DELME BRYN JONES
(born 1934 died 2001)
Internationally renowned baritone Delme Bryn-Jones is not only the greatest opera singer to have come from the Amman Valley but also one of the finest to have come out of Wales. Born on March 29th 1934 in Brynamman, his father had been taken prisoner at Paschendale in World War 1 and his grandfather had been a singer and fiddle player. He went to school at Brynamman Primary School and Ammanford Technical College. In 1977 the College produced a booklet commemorating its fiftieth anniversary. Amusingly, Delme Bryn Jones, is remembered as follows:
"One new course was however introduced and that was In 1942 when the Junior Technical School was established at the Institute. It provided a three year full-time course for secondary school children, entry into the course being by examination with a minimum age requirement of l3½.
.... One of these students Delme Bryn-Jones from Brynamman went on to become an internationally famous opera singer. It is rather ironic to recall that he was asked to refrain from singing in assembly as his voice was rather discordant! A competent rugby player, he was awarded a Welsh Youth Rugby Cap whilst at the College."
[Coleg Technegol Rhydaman (Ammanford Technical College), 1927-1977, Dyfed County Council, 1977. A full history of Ammanford Technical College will be found in the 'History' section of this web site or click HERE.]
After leaving the Technical College Delme Bryn Jones worked first in the mining industry, serving his apprenticeship as a colliery electrician with the National Coal Board.
Whatever they thought of his singing at Ammanford Technical College, London's prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama fortunately paid no heed, as it was at the Guildhall that he eventually studied after leaving the bosom of the Tech, and later at the Vienna Academy of Music. His contemporaries at the Guildhall included fellow baritone Benjamin Luxon and world-renowned cellist Jaqueline Du Pres.
Delme Bryn-Jones's journey to the great opera houses of the world was not a conventional one, nor was it an easy one, with obstacles strewn along the way not usually found in the somewhat genteel world of classical music. He was initially turned down by the Guildhall and advised to return home where he went to work on the slag tip at Wernos Colliery, Tycroes, in order to raise money for singing lessons with the renowned voice coach Redvers Llewellyn in Aberystwyth. When he returned to London he still had to work to pay for lessons. This memory of Delme Bryn-Jones comes from Aldon Jones, formally of Penybanc, Ammanford, later retired to Canada:
In 1962-3 I taught in Bethnal Green (in the east end of London) and Delme and I used to meet at The Mitre in the West End. He told me that he won a scholarship to the Guildhall but they deemed him not to have enough of the 'crachach' in him. And they told him to go home. He went home and worked on the Wernos tip to enable himself to pay for lessons in Aberystwyth. He then went back to London and took part in a competition for a scholarship to train in Vienna and he won it, and that's what gave him the leg up and the last laugh. During the year we hung around together [1962/63], he got odd-jobs which paid for more lessons; all his money was spent on lessons. There was another Delme Jones before him, so he put the 'Bryn' in.
[Aldon Jones, from an e-mail to this web site received on November 10th 2002. The 'crachach' are those who are superior to the common herd or at least think they are.]
The career of Delme Bryn-Jones coincided with the golden age of Welsh opera. His predecessor as premier British baritone was the world renowned Geraint Evans and his successor is the no less illustrious Bryn Terfel (also named Bryn Jones, by the way, as his full name is Bryn Terfel Jones). If Delme Bryn-Jones is less well known than them today, it is perhaps because he was less adept at managing his career than these two were, for musically he was outstanding, as was his generation of Welsh opera singers, which included fellow baritone Geraint Evans, tenor Stuart Burrows and world acclaimed sopranos Gwyneth Jones and Margaret Price. Other Welsh singers from that era are the tenors Robert Tear and Dennis O'Neill and baritone Gwynne Howell.
His débuts with the major opera companies were as follows: Début with New Opera Company in 1959 (Maconchy's The Sofa). He sang Macbeth opposite Gwyneth Jones for the Welsh National opera in 1963 while also making his Glyndebourne début as Nick in The Rake's Progress. He also made his Covent Garden début in 1963 who engaged him again in 1965 to sing Paolo opposite Tito Gobbi's Boccanegra and a year later he sang Marcello in Puccini's La Boheme. Other appearances included Scottish opera, the Aldeburgh and Glyndebourne festivals. His American début was in 1967 at the San Francisco Opera as Lescaut in Manon and Donner in Das Rheingold. The Vienna State Opera heard him in 1969 as Renato in Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera.
The Amman Valley singer won acclaim at most of the world's major operatic venues, although he was sometimes considered too cheerful-looking to play the villainous parts often given to baritones!
A promising career was regrettably hampered at times by personal problems, though not everything can be blamed on this. During his time, the sixties, there was also the competition from many first class baritones which prevented him from having the kind of career he might have enjoyed today both Geraint Evans and Tito Gobbi, to name just two world-rank baritones, were in their prime at Covent Garden when Delme Bryn-Jones started his career. It will enlived many a discusion to speculate whether Bryn Terfel would still enjoy his current adulation if two baritones of that stature were also around today.
In his last years he became President of the Rushmoor Oddfellows Male Voice Choir from Aldershot, Hampshire, who held him in great affection and esteem, as this obituary on their web site clearly shows:
"Delme Bryn-Jones is regarded as one of the finest singers to have come out of Wales. Born in Brynaman, Carmarthenshire, he first studied singing with the late Redvers Llewellyn, in Aberystwyth, then at London's Guildhall School of Music before going to the Vienna Academy. His professional operatic career was launched in the 60s, when he spent two seasons with the Arts Council's "Opera for All" touring company. It was at Glynbourne Festival Opera that he leapt to prominence when, engaged as an understudy, he took over the role of Nick Shadow in Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress". The national acclaim which he received for this performance was to propel him into international stardom. In that same year came his début with Welsh National Opera and at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where a year later he became resident Principal Baritone, remaining there for ten years.
.... As a freelance artist Delme has appeared with the San Francisco, Fort Worth and Santa Fé opera companies in the USA, with Glyndbourne, Scottish and Welsh National Operas, Mannheim and the Vienna State Opera in Europe, also with Tehran and Cape Town Opera. Best known as an Italienate operatic baritone he has appeared with some of the world's leading singers. His Iago has been heard alongside the Otello of Charles Craig, his Macbeth with the Lady Macbeth of both Gwyneth Jones and Grace Bumbry, his Enrico with the Lucia de Lammermoor of Joan Sutherland and his Marcello with the Rudolfo of Luciano Pavarotti.
.... On the concert platform he has appeared at many leading festivals, including Edinburgh, Aldeburgh and Flanders. His television and radio appearances run into many hundreds and include several TV series of his own, such as "Y Gelli Aur" ["The Golden Grove"], (BBC Wales) and "Delme" (S4C). Another side of his many-faceted personality is that of professional actor, appearing as Captain Cat in "Under Milk Wood" and as Blind Dick Llewellyn in the BBC television production of Jack Jones's "Off to Philadelphia in the Morning" (the life story of the Merthyr Tydfil composer Joseph Parry).
.... Back in June 1995, Delme joined the Oddfellows for a memorable concert and we enjoyed renewing his acquaintance, in his new role as President, when he joined us for our Millennium Concert in April 2000 and again for our 40th Anniversary celebration in October 2000. Sadly, this was the last time we were able to share his company".
Delme Bryn-Jones warranted a Times obituary on his death, which we reproduce below; some details we have already mentioned but we include it in full for completeness:
Operatic baritone who struggled to be villainous on stage
Delme Bryn-Jones, baritone, was born on March 29,1934. He died on May 25, 2001, aged 67.
The Welsh baritone Delme Bryn-Jones was on the threshold of a promising career in the opera house when his progress was halted by illness.
.... He was born Delme Jones in Brynaman near Swansea into a Welsh-speaking family, but since people in Wales who can sing and are called Jones are rather numerous, he decided for professional purposes to add to his name the first syllable of his birthplace.
.... He entered the Guildhall School of Music in London, and completed his training at the Vienna Music Academy. His professional début took place in London in 1959 with the New Opera Company in Elizabeth Maconchy's The Sofa, and the young baritone soon found himself in demand. By 1963 he was taking small parts at Covent Garden, and soon undertook Verdi's Macbeth for the first time for the Welsh National Opera, opposite the Lady Macbeth of Gwynneth Jones.
.... That was also the year of his début at Glyndebourne, as Nick Shadow in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. There was praise for his voice, but his characterisation was hampered by his invincibly "benevolenr' appearance, and he was better suited the following year as The Speaker in Die Zauberflote.
.... Bryn-Jones had the bad luck to arrive at the Royal Opera House when it commanded the steady loyalty of such baritones as Tito Gobbi, John Shaw and Geraint Evans, and his progress was slower than his admirers hoped. However, by 1965 he was heard as Paolo opposite Gobbi's Simon Boccanegra. His 1966 Marcello (in La Boheme) was also unreservedly successful.
.... By this time Scottish Opera and the festivals at Aldeburgh and Edinburgh had opened their doors to him, and he was engaged for the 1967 season in San Francisco as Massenets Lescaut and Donner in Das Rheingold. But just as everything looked good, illness began to take its toll.
.... Bryn-Jones's voice was warm, attractive and lyrical, but on stage villainous parts are often the lot of baritones and he had to work hard to face down the cherubic appearance, comfortable physique and obvious niceness which endeared him to his friends.
.... His wife Carolyn predeceased him. He is survived by his son and daughter.
Source: The Times (London, England), June 13, 2001 p21
His many roles included, amongst others:
Beethoven Fidelio (Don Pizarro)
Berlioz La Damnation de Faust (Mephistopheles)
Bizet Les Pecheurs de Perles (Zurga)
Britten A Midsummer Night's Dream (Demetrios)
Cilea Adriana Lecouvrer (Michonnet)
Donizetti Don Pasquale (Malatesta)
Giordano Andrea Chenier (Gerard)
Gluck Alceste (Hercule)
Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana (Alfio)
Mozart Cosi Fan Tutte (Guglielmo)
Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro (Almaviva)
Mozart Zauberfloete (Papageno, speaker)
Puccini Butterfly (Sharpless)
Puccini Il Tabarro (Michele)
Verdi Aida (Amonasro)
Verdi Falstaff (Ford)
Verdi Otello (Iago)
Verdi Rigoletto (title role)
Verdi La Traviata (G.Germont)
Weber Abu Hassan (Omar)
In addition he made numerous recordings and he can be heard in Britten's Billy Budd (Decca 1967).
Date this page last updated: September 28, 2010