Tenor  Ryland  Davies
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Ryland Davies – Tenor – studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music with Frederic Cox, who remained a lifelong friend. On the recommendation of Luciano Pavarotti he continued his studies in Italy with Ettore Campogalliani and Luigi Ricci. He made his operatic debut singing Rossini's Count Almaviva in 1964 at Welsh National Opera. Since then he has performed in all the major opera houses singing the leading lyric tenor roles such as Belmonte, Don Ottavio, Ernesto, Fenton, Ferrando, Flamand, Lysander, Lenski, Nemorino and Tamino.

Ryland has sung and recorded with many leading orchestras and conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Sir Colin Davis, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Carlo Maria Giulini, Herbert von Karajan, Kirill Kondrashin, Sir Simon Rattle and Mstislav Rostropovich. He has taught at the Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal College of Music and is currently Professor of Singing at the Royal Academy of Music. He has given master classes in the UK and all over the world, including Amsterdam, Chicago, Houston and Glyndebourne Touring Opera.

After nearly fifty years since his debut as a lyric tenor, Ryland continues to be in demand to sing many character roles.

--  Names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.  BD 

At some point in their careers, many singers also embrace teaching.  Often this happens after retirement from the stage, but some begin during their performing days.  After many years as a leading Mozart tenor, Ryland Davies has established himself as a fine teacher of voices, and at the same time continues to appear all over the world, now in supporting roles.

Here in Chicago, we have enjoyed all these sides of his artistry.  In 1972, he appeared as Ferrando in Così fan tutte along with Margaret Price, Tom Krause, Anne Howells, Urszula Koszut, and Geraint Evans, in the Ponnelle production conducted by Dohnányi.  He would return in 1998 for Don Basilio in Marriage of Figaro with Renée Fleming, Bryn Terfel, Elizabeth Futral, Håken Hagegård, Susan Graham, and Dale Travis, led by Zubin Mehta.  He would also give master classes for the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists (as it was called then), and return for the Opening Night Figaro in 2003.

We met between performances in March of 1998, and the encounter was filled with both serious ideas and humorous asides.

In most of my transcriptions, I use the initials of both my guest and myself to indicate who is speaking.  However, since RD and BD look very much alike, I wanted to avoid any confusion and thus have utilized Ryland. 

Here is that conversation . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    Tell me the secret of singing Mozart!

daviesRyland Davies:    Tell me the secret of singing anything!  Singing Mozart?  The secret is the technique for the singer must be pretty well set up because he’s the most exposing of composers.  It looks so simple on the page, as singers will tell you, but that simplicity demands a purity of line and a very poised technique.  I don’t mind going on record as saying that.  My teacher, Frederick R. Cox, was somewhat criticized in Manchester, back in the 50s, 60s and 70s when he was the Principal for not doing hardly any Mozart!  His belief was that it was for more matured and poised technique.  We were given Mozart arias to sing for concerts and things like that, but he felt to sustain a major Mozart role, unless they were particularly gifted and the technique was really advanced, that it would inhibit students.  I never heard him say this, but I gathered this over the years.  It could inhibit because it demands such control.

BD:    It isn’t something you should start getting into your throat when you’re very young, so that when you have a maturity you understand it?

Ryland:    Well, that is something else.  There you’re talking about life and the style of Mozart.  But if you’re going to touch it at all, you’ve got to sing it to get into your throat.  I know a lot of colleges use it because it doesn’t have big orchestration for them to have to compete with.  That’s all very valid, and very often a lot of people find that it does develop the voice, but I brought that in because you asked me about it.  In my own case, I started singing Mozart quite young because my career started young, although I didn’t do a Mozart role at Manchester.   I did Rossini and Gluck, and one or two other things as a student.

BD:    But you had that type of voice?

Ryland:    I had that type of voice, yes.

BD:    It takes that type of voice to sing Mozart at some point?

Ryland:    Yes.  I had the right weight and size and timbre of voice.  It’s very much been the main composer in my life, I would say, in terms of my own commercial career and earnings, etc. 

BD:    Does that please you?

Ryland:    It does please me because there is no question the man was extraordinary. 

BD:    Your voice range and weight dictate which roles you sing.  Were you pleased with those characters that were imposed upon you?

Ryland:    I was pleased.  Naturally, having been brought up like most singers with the Italian opera ever at one’s elbow, I would love to have had the weight and fatness of voice to have accepted many Bohèmes and Butterflys that were offered to me in my first four years in the business.  Because the voice was of an Italianate ring and technique, and gave the impression
certainly at close quarters, and even to some very well-known conductors that we both knowI had to say no to because at twenty-three and twenty-four I didn’t feel I had the range for Rodolfo at that time.  I didn’t believe I had the C and D and enough strength in my B-flats.  But also I didn’t believe I had the fatness to sing against a Puccini orchestra when the tunes come, because very often the whole string section’s playing along.

BD:    That takes great maturity on the part of a twenty-three or twenty-four-year-old to say no!

Ryland:    Yes!  In fact I was offered my debut in London only a year or so after my début in Cardiff, as Almaviva in Barber of Seville.  I did very well in London, and then ‘they had me in’, as they say.  The management, as I remember, said,
“We’d like to offer you a permanent two or three-year contract.  I can’t remember now, and to be absolutely honest I was of course flattered, and went all hot and cold.  I hadn’t expected for this to happen so soon.  But I had noticed how that particular companySadlers Wells at the time, now English National Operasome people went through there and really survived being part of a company.  I forget what ages some of those would be, and they survived very well.  But they were probably strong-minded too and, should I say, fought when they had to, not to be pushed into things that really were not sensible to sing whilst they were singing perhaps their true métier.  For example, for someone who was singing beautifully Susanna, they would be twisting her arm to try Mimì for a few performances on tour out in the sticks!  Well it’s up to the singer, as I said in a master class here last week with the Young Artists Programin which I had a lovely time.  One of the first things to do, as soon as possible, is to get to know yourself.  Believe it or not, after thirty-four years I’m still learning about my singing-self and my psyche and my whole philosophy about performing.

BD:    I would have assumed that as you grow mentally you grow physically in the throat and you grow emotionally, too.

Ryland:    Absolutely.  It’s all part of that journey that a singer takes, or a person, first and foremost, takes in something called ‘life’.

BD:    So then it’s a constant re-evaluation?

Ryland:    It is a constant re-evaluation.  If you’re sincere and honest, and being hyper-modest and wanting to sound that way it’s an on-going enjoyable slog!  That was said to me once by Maestro Jani Strasser, who was Head of Music at  Glyndebourne for a long time
right through my early days when I was asked to do Werther and one or two other pieces that were practically out of my fach.  Although the first and fourth act of Werther are perfect for my voice, acts two and three need a full lyric, at least a Rodolfo, if not a bit more actually.  At times it is almost Wagnerian.

BD:    It has such a luscious orchestration.

Ryland:    Yes, the orchestration is like Debussy, at times like Pelléas.  I’ve sung that a lot.  But Strasser said to me,
Go with my blessing, but be prepared if you have a success.  The next thing they’ll ask you will be more difficult and more out of your métier.  Also be sure that you sing it honestly so that you can turn around and come back, and not damage your true Mozart and Rossini voice.  Do not to muck it up!

BD:    Is it right for the management of these companies to always ask singers to do things that are a little beyond them, or do they not understand the voices in the throats?

Ryland:    Now, Bruce, that is a big question!  [Both laugh]  Let me just chew on that for a minute.  I’ve been around for thirty-four years next month professionally, so I’ve gone through various parts of the world and the reins of certain managements.  Generally speaking, God bless them, they seem to get most of the casting right, otherwise they’d be out of business.  Of course there are sometimes mistakes, and sometimes a bona fide singer that they know well can hit a rough patch and they think,
He can’t do this at the moment.  Is he past it?  The worst thing is that they’ll write somebody off.  It can happen.  Much more-known singers than my dear little self have hit bad patches where they think they’re going to go crazy for a year.  Dame Kiri won’t mind me saying this that she told me.  There was one season she had to have her husband in the wings for about ten months because she just felt she needed that sort of support that he was giving her.  It had to be somebody very close to her, and she didn’t even want to see a teacher or a coach.  She just wanted him to stand with her while she went through something.  I never got further than that about what it was, but it’s not funny when these things happen.  I’m sure in her case it was not that she was singing the wrong repertoire, because it wasn’t just one role.  It was a whole season that she felt like this.  Then she worked through it.  These things happen.  I’m jealous about it, but my teacher had the pleasure of being in Milan studying for about eight or nine years, just before the Second World War, when there was quite a fantastic array of people there... Pertile, Gobbi, Schipa, and people like that.  Before that period, perhaps in the 20s and the turn of the century, women who sounded quite light by today’s sopranos and mezzos would sing Norina in Pasquale one night, and two nights later Traviata or something even heavier.  But they seemed to be able to do it.  I don’t think this fach categorization, this pigeon-holing people then, was quite so marked as it is today.

BD:    Was the Maestro keeping the orchestra down enough back then?

Ryland:    Exactly, if you had de Sabata, who I believe was Karajan’s mentor for the Italian repertoire, or Tullio Serafin, my Godfathers.  Look what he did with Callas!  I witnessed it with Karajan because I was fortunate to be Mirella Freni’s first Cassio in 1970,
71 and 72.  I heard on the grapevine people were saying this is too soon.  She’s going to ruin herself.  Mind you, she’d been singing Bohème for a while by then, which, in some ways, was probably more orchestrally heavier for her than lots of the Otello, although it’s quite big at times, especially in Acts two and three.  But with Karajan in the pit, having decided that she’s ready to do it, it worked.  Believe me, she came out of it very, very well.  For some people’s taste it was a bit early in her career to take on Desdemona, perhaps histrionically and dramatically, I don’t know, but she did a beautiful job.  I did Pelléas myself with my tenor voice.  It is very often cast as a baritone.

daviesBD:    It must be a very high baritone?

Ryland:    It must be a very high baritone.  Someone like Dwayne Croft who’s done it very successfully recently at the Met, or Thomas Allen, who is well documented as having sung it
not that his voice is the heaviest baritone, but it is quite lusty, and he has the height.  When I came to do it, I was very fortunate to be in a Götz Friederich production in Stuttgart and later Berlin.  I had two conductors.  First, Silvio Varviso realized they wanted a tenor voice because they wanted a slightly lighter Golaud voice, so it worked out very well.   Varviso got the orchestra to mark down if it were too forte.  Debussy has written double or treble forte on a certain chord where I had to sing a low D.  I’ve got a ring down there in my voice and it works, by jingo.  There were a lot of those low passages.  I remember him saying, Now please make one forte for those four bars and then come up a bit more.  And I was so fortunate later with Jesús López-Cobos in Berlin with the same production.  He had worked it with Janine Reiss in Paris, and got a lot from her about the piece and the style.  But he also realized it’s a tenor Pelléas they’re using.  He can’t dig down there!  He can’t beef it up down there!  He can only speak down there, as clear as possible.  So he marked down.  It didn’t rob the audience and the orchestra of any of their enjoyment. 

BD:    They have to get out of your way so that you can perform.

Ryland:    This is it!  It’s a question catering to the horses you’re using. 

BD:    Nicolai Gedda had a good success with Pelléas, also.  He sang it in New York in the 1960s.

Ryland:    I didn’t know that, Bruce!  Wow, he’s one of my idols, I must say.  I’ve not met him more than twice, but I feel I’ve gotten to know him because I’ve been listening to recordings.  I grew up at Manchester with many records, one being ‘Gedda à Paris’, singing French repertoire.  That’s a lesson for any young tenor on the style and the way to sing that stuff. 

BD:    Is it good for a young tenor to listen to the more mature tenors, to learn the style?

Ryland:    To have an indication, yes, it’s almost unavoidable.  However young you are, if you hear a beautiful voice on the radio or in a friend’s apartment, the next thing you want to know is who’s that and where can I buy the record
— especially if it’s impressed or touched you. 

BD:    But I assume that you have to be very selective of whom you listen?

Ryland:    You have to be very careful of whom you listen, and then you have to be prepared to be humble because you can’t probably sing half the notes, or even get some of the notes that Nicolai would sing.  In Benvenuto Cellini, for example, he sang pianissimo B-flats like nobody I’ve ever heard before or since, except perhaps the young Di Stefano.  Gedda’s voice was so poised and consistent in those affects that he did so well.

BD:    And then he goes and sings something like Arnold with all those high Cs and a couple of C-sharps!

Ryland:    God yes, and all that!

BD:    Some youngsters might think to themselves, or be told by others,
You’re a tenor! Why can’t you do that?

daviesRyland:    Well, you see, God had other plans for me!  I got into the business at twenty-one by having done one stint of four months of the Festival Chorus at Glyndebourne.  I sang to Bryan Balkwill, who was guest conducting Flute that summer.  He held auditions amongst the chorus to hear what the talent was like.  He was Musical Director of the Welsh Opera that time.  He remembered me because I sang an aria from The Barber of Seville.  They needed an Almaviva because the guy was not well, or he pulled out, or something six weeks before opening night.

BD:    Did you know the whole role or just the aria?

Ryland:    Fortunately I had sung it at eighteen years of age at Manchester, with, I may say, good success.  One critic said I already had the voice of a much more mature performer, and didn’t push myself.  Of course, that’s all confidence building, and the only thing I had to do was to learn a somewhat different English translation and keep calm!  [Both laugh]  I was out of college in April, having the summer term of college off to go and take experience with being part of the Glyndebourne Chorus, and I never went back.  I did three and a half years.  I should have done four or perhaps an extra, and many times I wished I’d done an extra year, but this launched me very quickly.  I won some scholarships and went to Italy and studied with Ettore Campogalliani, then with Luigi Ricci in Rome.  In no time at all, those Barbers led to Fentons at Scottish Opera in 1966, and my first Ferrando with Dame Janet Baker as Dorabella and Elizabeth Harwood in 1967, and Belmonte at Glyndebourne in 1968.  So I was quickly into my Mozart after barely three years.  Mozart’s writing for the tenor
at least in my experience with both of those Da Pontes, the Entführung and Zauberflöteis that they hardly ever go above a B-flat.  In fact I don’t know if they ever do, and very often it’s only an A natural.  Tamino never goes above an A.  Mind you, there’s quite a lot of them, and Ferrando certainly has many A naturals to sing.  I had been singing Ferrando for many years, but in Sir Peter Hall’s production at Glyndebourne I suddenly had to sing ‘Ah!  Lo veggio quell’anima bella’, which I had only ever recorded with Solti on the first recording he made of Così in ’73.  That’s interesting because I had no old habits with it, and it was one of the best arias of the three!  You still want to be at home with the ones you’ve been doing, by that point, after twenty years it was nice to add something new.  But what I’m coming to is that for the height, you need some of those high Donizetti things and higher Rossini or some Puccini, like Bohème.  I’d never had to extend myself much above B-flat except in other operas occasionally.  There are one or two B naturals for Fenton, and then as Cassio in the great ensemble in Act three where everybody’s singing, there’s a C-flat, in other words, B natural.  I did a film with Kiri, when she was very young, when she’d really broken through.  They made a documentary and we did Act One of Bohème from the knock on the door.

BD:    Just the scene?

Ryland:    Just the scene, yes.  I got my underpants twisted enough to manage that.  [Both have a huge laugh]

BD:    But I would think it would almost be the best to let you do a little bit in order to convince you that you’d better never do the whole thing.


Ryland:    Yes.  My teacher said to me
and I agreed with him as I got older and listened to him more, and talked to more colleagues who I appreciated and trustedI would be all right, but in that wonderful duet in Act Three with those B-flats, if I had a fatter-voiced soprano I would be tempted to match her and I might do myself some mischief.  He was not a man to be over-careful, because over-careful means you never develop the voice at all.  It’s just a question of juggling and trying to be honest.  As I look back now on the career of Alfredo Kraus, for example, or Tito Schipa, I think they dabbled in a lot of things earlier on, but in their main ‘known for’ repertoire.  I’ve never seen Alfredo listed for big Puccini roles.

BD:    He recorded Bohème but that was just in the studio as far as I know.

Ryland:    I’m sure he could sing the notes as well as anybody alive.

BD:    But he sang Werther here twice!

Ryland:    Yes, yes.  You see, that’s French verismo.  There’s something different.  It’s like Puccini but it’s not.

BD:    Each voice must really think of about each role individually.  It’s really not just a fach.

Ryland:    No it’s not, and that brings you back to those old singers in the pre-20s.  Those sopranos might have been singing Mimì one night and Despina some other night!  Think of Plácido.  He’s running out of repertoire!   Somebody told me he’s been recording the odd baritone thing here and there, which would be no problem for him. 

daviesBD:    I remember more than twenty years ago when he was doing his early Otellos, they said he would ruin his voice.

Ryland:    There is an example of someone who did it with honesty and with his own voice.  I have had the honor of doing it with him a few times, and what thrilled me was he asked for me.  This was in Madrid with Cappuccilli, Ricciarelli and myself and others.  He’d been doing it in Hamburg a little before, so they weren’t his very first ones, but they must have been, maybe, his fifteenth performance, and it was marvelous!  That was in the mid-70s.  Years later, in 1983, he saved Opening Night in San Francisco when dear Carlo Cossutta canceled at 11 o’clock in the morning.  It was Margaret Price, Silvano Carolli, and Marek Janowski in the pit, and myself as Cassio.  Mr. McEwen [Manager of the San Francisco Opera] phoned us all up at 11:45 am and told us the situation.  A benefactor had put forward $14,000, and allowed Plácido to get a private jet.  He’d just arrived to rehearse Trojans at the Met, but he jumped on the plane.  The audience was spoken to at five to seven by Mr. McEwen.  A gasp went round that the tenor had canceled, and then a cheer went up when they heard who was going to replace him.  [Both laugh]  They were told to please go for dinner and come back around 9:30 pm.  They did that.  Plácido arrived at San Francisco at around a quarter to nine, and got into the theater twenty-five minutes or so later.  He’d done the Ponnelle production earlier, but he just asked for a black coffee and an apple.  I heard a few scales in the room next to me, and that was it!   At 10:28 pm the curtain went up, and he was glorious.  The point I’m coming to is it had been ten years since I’ve heard him, and the voice was still that bright, brazen, beautiful Domingo sound we all know.  The low middle and the bottom had taken on, to my ear, a natural darker hue, but it didn’t seem mannered and put on like ‘I must sound more dramatic than I did’.  No, it had come through the work.

BD:    So it was there and he then decided to use it?

Ryland:    Yes.  He probably had it before but it was just progressing.  It was coming out of him through familiarity with the character and the role and sincerity.  He was not trying to be Del Monaco or Tamagno or some other guy, but just being Domingo
intense and sincere, and I think that’s why he’s lasted.

BD:    It must give him a sense of satisfaction to know that just being Domingo is good enough.

Ryland:    Absolutely!

BD:    It must give you a sense of satisfaction to know that being Ryland Davies is plenty good also.

Ryland:    Well, thank you very much, Bruce.  During my first five years at Covent Garden, they liked me, but critics and people had the right to say,
Lovely voice, sweet voice, but a bit light just now for the house.  Maybe he’ll grow into it.  That went on, as with many I’m sure in their early years, and eventually of course I got used to the house and those comments stopped.  It was ’84 or ’85 when I stopped singing those roles and went into teaching full-time.  But I was drawn back by events which led to me now going into the character repertoire, and people have been commenting on how much freshness and ring there is in the voice.  This summer at Glyndebourne I met Paolo Montarsolo.  It was the first time we’d seen each other for I don’t know how many years.  We did my first Italian Così at Glyndebourne in ’69, and his comment was, How fresh it is yet again!”  But after so many years, all I can say, in my own humble way, is that I know it’s true because the sound of my voice to me has hardly altered.  It’s just got a little richer.  There’s more depth and there’s more punch in the sound and this thing called ‘presence’ and ‘projection’.   It’s the projection-thing which we all hope we learn as soon as possible.  Some people have such big voices.  Bryn Terfel for example, has a wonderful projection for a man so young, and he probably had it ten years ago when he was still studying.

BD:    You sang so much in Glyndebourne, which is such a very small house and now you sing all over the world in the big houses such as Chicago.  Do you change your technique at all for the size of the house? 

daviesRyland:    Bruce, that’s a very valid point you’ve brought up.  When my teacher came and heard me sing Ferrando in 1969 at Glyndebourne, he was pleased with my style and my beauty of tone, but wasn’t exactly pleased with the kind of projection I was using there
which we’d been encouraged to do because of the smallness of the house.  Maestro Strasser had us singing pianissimi, which were beautiful and ravishing and perhaps correct for the listeners.  But my teacher, who had been brought up listening to singers in La Scala, Milan for those nine years before the War, wasn’t someone who wanted shouting and bawling.  On the contrary, all he wanted was beautiful singing.  But he realized that I, at times, was a little dangerously too under-singing because the house would take it.  One was almost achieving some piani by being quasi-off the voice, somewhere between mixed and falsetto.  It’s better to be one or the other, because usually mixed voice, if it’s done properly, is on the body.  In other words, it’s supported.  I didn’t cheat a falsetto in those performances, but for him I hadn’t progressed enough, and that was five years after I left college.  I left at twenty-one, and I must confess that I was so off the mark with my career that I barely saw him in the first four years.  I wasn’t singing badly, but I realize nowit’s always in retrospect that we realize as life goes onthat I’d perhaps been so young that I could have done with another year or two around his apron strings until I was about twenty-three.

BD:    I wonder how that would have affected your career?

Ryland:    I might have missed the gap.  As my grandmother said,
God has a plan for every man and woman.  I’ve had this conversation with colleagues who study with me, and who didn’t go on because for one reason or another.  In one gentleman’s case, it was the quality of voice, and he said to me, Ryland, you’ve been teaching now privately for about twelve years.  If you hadn’t started so soon and had the experience and trials and challenges of your life, you’d have less to give now in your teaching career.  I starting teaching at forty-eight, which is a bit soon, but he said, “You started singing at twenty-one.  Think what you’ve done already!

BD:    So each to his own individually.

Ryland:    Exactly.  Look at Ileana Cotrubaş.  She decided a few years ago that she was done after twenty-five years on a very high level.  Janet Baker pulled the plug on opera and went back to her concerts, and recently bowed out like that.  I admire that for people who are able to, and let’s be honest, if you can afford to do it!

BD:    Speaking of teaching, are you pleased with the sounds you hear coming out of the young throats?

Ryland:    Yes, generally speaking.  Talking of Domingo a minute ago and people like Mirella, you don’t necessarily hear somebody like that every day. 
There are high-standard competitions, and some of those who enter are quite matured and have already had a few seasons in the business, I gather.  In Wales there is this thing called the Cardiff Singer of the World.  I’ve not been involved in it yet myself, but I’ve certainly taken notice of it.  I go as an adjudicator, or a master class giver, and I think what you’re talking about is young singers on the threshold, who are coming out of a college, perhaps, and ready to audition for a program like here in Chicago.  I was very impressed with the basic standard of the few people I heard here last week.  One or two of them are in the Figaro with us, and that’s encouraging.  If I may speak of one, my dear colleague Jerold Siena, who sings Curzio, carves me up every night.  He was so sweet when he said that I really sing this role.  That makes me happy.  He also told me he is understudying me in the role, and I didn’t know that.  I’m going to Santa Fe this summer for the first time, and I’ve offered my services to Richard Gaddes and Mr. Crosby for the young people there.  [Gaddes was consultant to the Santa Fe Apprentice Program at that time, and later succeeded John Crosby as General Director.]  They apparently have a very high standard of apprentices.  So I’m looking forward to what’s coming out of those throats.  There’s a lot of promising material around, but to be quite honest with you, in the last couple of years I have been so busy in my own singing that I haven’t had time to go and work at some of the colleges in England as much as I had two years before.  It goes like that sometimes.

BD:    I’m sure you want your own career to progress as much as it can?

Ryland:    Yes.

BD:    Do you like these character roles that you’re doing now?

Ryland:    It’s been a wonderful chance for me to have complete fun and new challenges.  I’ve played ‘lover boys’ for twenty-six years or thereabouts, and with no disrespects to them, the music has been a joy.  I’ve enjoyed it.  I’ve been so fortunate but they’re much of a mushiness.  You’re in love with a woman, you’re going to lose her or you’re going to win her, or you’re going to find her, or she’s going to run off with somebody else... or you get killed as poor Lensky does.  With these character guys, like Le Duc in Chérubin, I may be a little rude and say what a fussy-arsed little chap he was, bossing everybody about.  That was my first work with Susan Graham, who is a fantastic colleague.  She had an enormous success with it.   But it was funny.  He’s antagonistic towards her because Chérubin
Cherubino in a later story by Massenet, and further adventures of Cherubinois outrageous, and Susan played him wonderfully.  My job was to be antagonized by all this, so I was playing a very fussy, almost a ‘queen-type’ chap always running him down.  I was enjoying all that, because it was quite different from being moon-eyed Belmonte singing ‘Wenn der Freude Tränen Fließen’.  Then Basilio is some kind of slimy character who’s all smiles but is killing you with it! 

BD:    He’d love to just stick it to you?

daviesRyland:    Yes.  There are more channels or avenues for my acting talents.  Nobody yet has asked me to do anything character-wise, or to change the timbre of my voice, which has pleased me no end.  In fact the opposite has happened.  It’s wonderful.  In the States they tell me,
It’s Deluxe Casting to get a Mozart tenor of your experience and quality singing some of these character roles

BD:    Of course they put the aria back in the last act because you have a tenor who can actually sing it, and sing it so well!

Ryland:    I thank Zubin and Stephen Lawless, who is re-doing Sir Peter’s production.  Peter always had everything in, all the recits and everything.  He had a thing about that.  I must say, with Da Ponte’s richness I like it all in, not just for the aria.  The recits are very often chopped up.  But Zubin said he feels that with those two arias in in the fourth act it is a better balance for the construction of the act.  With out them you catapult some of the events for Figaro and Susanna and the Countess and the Count too quickly by having no time for Figaro to go off.  So with these arias back in, he can do his whistle and come back, and do all those other things.  People have been cutting them for years, but I was surprised because my agent in London said,
Oh, you won’t get to sing your aria in Chicago.  Forget that, but you better do the job!  But I was delighted to come.  I haven’t been here for twenty-six years.  But I’m still on new ground with Figaro.  It’s only four years since I first did it.  My baptism by fire was the recording with Sir Charles Mackerras.

BD:    Until they started putting the aria back in, people thought there’s no tenor in Figaro.  But then it turns out that there really is!  

Ryland:    There really is.  He does the scene with Susanna, and the trio, so he’s made certain points.  But in a long opera, that’s way in the middle of the first act.  Then you’ve only got ensembles if you don’t do the aria.  But I must say the tessitura in those ensembles is very testing for everybody concerned, including the Basilio.  The aria’s not that high, actually.  It only goes up to a G, though there’s quite a lot of them.  This is typical of Mozart
there’s not much chance to stop and have a breather or a glass of water because you just carry on.

BD:    The nice thing about this Figaro is every single part is up to the standard.  It’s almost as if you don’t notice it because everything is on this high level.  You would notice it if someone let down, but nobody lets the cast down.

Ryland:    Oh, it’s lovely to hear that. 

At this point I asked my guest to do a station-break for us, something I requested of everyone I interviewed in person.  [“Hello, this is (insert name), and youre listening to WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago.”]  These would run occasionally throughout the day, and listeners seemed to get a kick out of hearing them.  After obliging, he noted that he was fifty-five years old the previous month.

BD:    Are you at the point in your career that you wanted to be at this age, or is it a complete surprise?

Ryland:    When I was starting out at twenty-one, I remember my accountant advised me about pension schemes.  I said yes, because singers like myself might have to retire by the time we’re fifty.  I really meant that because I didn’t know how the voice would last.  Because of having had such a big bite of those lovely roles I did for twenty-six years, it was a little bit of a wrench to swallow my pride when it was suggested that I might move, at fifty-one years of age, into the character stuff.  But events just before that did make me question if I was I going to carry on and try and keep up with everything.  I had a little hitch in ’83 with my repertoire and my singing, which promoted three or four lean years.  It’s that’s sort of business.  If you’re out of consistency for a moment, there’s always the young people coming in, and the opera companies do, and rightly so, love to bleed new talent, especially if they think they are ready.  They love to give them their chance and they love to be seen to have discovered them.  [I asked for clarification about the use of the term
‘bleed’ and suggested the Americanized word might be ‘squeeze’, and he said that was exactly correct!]  As I said earlier, those young singers must know themselves, and have the strength to say ‘excuse me’.  I had to tell that management at Sadler’s Wells I was not ready to be on the roster of their company.  I did not say exactly what I wanted to say... I had to be tactful not to say it was because I know you’ll ask me to do too much too soon, even of the right things.  It’s very tough to say no.  I’ve made at least three or four mistakes in my life, but...

BD:    I’m sure if you had sung a few Bohèmes and a few Werthers, they’d have offered you Lohengrin!

Ryland:    Especially if they had been a success, yes.  If I may be honest about going into this character rep now, some of the roles I will do have got tricky things and corners and awkward phrases.  This is like my big rep before, but generally speaking the pressure’s reduced for me, and more relaxed.

BD:    But combining this with your teaching I would have think this will be almost ideal.  You can go and sing the Basilio in the Figaro, and give some master classes to steer some people in the right directions.

Ryland:    You’re so on the button.  What I have enjoyed for these last twelve years is my private teaching and my master class giving, directing kids in that school in opera scenes, and producing operas.  I would not have the energy to do it otherwise.  I would have to protect myself more.  Within reason, Basilio aria in or out, I have enough energy because that doesn’t kill me off too much to go and do three hours the day after with some students if they want me.  Whereas if I’d sung Nemorino, which is not as long as Susanna but it’s a long role, I probably wouldn’t feel so good about doing that during the two days in between the next performance of L’Elisir.  One has to be realistic that way.  It’s a nice mix.  I’m at the right age, I think, to give something back to the profession and my coming colleagues, and by doing this repertoire I will have energy in reserve, please God. 

BD:    Thank you for everything you have given and continue to give to the opera world. 

Ryland:    Thank you very much. 


To read my Interview with George Shirley, click HERE.

To read my Interview with Stafford Dean, click HERE.



To read my Interview with Helen Donath, click HERE.

To read my Interviews with Yvonne Minton, click HERE.



To read my Interview with John Shirley-Quirk, click HERE.

© 1998 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in the office suite of Lyric Opera of Chicago on March 5, 1998.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following year.  This transcription was made in 2014, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.