Welsh singers make Royal Opera history

Operatic history has been made this week with two Welsh singers taking the leading roles in Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, for the first time.

Gwyn Hughes Jones, from Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey and Natalya Romaniw, from Swansea, sang the doomed lovers Mario Cavaradossi and Floria Tosca in the ever popular opera.

The run of performances of the Jonathan Kent production at what is one of the world’s most prestigious opera houses has had two casts, one with Gwyn singing the painter and radical Cavaradossi and the second cast with Natalya singing this beautiful, jealous lover Tosca. Gwyn’s performances were in November and Natalya’s this month (December). However, when Illness struck the tenor who had been singing alongside Natalya, Gwyn stepped in.

The performances by Natalya marked her Royal Opera debut and won great acclaim from audiences and critics alike, singing alongside English tenor Freddie De Tommaso in what had been the first pairing of two British singers in the roles for nearly 50 years. Natalya’s performance marked the first British soprano to sing the role since the late 1970s-early 1980s when the great Welsh soprano Dame Gwyneth Jones performed Tosca at Covent Garden.

Gwyn sung the role at the Royal Opera opening in November for five performances alongside Malin Byström to great acclaim. These were followed by Freddie De Tommasso and Natalya’s performances. But due to illness he had to withdraw from the final performance of the opera and Gwyn stepped in to sing the role, and make Royal Opera history.

Natalya, above, has sung Tosca at several opera houses before being given the leading role at the Royal Opera for her debut. After study and early experience in the UK Natalya was signed by Houston Grand Opera, where she has recently worked again in Poulenc’s Dialogue of the Carmelites.

“I can remember asking the librarian at Houston for a score of Tosca when I there but then it really was just a dream to be singing the role at Covent Garden.” It was also no necessarily the role she might have expected to make her debut. It was while singing Cio Cio San in Butterfly at English National Opera just before Covid dropped the curtain on live performances that Natalya was “seen” by the Royal Opera opening the door to the Tosca debut.

Natalya says will be in Paris in January auditioning and already schedule is singing Tosca in Hamburg. “Recently, Natalya stepped in to sing in Frankfurt, making an unexpected debut. “It was lovely, because it gave a real boost for before Covent Garden.”

No stranger to the Royal Opera having made his debut in 2005 as Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) Gwyn has since returned to sing Macduff (Macbeth) and Walther von Stolzing (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), the latter alongside Sir Bryn Terfel.

He is also a WNO favourite where he made his debit in 1995 as Ismaele in Verdi’s Nabucco and subsequent roles for the company have included Chevalier Des Grieux (Manon Lescaut), Manrico (Il trovatore), Calaf (Turandot), Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto), Rodolfo (La bohème), Faust, Pinkerton, Don José (Carmen), Nemorino (L’elisir d’amore), Turiddu (Cavalleria rusticana) and Canio (Pagliacci).

In 2015 he made his role debuts as Walther von Stolzing and Don Alvaro (The Force of Destiny) with English National Opera. Further roles with ENO have included Calaf, Pinkerton, Cavaradossi (Tosca) and Rodolfo.

Engagements elsewhere include Manrico, Pinkerton, Ismaele and Fenton (Falstaff) for the Metropolitan Opera, New York, Ismaele and Camille de Rosillon (Die lustige Witwe) for Paris Opéra, Cavaradossi for LA Opera and Washington National Opera, Werther for Lyon Opera, Pinkerton, Fenton and Rodolfo for Lyric Opera of Chicago, Rodolfo and Ismaele for San Francisco Opera, Rodolfo and Don José for Norwegian National Opera and Ernesto (Don Pasquale) for Florida Grand Opera.
He has appeared in concert with Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Flemish Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He has given recitals at Wigmore Hall, Musashino Civic Cultural Hall, Purcell Room and the Louvre Auditorium. His recordings include Macbeth (Chandos)..

Main image: Gwyn singing Cavaradossi at the Royal Opera

Natalya Romaniw Tosca review

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