Ryland Davies

Born: February 9, 1943;

Died: November 5, 2023

Ryland Davies, who has died aged 80, was an outstanding tenor who began his career with Scottish Opera when he sang Ferrando in their historic production of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte in 1967. It brought international renown to Scottish Opera and Davies: the tenor was immediately recognised as the lyric tenor who specialised in the operas of Mozart and Rossini. In his later years he sang cameo roles that allowed him to develop his love of comedy.

David Ryland Davies was born in Cwm, Ebbw Vale, the only child of Gethin Davies, a steelworker, and his wife Joan. The family were strict Catholics and lived in Swansea where he attended the local school and was a keen athlete particularly at rugby. He was a powerful middle of the back row in the scrum and had won school boy caps for Wales against England and Scotland in 1957-58.

But in 1960 he sang at the Glamorgan youth Eisteddfod and he decided to study music. This meant giving up rugby. Delme Thomas, capped for both the Lions and Wales, recalled twice being outsmarted on the pitch by Davies, describing his move into opera as “a sad loss to rugby”.

Davies trained at the Royal Manchester College of Music and then spent four years in the Glyndebourne chorus. On the recommendation of Luciano Pavarotti he continued his studies in Italy. In 1964 his patience was rewarded when he was cast as the Count in Welsh Nation Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro.

He had sung Fenton in Falstaff in 1966 with Scottish Opera but was cast as Ferrando in the Anthony Besch production of Cosi fan tutti – the sisters were sung by the young Janet Baker and Elizabeth Harewood – and it has become a classic.

Dame Janet has recalled the occasion, “It was a marvellous production. It set the benchmark for Cosi: so simple and brilliant. It was a wonderful cast and we were all in on the ground floor of this wonderful new company.”

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He returned to sing with Scottish Opera; Tamino in Die Zauberflote (1974), Nemerino in L’Elisir d’amore (1984) and Emperor Altoum in Turandot (2014). He appeared at two significant Edinburgh Festivals, singing Mozart arias with Tereza Berganza under Claudio Abbado (1978) and in 1994 he joined a superb cast for a concert performance of The Marriage of Figaro with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Sir Charles Mackerras.

His international career was built on successful seasons in Scotland, at the Royal Opera House and at Glyndebourne. He first sang at the ROH in 1969 in Les Troyens conducted by Georg Solti. Other notable appearances included Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Marriage of Figaro and Don Pasquale.

In his first appearance in a single role at Glyndebourne in 1965 he sang the Major Domo to the imposing Montserrat Caballé’s Marshallian in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. During a performance the diva summoned Davies in the grand manner of her character; “Davies, bring me a cognac” she instructed. Davies dashed to the foyer and grabbed a brandy from the bar and calmly delivered it to the soprano with a polite nod. She whispered “Grazie, grazie”, turned her back on the audience and downed the brandy in one. Davies carried it all off with calm aplomb.

By 1970 his international career had taken off. That year he appeared at the Salzburg festival as Cassio in Verdi’s Otello under Herbert von Karajan. He made his debuts at San Francisco, Paris and The Met in New York as Ferrando. At the latter the mezzo Anne Howells was also in the company and they married. That relationship was dissolved in 1981.

The stress of the break-up caused Davies to experience vocal-problems and he avoided stage work. But he returned to Glyndebourne to sing in The Bartered Bride. Also in the cast was the baritone Stafford Dean, now married to Howells; Davies, in turn, had married (in 1983) the soprano Deborah Rees. Any tension that there might have been between them was soon dispensed with. Deborah and their daughter survive him.

He enjoyed a fine career in the studio and his discs included Don Carlo under Carlo Maria Giulini with Placido Domingo, Cosi fan tutte under Georg Solti, the Mozart Requiem under Sir Colin Davis, Haydn’s Nelson Mass and Tippett’s A Child of Our Time.

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Davies captured the finesse and style of Mozart’s arias with a gracious ease. He was much liked and respected by colleagues on stage and remained an avid sports enthusiast – enjoying tennis matches against Kiri te Kanawa.

Alasdair Steven