14. Sir Geraint Evans CBE
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Born in Cilfynydd near Pontypridd - in the same street as Stuart Burrows 11 years later - Geraint Evans was surrounded by music from birth. He became a talented pianist and violinist, and also sang in local productions. A major turning point came when a local opera singer recommended that he should take singing lessons.
He performed as an amateur while working as a window-dresser, until the next major life-changing event came along - the outbreak of the Second World War. Evans started in the RAF but ended up in the music department of the British Forces Network, performing regularly on the radio. The Austrian bass Theo Hermann heard him and gave him lessons. It was through Hermann’s contacts that Geraint Evans got an audition at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on his return. He joined the company, and after starting in smaller roles he quickly progressed to perform Figaro in only his second season. Many other character baritone roles soon followed, and with them his increasing fame particularly in the roles of Falstaff, Don Pasquale, Figaro, Beckmesser, Leporello and Dulcamara. His achievements were acknowledged with a knighthood in 1969.
Another defining moment came in 1960 when Evans was asked to perform Figaro at La Scala in Milan, under the baton of the great Herbert von Karajan. In doing so, he became the first British singer to perform at La Scala in 35 years. Engagements soon followed in Vienna and Salzburg, with New York, San Francisco and Buenos Aires following on. Geraint Evans was one of the very first international opera star jet-setters.
At a time when as a rule great acting was not high on the list of requirements for a successful career in opera, perhaps it was Geraint Evans’ unique talent for characterisation that led to his international success, and directors such as Tyrone Guthrie and Franco Zeffirelli loved to work with him. His dramatic talent also led him to regularly stage produce operas in which he was performing, becoming famed for his role of Falstaff. He died at his home in Aberaeron in 1992.