Wales’ Opera Superstars – the women – part 2

22 February 2021

With both International Women’s Day and St David’s Day almost upon us, Welsh National Opera celebrates some more of the divas that have taken Wales to the world.

Janet Price is a Welsh soprano who became particularly associated with the 19th-century Italian bel canto repertory. Born in Pontypool, she studied piano and singing at Cardiff University. Janet sang various roles with Welsh National Opera including 2 performances in Swansea and Bristol as Micaela in Carmen in 1968, and later in what is described by Richard Fawkes in his book Welsh National Opera as ‘her first major role with the company, an accomplished Ilia’ in Idomeneo in 1973.

She had a strong association with Opera Rara, appearing in concert and staged performances of rarely performed works by composers including Meyerbeer, Saverio Mercandante, Donizetti and Auber. In 2017 Cardiff’s Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama launched the annual Janet Price Opera Prize which supports the advanced training of young opera singers.

Milford Haven-born Helen Watts CBE (1927 – 2009) began her career with the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, and was a regular broadcaster on radio.

She made her Proms debut in 1955 singing Bach arias and later toured the Soviet Union with the English Opera Group, in 1964, singing the lead in The Rape of Lucretia conducted by Britten himself. Helen was also known for her 1969 performances as Mistress Quickly in Verdi's Falstaff with Welsh National Opera (which she described as ‘a heaven-sent opportunity to play comedy’) and she sang with the Company through until 1983. 

From the world of operetta, Eleanor Evans was born in 1893 in Henllan, Denbighshire and went on to perform Gilbert and Sullivan works for over 20 years with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. In 1949, she was appointed as the company's Stage Director and Director of Productions by Bridget D’Oyly Carte herself, continuing in those positions until 1953. Evans studied at the Royal Academy of Music, along with her future husband, the bass-baritone Darrell Fancourt who joined the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company as a principal in 1920. 

Eleanor followed him into the company as a chorister in 1921 and first played the role of the Plaintiff in Trial by Jury later that year. Evans continued singing in the chorus and was also given roles in the 1925 – 26 season.  She remained in the chorus from 1927 to 1937 and later rejoined from 1941 to 1945.

How many Welsh women have you seen on WNO stages over the years? Share your memories with us over on social media.