Gafni, whose original family name was Weinstock, was born on 28 May 1923. When Hungary was finally occupied in the closing stages of WWII, the family was rounded up and deported – Miklos to forced labour camps in Silesia, the others to unknown destinations. He was the sole survivor of the family, literally singing for his life in the death camps of eastern Europe. After liberation from Mauthausen in 1945, just a couple of weeks before his 22nd birthday, he returned to Hungary.
In 1946 he debuted as Alfredo in “La Traviata” at the Budapest Stadtoper to great acclaim and also sang the leads in “Samson and Delilah” and “Tosca”. To develop the enormous potential of his wonderful voice, he travelled to Italy. There he received tuition from some of the greatest names of that time: Pertile, Stracciari and Gigli. After a performance at the American Embassy at Rome, he was invited to travel to the States for a series of concerts.
In February 1947 he debuted at both the Town Hall and Carnegie Hall to sell-out audiences gathering tumultuous, rapturous applause and wide critical acclaim. In the same year he made a short autobiographical film “A Voice is Born” which won a prize for the best documentary.
From this extraordinary start to his career until his untimely death in 1981, he made 17 trips around the world and over 100 trips to Europe, appearing in all the major opera houses worldwide including Vienna, London, Milan, Naples and Rome. He sang the tenor leads in over sixteen operas and gave hundreds of concert performances. Of special significance during these years was his invitation to perform at a Royal Command Performance at Victoria Palace, London on 29 October 1951 and his concert at Ohel Shem in Tel Aviv the following month in November. In 1958, he made a film about the Hungarian Revolution called “The Golden Cage”.
In the years 1947, 1948 and 1956 he was invited to tour Australia by the ABC under the general managership of the late Sir Charles Moses. Without exception all his concerts were sold out and he received overwhelmingly enthusiastic ovations each time he performed. All the seasons were stunning successes, with Miklos Gafni being feted and acclaimed across the country. During his final tour in 1956 with his wife Jeanette, he also gave concerts for the Polish Jewish Association in Sydney and Kadimah in Melbourne.
In mid-1965 he returned to Hungary where he starred as the guest artist at the Budapest Stadtoper in “Pagliacci” and “A Masked Ball” to fantastic success with packed houses and rave reviews.
Miklos Gafni had a truly remarkable life and career; his voice was of lustrous quality, golden tones, sublime beauty and power. He was also a greathearted and generous man who gave of his best and himself in all aspects of his life. Although today, his records are relatively rare, his legacy endures. Perhaps his own feelings can be expressed best in his own words, in an extract from his interview with “The ABC Weekly”, 28 June 1947 titled “This is why I am singing and this is my story” –
“When I sing… I think of the thousands upon thousands of people who like me have suffered not only through the war but through some trick of fate…I sing to them too. I am thankful to tell you that whenever I have sung, back to me come a hundred-fold affection, the hearts of thousands who have heard me….I try to send out my heart to you in song. My greatest reward is to hope that my message will find an echo in your heart and remain there.”