From Welsh Drapery shop to Operatic Stardom
By Glyn Roberts – 13.10.1936
When five years ago, that indomitable worker in the interests of drama and opera, Miss Lilian Baylis, announced that one more Sadler’s Wells Theatre was ready to serve the public, few people could have anticipated the speed with which the new modernistic playhouse would establish itself in London’s heart.
Regular principals at Sadler’s Wells about whom I have already written in the ‘Western Mail & South Wales News’ are Dan Morgan Jones, Redvers Llewellyn, and Tudor Davies. An outstanding performer in bass parts is Tom Roderick Lloyd, also a product of South Wales, and one of the most improved singers of the day.
Last week I heard Mr. Lloyd sing two roles, including the one for which he has become famous among London operagoers – Mephistopheles in “Faust.” I have heard him several times in this part, and his mastery over it increases each time. Last week the “Faust” was Mr. Morgan Jones, whose resonant tenor filled the house with ease. In their very first scene, in the duet in “Faust’s” study, the two were excellent. The “Marguerite” was a newcomer, Miss Janet Hamilton-Smith, who sang with exceptional intelligence and acted every emotion as if she really felt them, as if she really believed in
“Marguerite’s” troubles – a very unusual thing for an operatic star. The consequence was a really vital, exciting performance with the full epic drama of the Faustian legend brought home, and real justice done to Gounod’s melodies.
Demands of the Part
Mephistopheles is one of the richest parts in the whole repertoire of opera. Apart from three or four splendid songs, it demands an elaborate acting technique, including the ability to inject humour and irony into the part at the right moments and in the required degree. Sneering and gloating his way through, as he sees the easy havoc his power is causing and anticipates the hour when Faust must keep his terrible bargain. Mephistopheles burlesques every normal action works himself into an ecstasy of satanic amusement at the spectacle of Faust’s remorse for the wrong he has done Marguerite. To all this Roderick Lloyd showed himself more than equal. And he looked the part – bloodshot eyes, cruel lips, beak-like nose, gaunt hands, bloodless and grasping.
Roderick Lloyd comes from Glynneath, “My father is in business down there,” he told me when I saw him as his flat in Maida Vale. “He keeps a draper’s shop. Soon after I left school he opened a little branch shop for me. I was known locally as a singer, and at about this time I started singing with the Vale of Neath Glee Singers. We used to sing in aid of soup kitchens.
“My teacher at this time was the late George Llewellyn, of Port Talbot, who was well known in South Wales. He said I should go out for one of the scholarships awarded by the Royal College of Music. I agreed, and I got on to a “short list” of four singers at Cardiff. In the final selection I was successful and came up to London to study seriously.
“I spent over five years at the Royal College, and during that time I contrived to win three prizes – the ‘Chilver-Wilson,’ the London Musical Society prize, and the ‘Pownall.’ And I had the honour of singing before Royalty. This was at the time of the college’s jubilee. I sang in the celebration concerts before the late King George and Queen Mary and our present King. That was the ‘high pot’ of my student years.
“I knew that I wanted to sing in opera, but it was a hard road to travel. The obvious opening was Sadler’s Wells. I was offered a part in the chorus. Not very wonderful, after all, but I knew it was what I needed – practical experience. I joined up, and was soon glad of the chance to get the feeling of singing, night after night, on a stage before real flesh and blood audiences who had paid their money and wanted something for it.”
“This is my fourth season at Sadler’s Wells. I’m a full-blooded principal now. And I do think I have learnt a tremendous lot about my job since I came here. I have taken a great variety of parts. Later this season I’ll be doing Ramphis in ‘Aida’ and Sparafucile in ‘Rigoletto’; I’m looking forward to both.”
“I haven’t done a great deal of work in Wales. While I was at the Royal College of Music I went down to the National Eisteddfod of 1931 and won the bass solo competition. My parents in particular were delighted with that, as they felt it had set the seal on my career, that I had justified my abandonment of drapery. I have not competed since, but as Neath I sang with Madame Supervia, who has since died in such tragic circumstances.”
“I’ve broadcast a lot from Cardiff, of course, and I shall be there in March to sing in the ‘Dream of Gerontius’ with the Cardiff Musical Society.”
“Tonight I’m singing the King in ‘Lohengrin.’ It’s my fourth big part this week. You must come.”
I agreed. The same evening I heard Mr. Lloyd in a very different part, one demanding that he should sit and stand still with dignity, and sing with his usual fluency. ‘Lohengrin.’ Was Tudor Davies and Telramund Redvers Llewellyn, while Miss Joan Cross, Sadler’s Wells leading soprano, was a magnificent Elsa.
Once more Mr. Lloyd had to put on a beard and some additional nose – he did it so well that, standing a foot away, I who have believed he had no more nasal adornment than nature had given him. He is quite a master of make-up, as well as the possessor of a beautiful, well-rounded bass voice. Of the “Sadler’s Welsh” company he is a brilliantly promising singer whose career should progress very fast in the next decade.
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