visit. He was the picture of charm, adding that tiny bit in Hungarian.

Irene passed away in 2009. I miss them both.

Donald Arthur
This entry was posted in Books & Literature, Cinema, video & DVDs, Opera, Personal ruminations & essays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Encounter with Donald Arthur

  1. Edward Brain says:

    Wonderful memories, Leslie! Thank you for sharing them. I do recall the meeting with him at the Toronto Wagner Society.

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