Last week I was privileged to be in the company of Dame Gwyneth Jones. On Wednesday 2nd October, I went to see her being interviewed by Humphrey Burton at the Glasgow Film Theatre with a group of friends from the RCS. Mr Burton’s first job was in the Opera world and he got to look after Maria Callas, an idol of mine, in 1958.
Dame Gwyneth Jones is a fascinating lady that draws your attention from the start. She was born on the 7th November 1936 and when she was just 3 years old her mother died at the young age of 28, she got involved in local welsh singing festivals called eisteddfod’s. Whilst watching a performance of a children’s choir singing “They’re Changing the Guards at Buckingham Palace” she decided from then on she wanted to dress up an sing for the rest of her life. Dame Gwyneth Jones’ first singing lessons were with ‘the girl down the road’. But when her teacher decided to stop teaching she told her “don’t bother learning how to sing as you are not good enough”. :O!!!! She smuggled herself into a children’s choir with her friend so she could get singing lessons by observing the classes. She was found out eventually though as one night she fainted. The choir mistress taught her from then on.
Dame Gwyneth Jones obtained a place at the Royal College of Music age 18, sadly her father died an hour before she received her letter of placement. She auditioned for a scholarship at an Opera Studio in Zürich. At the school in Zürich Czech soprano Maria Carpi taught Dame Gwyneth Jones her technique for the top of the voice which she vouches for even now. “Technique, technique, technique – that’s what will make your career”, if you have your technique “you can fly!” she explained to her attentive audience.
One thing that really came across to me is her work ethic. At one time she was learning six Operas in a season. She has sung all of the Strauss, Verdi, Wagner and Puccini roles I admire her so much. We were shown a clip of her performance in Turandot, the clip begins with a climatic and intense long walk in silence, Mr Burton exclaimed in a panic “excuse me” indicating there may be a problem to the technical staff. Dame Gwyneth Jones silenced him with “Shut up, it’s my long silent entrance!” She has a very strong character and she and Mr Burton have been friends a long time.
She divulged some really useful pearls of wisdom and if you want to know more then you will have to go and see her next show 🙂
We were also introduced to her husband conductor and pianist Adrian Müller who was to accompany her during the master classes to be held at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. I am often asked if I sing modern popular music and although I enjoy listening to and singing along to modern pop music and crossover music, my preference is for classical repertoire as it is so vast, fabulous and difficult to do well. I love the personal challenge as I’ve never been one to take a shorter route to what I hope to achieve and I want to find my own voice, unique and not like anyone else.
Renee Fleming, an absolute idol of mine says: “ Opera singers are really the Olympic athletes of singing. We perform virtuosic music without amplification. At the same time, we work with a very delicate instrument, so a solid technique is crucial to avoiding damage. Having a wonderful sound at 18 is no guarantee of having a career, especially one that will last. So I am a believer in undergraduate and conservatory programs that give the voice time to mature and the singer time to hone her technique.”
Dame Gwyneth Jones then went on to hold masterclasses with the Masters students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland later on the Thursday and Friday; I sat in on all of them, what a remarkable lady. I had to leave one lesson early to catch my train back to Cheshire on Friday afternoon and I could barely pull myself away. I had been paying attention though and rather than walk out of the auditorium whilst she was speaking I decided to leave during a short recess, approached her husband and told him what a marvellous time I’d had and excused myself.
Well I will have to sign off as the pace of a hectic weekend along with the fifth day of my cold is begging me to get some rest as it is another full day at College tomorrow 🙂
Once I get chance to sort through the pictures and videos of the weekend’s concerts I will put a post on for you later in the week 🙂