Operatic tenor and star at Scottish Opera

Born: April 11, 1941;

Died: August 8, 2018

THE tenor Arthur Davies, who has died aged 77, was a much admired tenor with a fine reputation in many international opera houses. He was a regular at The Royal Opera, Welsh National and Scottish Opera and at English National Opera. At the latter he sang the role of Duke in the initial production of Jonathan Miller’s famous ‘Mafioso’ Rigoletto. Davies had a compelling stage presence which, allied to his fine vocal delivery, made him ideal for many of the classic roles in Italian opera. He had excellent diction and ensured every word was heard throughout the theatre.

Davies made his debut with Scottish Opera in a production of Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen which was first seen at the Edinburgh Festival of 1980. In David Pountney’s joyous production Davies sang a lyrical account of the Fox. In 1983 he sang David in the final revival of SO’s historic production The Mastersingers of Nuremburg under Alexander Gibson and in 1990 he was seen with the company in two favourites – Pinkerton in Madam Butterfly and in Antony Besch’s gripping production of Tosca. One critic wrote of the latter, “Arthur Davies gave a wonderfully sung and youthful performance of Cavaradossi.”

Also that year he appeared at the Festival in a thrilling concert performance of Martinu’s Greek Passion. He was last heard in Scotland as a soloist in the Verdi Requiem in Dundee in 1999.

Arthur Davies was born in Wrexham and studied at the Royal Northern College of Music. He made his debut with WNO in 1972 and returned to sing many principal roles with the company – notably Don José in Bizet's Carmen and the title role in Benjamin Britten's Albert Herring. He sang the tenor role in one of WNO’s most acclaimed productions – Tippett’s Midsummer Marriage. Richard Armstrong conducted a new production in Cardiff in 1976 and Davies gave a resounding performance of the work at the Proms in the Albert Hall the following year.

Three years later he returned to The Proms to sing Novice in a concert performance of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd under Armstrong with Thomas Allen in the title role.

In 1976 Davies joined a huge cast for the Royal Opera’s world premiere of Hans Werner Henze's We Come to the River and returned in 1985 to sing Arturo in a tremendous revival of Lucia di Lammermoor for Joan Sutherland’s final appearance in the title role which she had made very much her own. Also in the cast was the celebrated tenor Carlo Bergonzi. Other appearances at Covent Garden included a revival of Jenufa in 1988 under Christian Thielemann.

His Duke in the Miller Rigoletto made a tremendous impact. The setting of New York’s Little Italy with Davies as a smarmy Cagney-like Duke astounded the audience – especially when Davies slipped a dime into the jukebox to play the latest hit. He then sang triumphantly one of Verdi’s great hits - La Donna e mobile.

John Rawnsley who sang Rigoletto opposite Davies on many occasions has recalled, “Arthur was a wonderful friend and colleague. A wonderful singer with a wonderful voice - when Arthur sang, the sun always shone.”

Apart from Rigoletto, Davies had a distinguished career with ENO – the variety of his roles reflecting his vocal versatility: Mozart (Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni) to Lensky in Eugene Onegin and the title role in Gounod’s Faust. He went on the extensive ENO tour to the US in 1989 and sang in New Orleans and at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. His singing of Rigoletto at the latter won much praise although the setting of the production proved controversial.

Davies had a particular success in the Soviet Union. In 1983 he sang the tenor role in the Soviet premiere of Elgar’s epic Dream of Gerontius. Under Yevgeny Svetlanov, other English soloists and the USSR Symphony Orchestra he gave an impassioned performance – “Arthur Davies is a ringing, full-throated Gerontius” one Moscow critic wrote. He returned to the city in 1995 for a new production of Giordano’s seldom heard Andrea Chenier at the Bolshoi Theatre. It was a role Davies also sang in Leipzig.

His recordings included a wonderful account of the Rigoletto under Mark Elder and three recordings under Richard Hickox: the title role in Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, William Walton’s Trollius and Cressida and an exceptionally fine recording of Mozart’s Requiem with Yvonne Kenny and Davies in exceptional voice.

He is survived by his wife Maureen.