TUDOR DAVIES
A RHONDDA TENOR

Tudor Davies, the famous Welsh operatic tenor, was born in Pen-y-Wern Cottage, later to become 173 High Street in the Cymmer district of Porth on November 12 1892. One of twelve children born to Sarah and David Davies, a number of his siblings died in infancy. The entire family were uncommonly talented and his father, a surface mechanic at the colliery known as “Gaffer Yard”, possessed a fine singing voice. The children followed the example of their father and were accomplished singers or instrumentalists in their own right from a very early age.

Unfortunately owing to a general shortage of money the children were restricted in receiving professional musical training and only Tudor was allowed the privilege. He attended the local schools in which he was given the opportunity to perform in concerts and stage plays which displayed his natural singing voice. During this time he also became proficient at playing the violin. By this time Wales had already long-since gained its reputation as the “Land of Song” and the Rhondda Valley was certainly a typical example of this, becoming something of a jewel in the proverbial cultural crown.

 

Choral singing spread rapidly throughout both valleys, usually resulting in the formation of the united town choirs and chapel choral societies, many of which grew to more than 300 voices. Rhondda grasped the concept of singing festivals, oratorios, cantatas and competitions in eisteddfodau which reached its climax in the national event every year. With a population density ten times the national average it was a haven of competitive gatherings where an eisteddfod marquee resembled a gladiatorial arena with reputations and village pride at stake.

This was coupled with an equally as increasing brass band movement and the many communities of the Rhondda boasted award-winning silver and drum and fife bands along with orchestras of note. However, the human voice was regarded as the most popular “instrument” of the working classes during this time. Singing galvanized communities as never before and the sheer quantity and quality of male voice choirs, choral societies, juvenile choirs and ladies choirs are breathtaking. Within them sang soloists who gained reputations as eisteddfod winners, some becoming well known throughout Wales and well beyond its borders during the early part of the 20 th century. Tudor Davies was one such example.

It was within this musical environment that Tudor flourished and on leaving school he worked as a fitter in Cymmer Colliery to help subsidise the family's limited income. After limited coaching by a local music teacher Tudor decided to enter as a singing contestant in the Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales. The annual eisteddfod of 1913 was held on August 6 th at the cattle market town of Abergavenny which saw William Evans (Wil Ifan) crowned in the bardic chair. As this was the heyday of the suffragette movement, police appeared in large quantities to avoid any unruly behaviour from militant women who tried to disrupt the proceedings. Fortunately this was not the case and the event proceeded normally.

Tudor's test piece was “Il mio tesoro”, Don Ottavio's aria from Mozart's “Don Giovanni”, which was sung in English. This was supplemented by the Welsh song, “Dolly”. Despite major public support in his favour, Tudor had to be content with second place, the first prize being awarded to David Thomas, whose singing was thought to be inferior to all but the presiding judges.

Cymmer was a typical coal mining community, dominated by its colliery and overflowing with monotonous terraced houses, nonconformist chapels and public houses. These great centres of culture continued to boast an array of different musical outlets and in Cymmer the colliery supported a superb Silver Band composed of miners who were all competent musicians. When Tudor left the colliery to enrol at the University of Cardiff his workmates underground made a generous collection on his behalf to help subsidise his musical studies. An accident to his hand at work had robbed him of the dexterity needed for real violin virtuosity, so he concentrated primarily on vocal technique and musical interpretation.

Tudor made excellent programme and eventually won an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, beating 300 applicants. There he studied under Gustavo Garcia, descendant of a famous family of singers and teachers. Meanwhile, World War I had already last a year and Tudor received notice of drafting. He joined the Royal Navy and became and engine-room artificer, serving on mine-laying craft and later submarines. He was much in demand by officers and men alike, and sang frequently at concerts ashore and afloat to help raise moral amongst the troops.

After demobilisation in 1919, Tudor resumed his studies at the Royal College of Music and was soon the recipient of fresh honours when he won the Henry Blower Memorial Prize and later the Henry Leslie Prize. He made his first recording with the His Master's Voice (HMV) record label in 1919. It was a single-sided record of the aria from the “Gondoliers” called “Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes”.

 

In between studies, which lasted until the end of 1921, he was engaged to sing in a number of operatic parts at the Old Vic theatre, London, then being managed by Miss Lilian Baylis (1874-1937). Baylis was a well known English theatrical producer and manager who founded companies that later became the English National Theatre, English National Opera and English Royal Ballet. Tudor remembered that he made his debut as Tamino in Mozart's “The Magic Flute”. Whilst his singing standards had reached an advanced stage, his knowledge of stage make-up had not and he appeared in the first act resembling a “Red Indian” than an olive-skinned man of the east!

While Tudor accepted tenor roles in oratorio and concerts, there was considerable activity in the operatic world, which resulted in furthering his career. Tudor was engaged to make a tour of the USA and Canada and took passage aboard the Aquitania which was to dock in New York, but was delayed by two days. Tudor was scheduled to sing in Lohengrin, Philadelphia and was close to missing his first public engagement. During the Canadian tour Tudor sang with the Mendelssohn Choir, a high-profile choral ensemble of note during this time and the oldest in the country.

In 1920, Sir Thomas Beecham's ill-fated Beecham Opera Company which had presented opera in English in London since 1916 became bankrupt. The initiative was conceived as part of Beecham's campaign to foster musical life during World War I, after the forced closure of the Covent Garden opera company, where the conductor had been mounting opera seasons. Although Beecham had intended the company to be a permanent venture, it was disbanded in 1920 when financial problems over buying the Bedford Estate forced him to withdraw temporarily from the music scene. In December 1921 leading members pooled their resources with the added support of three businessmen to buy Beecham's company, comprising the scenery, costumes, scores, instruments and performing rights of 48 operas. The new venture was financed by the issue of 40,000 preference shares at £1 each. Among the musicians who met at the inaugural meeting of the new enterprise at the Queen's Hall were Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Sir Charles Stanford, Harry Plunket Greene, Aylmer Buesst and Sir Henry Hadow . Together they founded the British National Opera Company.

 

It was their intention to open the feast season during the summer of 1921, but unforeseen problems delayed opening night and their finally began in Bradford in February 1922. For the next seven years they performed English operas throughout the provinces and also short seasons at Covent Garden and His Majesty's Theatre in London. The company's first artistic director was Percy Pitt, who had been music director with the Grand Opera Syndicate and who later worked as Director of Music for the BBC. Tudor's artistry had already been noted during his performance at the Old Vic and on his return to the UK was enrolled as one of the principal tenors in this new venture. The British National Opera Company's Covent Garden season commenced on May 1 1922 with “La Boheme”. Tudor sang the roll of Rodolfo.

The Times columnist wrote that a large and enthusiastic audience filled the theatre and that “Mr Tudor Davies, who has been singing the part of Rodolfo in the provinces, and a newcomer to Covent Garden, made a particularly good impression. His is a beautiful voice which he uses freely and well. He was always triumphant in the climaxes, and when the orchestra allowed his singing voice to be heard, Mr Davies was worth hearing!....Miss Licette improved after the first act…an improvement could be effected in balance between orchestra and singers. Miss Townend was inclined to be shrill, but the artists were very competent and the public could look forward to a rewarding season.”

The critic from The Telegraph also noted, “The opera season made an excellent start at Covent Garden last night. The performance was an uncommonly good one, which while not effacing memories of Melba and Caruso, was astonishingly good by an reasonable standards.”

The following night was given over to a performance of “Samson and Delilah” in which Edna Thornton was distinguished in the leading female roll next to William Boland's competent Samson under the conductorship of Eugene Goosens. “Parsifal” was to be performed on the Wednesday evening but was postponed as the theatre was told the King George V and Queen Mary were making an informal visit. Perhaps the Royal Private Secretary conveyed the inference that their majesties preferred to hear one of the standard operas in place of the Wagnerian drama. Therefore Gounod's “Faust” was decided upon and the title role was Tudor's second interpretation of the season. It was of course his first opportunity to perform for a Royal audience. Mignon Nevada was Margerite and Robert Radford played Mephistopheles. The performance was considered a huge success.

On the following evening Tudor sang again in the first London performance of “The Goldsmith of Toledo”, a pastiche based on E.T.A. Hoffman's story, “Madamoiselle de Soudery” to the music of Offenbach. Although the work was not enthusiastically received, the fault apparently was due to the clumsiness of the composition rather than the standard of singing. Tudor's performance of the tenor serenade was well-received. The next evening he sang in “Tristan and Isolde” in the smaller part of the courtier, Melot as the title roles were performed by Frank Mullings and Beatric Miranda. This was described as another successful evening. The performance on Saturday, May 6 th was a repeat of “La Boheme”. For the following week the performances remained the same, although “Madam Butterfly” was substituted for the “Goldsmith” on the Saturday matinee with Maggie Teyte (1888-1876) as Butterfly alongside William Boland. It was the first of many performances Tudor appeared in along Miss Teyte (later Dame Maggie Teyte), a famous soprano and interpreter of French art song. The third week of the season included the Wagner Ring Cycle in which Tudor's one part was as David on the Friday performance of “Die Meistersinger” in which he was thought to be miscast.

 

The standard programme continued on the week of May 22 with exception of the performance of Saturday May 27 which was of special significance. The Times wrote, “It was the night of the Command Performance given before their Majesties King George and Queen Mary. The opera chosen was “La Boheme”, and the only departure from the original on May 1 was the casting of Miss Mignon Nevada in the part of Mimi. The King wore a large carnation in the buttonhole of his dress suit and the Queen wore a dress of rose chiffon and charmouse gown with a white chiffon velvet cloak, diamond bandeau and diamond necklace. As the Queen stepped from her motor car, her necklace slipped from her neck to the pavement, but was immediately recovered by an attendant. It appeared that the clasp became unfastened. Princess Victoria and the Duke of York accompanied their majesties. The Royal Party was received by the Duke of Atholl who presented Sir W.S. McCormick, one of the directors of the company and Mr Percy Pitt to their Majesties.”

Miraculously in the short space of just three weeks, Tudor reached the pinnacle of his achievements with a Covent Garden debut, a performance of the tenor role in a London premiere and appearing twice before the King and Queen. Although it is doubtful Tudor had time to bask in the glory of his success as he was soon enveloped in the added pressure of rehearsals and performance in different roles for the company. From early on it was clear Tudor's vigour and hard-working ethic saw him undertaken challenging roles that would have exhausted many a fellow performer. Later that month he went on to sing Don Jose in Bizet's “Carmen” with Olga Haley in the title role. Eda Bennie and May Blyth played Frasquita and Mercedes and Julius Harrison conducted. His performance of the “Flower Song” was later recorded for the HMV record label to wide acclaim.

The entire season at Covent Garden had been a great success and the directors were delighted with the box office receipts resulting from such large attendances by the opera-going public, despite the high summer temperatures. The board lost no time making plans for a winter season which commenced on Boxing Day, while the Carl Rosa Company occupied Covent Garden during the autumn with their own season from October 9 to November 4. Tudor Davies, Olive Townsend and several other members of the BNOC were commissioned by the company to appear in leading roles. Tudor undoubtedly welcomed the opportunity to extend his repertoire and added Radames, Pinkerton and Manrico to the growing list of roles.

The British National Opera Company's winter season lasted four weeks which opened with Humperdinck's “Hansel and Gretel” with Maggie Teyte and Lilian Standford. Tudor had few parts in this short season, appearing in only five out of the 35 performances, although one turned out to be a major achievement for him. On January 6 1923 the matinee performance of “Hansel and Gretel” was broadcast by the recently formed British Broadcasting Corporation, making history as the first European radio performance of the opera. On January 17 th a second broadcast was made of “La Boheme” with Tudor as Rodolfo, partnered by none other than the famous Nellie Melba as Mima.

Nellie Melba

 

Dame Nellie Melba GBE (19 May 1861 – 23 February 1931) was an Australian operatic soprano who became one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian Era and the early 20th century. She was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician. Melba studied singing in Melbourne and made a modest success in performances there. After a brief and unsuccessful marriage, she moved to Europe in search of a singing career. Failing to find engagements in London in 1886, she studied in Paris and soon made a great success there and in Brussels. Returning to London she quickly established herself as the leading lyric soprano at Covent Garden from 1888. She soon achieved further success in Paris and elsewhere in Europe, and later at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, debuting there in 1893. Her repertoire was small; in her whole career she sang no more than 25 roles and was closely identified with only ten. She was known for her performances in French and Italian opera, but sang little German opera. During the First World War, Melba raised large sums for war charities. She returned to Australia frequently during the 20th century, singing in opera and concerts, and had a house built for her near Melbourne. She was active in the teaching of singing at the Melbourne Conservatorium. Melba continued to sing until the last months of her life and made a legendary number of "farewell" appearances.

Of her performance with Tudor, the Telegraph stated, “Tudor Davies's Rodolfo has never done better, in spite of a nervous beginning, the other Bohemians sang well enough but were too gentlemanly in action to be convincing.” At the end of the final act, Nellie Melba made a number of curtain calls and from a flower-decked stage spoke of her pleasure of being home in Covent Garden. Tudor later remembered, “She was always exceedingly kind to me and once asked me to accompany her on an Australian tour, but the home country pulled strongly and I decided to remain here.”

Melba presented him with a diamond tiepin which he treasured, but felt a deep sense of loss when it was ultimately stolen from his lodgings. She soon returned to Australia, where she sang at the immensely successful "Concerts for the People" in Melbourne and Sydney, with low ticket prices, attracting 70,000 people.

During the season Tudor sang in another performance of “La Boheme” with Maggie Teyte as Mimi, twice in “Faust” with Beatrice Miranda as Margerite and in “Madam Butterfly” again with Maggie Teyte. When he wasn't performing opera his concert performance schedule saw him appearing night after night on the London stage, where the warmth of his voice and panache made him a firm favourite with audiences young and old.

The 1923 summer season, which ran from May 14 to June 30, was notable for the inclusion of four British operas. Tudor sang in the first Covent Garden performance of Ethel Smyth's single-act opera, “Fete Galanta”, termed a “dance dream” from the play by Mauric Baring. It was not received with great enthusiasm and only enjoyed five performances. Tudor was also on stage to perform with Edna di Lima in “Faust” and also sang Turiddu in “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Pinkerton in “Madam Butterfly”.

Wagner's Ring Cycle was again performed and “Tristan and Isolde” was given a special performance in aid of his widow Cosima and her family who were in financial difficulties after the war. Although the profits of the company at the end of the season were not excessive the future was promising and they renewed their application to Covent Garden for another summer season. However Covent Garden had other ideas and wished to return to international opera given in the original language as performed by visiting foreign performers and they turned down the BNOC's application unconditionally.

 

Despite great public outcry the Company relented and there is little doubt this decision, dealt a deathly blow. The company existed for only one further season at Covent Garden from January 7 to February 16 1924. For Tudor it was further performances of “La Boheme” and “Madam Butterfly” in what became his most versatile opera season. He sang Rinuccio in “Gianni Schuchi” on January 15 th in the first English performance of Puccini's opera, with Herbert Langley in the title role. He opened the season as Waither in “Die Meistersinger” and appeared with great success as Cavaradossi in “Tosco”, Tamino in “The Magic Flute”, Canio in “Pagliacci” and repeated his triumphs in “Cavalleria Rusticana”, “Faust” and “Fete Galanta”. Tenor Walter Widdop (1892-1949\, who became one of Tudor's closest friends, made his Covent Garden debut on January 25 in the title role of Siegriend and on February 2 sang Radames in “Aida”.

On the final night of the season and what was to prove the last Covent Garden performance by the British National, the King and Queen along with members of the Royal Family were again present in a theatre packed to capacity by an audience anticipating a memorable night of entertainment. The performance consisted of the long-practiced pairing of “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci”, with Tudor as Turiddu in the former and Mullins as Canio in the latter.

The company gave its summer season at His Majesty's Theatre where history was made as Malcolm Sarjent conducted the first public performance of Vaughan-William's “Hugh the Drover” on July 14 th . It was an opera the composer had worked on for a number of years prior to World War I and was seen as a forerunner of developing English opera. Tudor created the title role and the American soprano Mary Lewis appeared as Mary. It marked another historic occasion in Tudor's operatic career and was certainly highly acclaimed by the London critics of the time. Other new productions were Rimsky-Korsakov's “Golden Cockerel”, “Debussy's Polleas and Melisande” and Mackenzie's “Eve of St John”. During the year Frederick Austin succeeded Percy Pitt as Artistic Director when Pitt, who remained at Covent Garden as principal conductor, and later became General Musical Director of the British Broadcasting Company, resigned. After holding the latter post until he was succeeded by Sir Adrian Boult in 1930, Pitt died two years later.

Margaret Teyte
 

Without a resident theatre of its own, the British National Opera Company toured the major cities and towns of the UK giving short seasons over the next five years. When it was possible Tudor appeared while also undertaking concert engagements of his own. He appeared with Florence Austral singing duet's from Wagner's “Tristan and Isolde”, Siegried and Gotterdammerung in the London Symphony Orchestra's first concert of its 1924-25 series.. With so many opera premiers to their credit the BNOC was not a company to rest on their laurels and gave the first performance of Gustav Holst's “At the Boar's Head” in Manchester on April 3 1925. Tudor was again assigned the tenor role with Constance Willis and Norman Allin in other leading parts.

Macolm Sarjent was also the conductor on this prestigious occasion. Frederick Austin was present at a Wigmore Hall concert on December 14 1925 and the concert was devoted entirely to music by Bernard van Dieren, including selections from his opera “The Tailor”, sung by Megan Foster and John Goss with Kathleen Long, piano and chamber orchestral accompaniment.

The ensemble was conducted by a young man named John Barbirolli. Austin was strongly impressed by Barbirolli's conducting and offered him a junior conductorship with the BNOC which he accepted. With a minimum of rehearsal he found himself soon on stage.

At times he succeeded, as in January 1927 when the company performed at Golder's Green Hippodrome and he conducted “Romeo and Juliet” which The Times described as “a spirited, expressive and precise performance”. Also “Madam Butterly” on the Saturday of that week which was a box office sell out and “With no one on stage or in the pit afraid of being sentimental – least of all the conductor!” Tudor and Miriam Licette sang the leading roles in both operas. The Birmingham Post critic visited their performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre in the spring of 1928 and “Die Meistersinges” came in for a literary thrashing. When “Aida” was performed on Easter Monday with Frank Mullings as Radames, the critic kept up the hostility. “Had the conductor been followed closely, we might had had a memorable performance, but it did not go at all comfortably.” On the Saturday that ended the season, Frederick Austin made a curtain speech with expressed doubts of the future of the BNOC unless it could be helped financially by Sir Thomas Beecham's Imperial League of Opera scheme which advocated public subscription. This did not materialise and the end came for the company on April 16 1929 when they were £5,000 in debt. The Conservative Government, under Stanley Baldwin, extracted their necessary entertainment tax from the box office takings which equated to £17,000. In the 1934-35 season Sadler's Wells was exempt from paying this tax. British National Opera Company employed most of the leading British and British-based singers and conductors of that time, including conductors John Barbirolli, Adrian Boult, Aylmer Buesst, Hamilton Harty, Gervase Hughes and Malcolm Sargent, and singers Agnes Nicholls, Florence Austral, Joseph Hislop, Edward Johnson, Dinh Gilly, Harold Williams, Norman Allin, Robert Radford, Dora Labbett, Herbert Heyner and Heddle Nash, among others. The BNOC effectively re-formed as the Covent Garden English Opera Company in September 1929, with Barbirolli as its musical director, and continued under that name until 1938.

Tudor said in 1928, “Eventually opera will become a paying proposition, little as may be the signs of an improvement at the present time. It is hopeless, I think, to rely upon the chance of state aid. There are too many schemes clamouring for government subsidies for a “mere art like music” ever to be consider in high quarters. It might be different if opera appealed to the upper ten, those people who could, if they chose, bring influence to bear on the politicians, but opera to them is merely a fashionable feature of the London season, and they care little about supporting native art or native artists.”

Temporarily absent from the operatic stage, Tudor accepted more concert work which featured a whole range of performance techniques from operatic excerpts and oratorio to ballads and song-cycles. His recording work, particularly for HMV was prolific during this time. When Sir Thomas Beecham organised and conducted a Delius Festival consisting of six concerts given in the presence of the invalid composer. The final one was devoted to the “Mass of Life” with Tudor as soloist, alongside Miriam Licette, Astra Desmond and Roy Henderson. Also in 1928 Tudor returned to the United States for another extensive tour as guest artists at various opera houses in addition to concert bookings. However, it was a gruelling tour and the critic in Milwaukee commented, “Mr Davies who has won fame in his native country and approval in this, was heard in airs from the operas and concert songs…the first half of his programme was not well sung….the voice was married, not greatly, but annoyingly by a persistent little vibrato…later he displayed his true merit, “Celeste Aida”…the brave tune was beautifully delivered and from then on the tenor was as listeners wanted him to be.”

After his return to the UK in 1930, Tudor learned of the intensive project to rebuild the Sadler's Wells Theatre which had been in existence in Clerkenwell, London as far back as 1683. However, by the end of the 19th century it had become a music hall, followed by a cinema before it closed in 1915. By 1925 the proprietor of the Old Vic theatre, Lilian Baylis felt that her opera and drama productions needed to expand. She invited the Duke of Devonshire to make a public appeal for funds to set up a charitable foundation to buy Sadler's Wells for the nation. The appeal committee included such diverse and influential figures as Winston Churchill, Stanley Baldwin, G. K. Chesterton, John Galsworthy, Dame Ethel Smyth and Sir Thomas Beecham. It was not long before enough money had been amassed to buy the freehold.
 

Designed by F.G.M. Chancellor of Matcham & Co, the new theatre opened on 6 January 1931 with a production of Twelfth Night and a cast headed by Ralph Richardson as Sir Toby Belch and John Gielgud as Malvolio. At the beginning of Baylis's management of Sadler's Wells, it was intended that the two theatres should each offer alternating programmes of drama and opera. This happened for a short while, but it soon became clear that it was not only impractical, but also made dubious commercial sense: drama flourished at the Old Vic but lagged behind opera and dance in popularity at the Wells. The Vic-Wells Opera Company was the name of the opera company performing at Sadler's Wells.

Tudor had no difficulty in joining as one of the company's leading tenors. When it opened, Tudor sang the lead in “Lohengrin” along with the usual repertory work. At the end of the first season in May he was invited to accompany Maggie Teyte and Yelland Richards, a young pianist on a concert tour of Australia. The three artists sailed for Melbourne, calling at Gibraltar on the outward passage. In between concerts, they included much visiting and sightseeing with John Brown Lee, the Australian baritone, serving as the ideal guide. They travelled to Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane where they received great acclaim, but few financial rewards.

At the end of the year Tudor returned to the role of “Hoffman” which he had performed in his early days at the Old Vic, with Edith Coates, Joan Cross, Nora Sabini and Powell Lloyd in supporting roles. The 1932-33 season contained the first commercial performance of Arthur Benjamin's opera “The Devil Take Her” with Tudor adding the tenor role to his list of characterisations, and that of the old Tzar Berendey in the first English performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's “Snow Maiden”, with excellent singing by Olive Dyer in the title role and Edith Coates as Lehl. The 1934-1935 seasons were conventional, but the following year included new productions of “Madam Butterfly” with Tudor partnering Joan Cross and the “Die Meistersinger” with Tudor once more in the hold old part of Walther. “Hugh the Drover” was also given its Sadler's Wells debut.

During the 1937-38 season Tudor sang the part of Florestan in a production of Beethoven's “Fidelio” which was given cool press rewards. In the 1938-39 season he made history by singing the title role in the first performance in English of Verdi's “Don Carlo” with friend Redvers Llewellyn appearing as Marquis de Pose. This took the form of a gala performance given on behalf of Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital. With the approach of the 1939-40 season, World War II was underway and performances ceased at Sadler's Wells on September 7 1940. While the theatre remained closed the ballet company toured throughout the country, and on its return changed its name to the Sadler's Wells Ballet. Similarly, the opera company toured to return as Sadler's Wells Opera Company, and it reopened the theatre with Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes .

 

Tudor joined the rest of the company as they toured the country giving makeshift performances for servicemen and factory personnel. When the Entertainment National Service Association (ENSA) was founded, Tudor became an early member, carrying assignments to sing across the UK. On a visit to Coventry he was bombed out of his accommodation and caught out with air raids in Glasgow, Bristol and Bath. After retiring for the night in Hull, he awoke to a crash and a room filled with dust and debris as the entire wall collapsed onto the street. It was during his period at ENSA that he met the young soprano, Miss Ruth Packer. Tudor had lived a life of flirtatious encounters with the ladies at many high-society balls and dinners. Following a whirlwind courtship, they were married in Croydon by special licence in 1941. Eric Rees wrote that he "saw the brilliant young soprano as Santuzza; her vocal resplendence and dramatic intensity were akin to her husband's".

Ruth Packer was born in London in 1910. the only child of Christian Scientists who went on to study, singing and cello at the Royal Academy of Music before going to Leipzig. here she studied with Elena Gerhardt, gaining from her a tremendous knowledge of Lieder. She then lived in Vienna from 1930 until 1935, spending three years working simply on the passagio area of her voice, being allowed to sing only two phrases.

On her return to England, Ruth Packer joined the chorus of the Carl Rosa Opera Company, but soon progressed to being its leading dramatic soprano. Her first main role with the company was that of Venus in Tannhauser. At the same time she was performing at Covent Garden and took part in the historic Ring cycle conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham in 1938. She sang the role of Helmwige, and had been asked to sing the role of Gutrune in the Ring of 1939, but the outbreak of war intervened at what would have been the peak of her career. During World War Two, she appeared frequently with Sadler's Wells Opera and the Carl Rosa Opera Company. Had the Second World War not intervened, there is no doubt that she would have enjoyed international acclaim. After a performance she gave as Abigail in Nabucco for the Welsh National Opera, in which she had dominated the stage, Desmond Shaw-Taylor lamented that "it is strange that singing of this calibre has not won wider recognition in the past".

Before the end of the war, and with less of a threat from Nazi invasion, the opera companies and orchestras began to resume their activities. British morale needed a boost and music was an excellent tonic. Ruth and Tudor joined in a more placid career at the Carl Rosa Opera Company which toured the cities and provinces with a standard repertory. However, appearing in eight consecutive concerts weekly began to takes its toll. Tudor became tired and his voice showed signs of deterioration which was expected given the strenuous roles he had played. Tudor departed more and more from the operatic stage and continued with appearances in concert halls, continuing to captivate audiences across the country. Meanwhile Ruth remained with Carl Rosa Opera Company, becoming their principal soprano and continuing to receive critical acclaim. Following World War II they also both appeared with the newly formed Welsh National Opera Company under Idloes Owen, considered one of the finest singing teachers in Wales whose pupils included Sir Geraint Evans. In 1946 Tudor Davies again starred in a production of “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci” at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cardiff. Ruth's own career continued to flourish as she gave concert recitals the length and breadth of the UK. In 1951 she appeared at Birmingham Town Hall with the newly-reformed Treorchy Male Choir under its Conductor John Haydn Davies.

Tudor later replaced his friend Redvers Llewellyn as Professor of Vocal Studies at Cardiff College and it was decided the couple would sell their home in London and return to Wales. Ruth enjoyed a lifelong friendship with the daughter of Colonel Probert whose family residence was the historic mansion, The Argoed which had extensive farmland across the Pennallt mountain above Monmouth. On the death of one of their tenants, the Proberts gave Ruth and Tudor the opportunity to purchase a terraced cottage overlooking the forested slopes that rose above the river Wye. Amid its natural surroundings, the couple set about renovating the property with the help of neighbours, friends and labourers. With the task completed this idyllic setting became home. Tudor spent his spare time fishing on the Wye, visiting family in the Rhondda and sharing his life with Ruth.

In March 1958 Tudor suffered a severe attack of jaundice and was admitted to Hereford County Hospital where it was discovered he was suffering from liver disease and underwent surgery. He passed away on Wednesday April 2 1958 at the age of 65. The funeral took place privately on April 5 at Penallt Church, where he was interred in the adjoining churchyard, above Tudor's old fishing haunts. The headstone reads simply, “Tudor Davies, Singer 1892-1958, Beloved Husband of Ruth." The announcement of his death appeared in The Times on the same day, reading, “Mr Tudor Davies, who died on Wednesday at the age of 65 was a Welsh tenor who did much for English opera during its struggles to establish itself after the 1914-18 warm, in which he served with the Royal Navy as an engineer. Returning to music, he completed his studies at the Royal College of Music and then went on to tour the United States, Canada and Australia, singing in both opera and concerts. But he was essentially an opera singer and his first important opera work was with the British National Opersa Company with whom he sang the title role in “Hugh the Drover” in 1924. other roles with this company and Sadler's Wells, which he joined as principal tenor when it was established by Lilian Baylis in 1931, were Tamino, Florestan, Don Jose and Don Carlos. His voice was a strong, lyrical tenor and though he pressed hard, it gave him no difficulties of reproduction. He was a reliable artist, if not very imaginative, for in most of his characters, it was a sturdy Welshman, rather than an ill-starred Latin who confronted the heroine. He also sang with the Carl Rosa company and once, as a young man, with Melba at Covent Garden. During the 1939-45 war he was in great demand with ENSA and it was while on one of those tours he met Miss Ruth Packer, the soprano singer whom he married in 1941.”

 


After Tudor's death Ruth Packer, she left the stage and joined the teaching faculty at the Royal College of Music and later at the London Opera Centre, where she remained until 1980. As with her singing, she was able to communicate to countless grateful students the joy in the sound of the individual voice, and the confidence and commitment that she herself had possessed. Among her many pupils who went on to grace the international stages of the world were Dame Malvina Major, Dame Anne Evans and Dame Gwyneth Jones, Iris dell'Aqua, Helen Field and Mary Lloyd Davies.

In 1982, when she was 72, Ruth Packer married Major Ynyr Probert, 13 years her senior. They had known one another since Ruth was 10, because Patience, Ynyr's first wife, had been Ruth's best friend at school. Ynyr was not a musical man, and Ruth closed the door to that part of her life. She never looked back nor had any regrets, and most of her friends from her later years were unaware of her distinguished operatic past. After Ynyr Probert's death, aged 100, in 1998, she returned to music, journeying all over Europe to the major opera houses. She died in Sao Bras de Alportel, Portugal in 2005 at the age of 94.

On Tuesday June 19 1990 Rhondda Borough Council's mayor unveiled a plaque on Tudor Davies's birthplace in Cymmer. Almost a century since his birth he was remembered once more for his successful operatic and concert career. It was one which saw him entertain audiences throughout the UK, USA and Australia. He also achieved great acclaim on an entire catalogue of much loved commercial recordings for various companies. His achievements were many, from critically acclaimed operatic debuts and broadcasts to Royal Command Performers. Today he deserves to be remembered as one of Wales's most outstanding tenors.

* Published with thanks to the research of Arthur D. Hillier and Jack Jarrett
* Tudor Davies was the great-uncle of Treorchy Male Choir's Vice Chairman, John Fletcher

 



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