COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lankan authorities said Sunday that the British-born sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke had been cleared of decade
-old paedophile allegations before his death last week.
Clarke was buried Saturday in Colombo, where he had lived since 1956. Obituary writers have resurrected the 1998 accusations that he had sex with young boys in his adopted country Sri Lanka.
But the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) chief, Jagath Wellawatte, said there was no case against the writer, who captured the world's imagination with "2001: A Space Odyssey" and visions of extra-terrestrial civilisations.
"We had no case against Clarke and no one had come forward to say they were abused by him," Wellawatte told AFP. The agency was established under new child protection laws enacted after the allegations against Clarke surfaced.
"We have not had any formal complaint or testimony from anyone saying they were abused by Sir Arthur," said NCPA investigator W.T.D. Wijesena. "We cannot go on the basis of rumours."
The forerunner to the NCPA, the Presidential Task Force on the Prevention of Child Abuse, had in 1998 initiated an investigation into Clarke's conduct with the help of Interpol.
Police spent two and a half hours recording a statement from Clarke in 1998, but no charges were brought against him.
Clarke, who died Wednesday at age 90, vehemently denied the allegations and also threatened to sue the British newspaper which made the charges following a "sting operation" by two undercover reporters.
Clarke said at the time that he was "disturbed to discover that there has been a long-standing conspiracy here in Sri Lanka to discredit him ... involving activists associated with child welfare organisations."
The accusations surfaced while Britain's Prince Charles was visiting Colombo and was due to confer a knighthood on Clarke. The investiture was eventually held two years later.
Upon Clarke's death, there were no official condolences from London, and the High Commission or embassy in Colombo only briefly noted Clarke's death with "sadness" on its website.
"Even in death, the sage of science fiction could not shake off the accusations of paedophilia levelled against him," wrote British newspaper The Times.
Children's rights groups in Sri Lanka, which were quite vocal when the allegetions were first levelled, have largely remained silent following Clarke's death.
"It is a cultural practice here that we don't speak ill of the dead," said Sunanda Deshapriya, director of the private Centre for Policy Alternatives think tank.
"They may also feel that the celebrity status of Clarke will have some reflected glory on Sri Lanka, and to criticise him now would be to take away some of that shine."
CHICAGO - With her dancer's body, huge brown eyes and California-casual personal style, soprano Danielle de Niese hardly fits the
stereotype of an opera star.
No horned helmet for her, as this season's poster outside Lyric Opera of Chicago attests. It shows the 27-year-old de Niese in a jewel-encrusted brassiere and little else.
She blogs. She has a MySpace page. She had a cameo in a movie you've probably heard of. You can download wallpaper of her from her Web site.
Oh, and she can sing. The Wall Street Journal review of "Giulio Cesare" a few weeks ago gushed about the "astonishing" de Niese who sang brilliantly even as she danced effortlessly.
Besides pulling in audiences, de Niese says, her youth and glamor are useful tools in recruiting young people as potential opera audiences and performers something the art form needs to survive.
"Outreach appearances in the schools are usually part of my contracts, and I love doing them," de Niese said in a recent interview backstage. "If I get just one little girl interested, I feel that I've done something there."
De Niese says she was that little girl herself not that long ago. Now, she has already been performing professionally for a dozen years.
S. Paul Driscoll, editor in chief of the magazine Opera News, recalled seeing video of de Niese's performance in the Glyndebourne production of "Giulio Cesare" that "blew me away."
"She is not only very pretty with a great voice, a great figure and amazing sex appeal, but she has the confidence that comes with having spent most of your life on stage something you normally see only in a much older performer," he said.
"And this is not only musical and vocal confidence some other young singers have that but it's physical confidence. It's when she launches off into one of those dance routines or the way she wears a costume. She fills the stage."
Her life seems so charmed that even an encounter with . Hannibal Lecter turned out pleasantly.
"No, he didn't eat me," she said recently of her appearance in the 2001 movie "Hannibal."
The first half of the movie was set in Florence and the producers commissioned a short opera from German composer Hans Zimmer and Irish composer Patrick Cassidy, de Niese said.
"It was based on Dante's `La Vita Nuova,' and I sang the role of Beatrice," she said." I got to eat the heart of Dante symbolically."
De Niese also feels the cannibal psychiatrist played by Anthony Hopkins has very good taste at least musically.
"He's into Bach," she said.
De Niese is a baroque specialist herself, but Handel's her man. She lit up the stage at Lyric this fall as Cleopatra in the U.S. premiere of David McVicar's acclaimed Glyndebourne Festival production of his "Giulio Cesare," singing, dancing, and alluring every man in the house.
The hyperkinetic production, which pays homage to both Hollywood and Bollywood musicals, would seem tailor-made for de Niese, with her dancing skill and exotic beauty, but she denied that McVicar had her in mind for its 2005 debut.
"I was originally supposed to make my Glyndebourne debut as Adele in `Die Fledermaus' in 2006, but the original Cleopatra had to pull out for health reasons, and they called me in only because I knew the role," she said. "When I showed up, the whole first scene was already choreographed."
Nonetheless, she quickly made the role her own, and clearly identifies with it.
"I get a chance to sing seven or eight major arias and a number of duets, and I simply love the story arc of the character," she said, noting that the Egyptian queen begins as a mischievous flirt, but soon has to learn about political alliances, true love, danger and the need for heroic leadership.
"This kind of journey is a thrill to make on stage," she said.
De Niese's own journey is remarkable, too.
She was born in 1980 in Australia to parents who had emigrated from Sri Lanka.
"My father was Sri Lankan and Dutch and my mother was Sri Lankan and Scottish, but they didn't meet until they were both living in Australia," she said.
Encouraged by her mother, who had studied voice herself, de Niese began studying voice and dance at an early age.
"I got into singing when I was 6," she said.
By the time she was 10, she showed enough talent that her parents decided to move to Los Angeles, which offered greater training opportunities. She was enrolled in the Richard Colburn School, where she studied piano, voice, dance and music theory.
And as if her plate wasn't already full enough, by 13 she was also serving as permanent guest host for a TV show called "L.A. Kids," which she describes as "a `60 Minutes'-style current events show for teenagers." A segment on children living with HIV won a local Emmy in 1996.
That was a year after de Niese made her professional debut with the Los Angeles Opera at 15 and decided that she would subordinate all her other activities to her singing.
"The thing that fuels me the most is the desire to be on stage," she said. "And singing is the ultimate way of expressing all the emotions that I have inside."
After high school, de Niese went on to Mannes College of Music in New York and, in short order, to the Metropolitan Opera. At 19, she was the youngest performer ever chosen for the Met's Young Artists' Program, and she was simultaneously picked for the role of Barbarina in a production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro." Other cast members included soprano Renee Fleming, mezzo Cecilia Bartoli and bass-baritone Bryn Terfel.
"I thought that all my Christmases had come at once," de Niese said.
Other triumphs followed in Amsterdam, Paris, Naples and other operatic centers topped by her career-making performance at Glyndebourne.
De Niese has specialized so far in Mozart and baroque works, but plans to branch out into some of Donizetti's lighter roles in the next few years. To protect her still-developing voice, she says she plans to wait a bit before tackling the heavier Verdi and Puccini heroines.
Her career plans are careful and cautious, but you wouldn't know it hearing de Niese talk about one upcoming role, Euridice in Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice."
"I get to die on stage!" she said. "None of my characters have died so far, and I really, really, really want to die on stage!"
It seems a bit unfair to point out that Euridice gets resurrected.