Dame Gwyneth Jones

Dame Gwyneth Jones

Every inch the diva, Gwyneth Jones is one of the greatest Wagnerian sopranos of all time.

Last updated: 07 February 2011

Although Gwyneth Jones ticks all the boxes for Wagner roles, and practically took up residence at the Mecca of Wagner - the Bayreuth Festival - she has also excelled in the music of Richard Strauss, Verdi, Puccini and Beethoven.

Her huge voice belies the slim, elegant frame out of which it emerges.

Born in Pontnewynydd, Monmouthshire in November 1936 to a musical family, Gwyneth Jones sang regularly throughout her teens both at school and while working as a secretary at the Pontypool foundry, winning a formidable number of prizes at Eisteddfodau.

She won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, and went on to study first in Siena and later in Zurich, which she was ultimately to make her home.

Her first professional work was in Zurich as a mezzo-soprano in 1962 and Gwyneth made her debut as a soprano at Welsh National Opera, performing Lady Macbeth in Verdi's Macbeth in the following year.

She joined the Royal Opera House in 1963 and achieved overnight fame when she stood in for Leontyne Price in Il Trovatore. She expanded her repertoire over the next few years, specialising in the German roles by Strauss, Beethoven and eventually Wagner.

Throughout the late 1960s and 70s she dominated the Bayreuth Festival, performing and recording nearly all the major roles, and became one of a handful of singers invited to return year after year.

Gwyneth Jones made her New York debut in 1972, and since then has returned regularly, as well as performing in all the major houses across the States and Europe.

She continued to take on new roles at a point in her career when many other sopranos would be heading for memoir writing and perhaps a little light teaching. One of these was Puccini's Turandot, which she first performed when in her late 40s and dominated the world market in this role for over a decade.

More recently she has taken on some of the 'mature woman' roles, such as the Kostelnicka in Janacek's Jenufa, the mother in Humperdinck's Hansel Und Gretel and the widow Begbick in Weill's Mahagonny. Dame Gwyneth continues to perform, now taking on mezzo-soprano roles, including that of Herodias in Salome, which she has performed in Malmö and Verbier in 2010.

Although Gwyneth Jones has not sung with Welsh National Opera since early in her career, she has returned to give many concert performances in Wales.

She also took on an ambitious project to convert Adelina Patti's mansion and miniature opera house, Craig y Nos, in the Swansea Valley, into a Welsh Glyndebourne, which sadly came to nought.

Among Gwyneth Jones' many awards have been the Dame of the British Empire, Kammersangerin of the Vienna and Bavarian opera houses and the German Cross of Merit. She is also President of the British Wagner Society.

In 2009, Dame Gwyneth returned to Wales as a member of the jury of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition.


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