For all that Wales is often called 'The Land of Song', the proof is really in the pudding, ie the sheer number of talented Welsh singers to have trodden the boards and carved out a space for themselves in the operatic hall of fame.


Here are 11 Welsh singers - both past and present - who top the list.

Best Welsh singers

Bryn Terfel

Born in Caernarfonshire, the son of a farmer, Bryn Terfel (main picture) was taught how to sing by a family friend, beginning with traditional Welsh songs.
After moving to London aged 19, he studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, winning both the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Prize and the Gold Medal upon graduation. But his big international breakthrough came in 1992, when he sang Jochanaan in Strauss's Salome at the Salzburg Festival.
Now he is a superstar - unquestionably the most famous living Welsh operatic bass-baritone - whose vocal heft has made him a particularly good fit for beefy Wagnerian roles such as Wotan, as well as one of opera's greatest baddies: Scarpia from Tosca. And he has embraced a good deal of non-classical music too, not least Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, in which he and Emma Thompson made a devilish double-act as the killer barber and his pie-baking accomplice.

Natalya Romaniw

Brought up in Swansea in a single parent family, Natalya Romaniw was a small child when she fell in love with music, largely thanks to her Ukrainian grandfather, who would play the accordion and sing to her while her police officer mother was working shifts.
But it wasn't until studying at the Guildhall School of Music that she became familiar with opera. Fast forward a decade, she is one of the most sought-after young British sopranos, much admired for the depth of her voice, but even more so for her depth of character portrayal.
And she's had many opportunities now to display it: the last few years have seen her cast in several psychologically meaty roles, many of which, including Tatiana (Eugene Onegin), Jenůfa and Rusalka, have drawn on Romaniw's Slavic heritage.

Sir Geraint Evans (1922-1992)

The son of a coal miner, Sir Geraint Evans came to opera via a left-field route. On leaving school aged 14, he worked for a time as a window-dresser in a High Class Ladies' Wear store, taking singing lessons in his spare time.
During the Second World War he served with the Royal Air Force and, post-war, worked as a radio mechanic. Eventually, however, his passion for singing won out when he successfully auditioned for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He went on to become one of the most legendary bass-baritones of all time, with a four decade career spanning more than 70 roles - most of them at Covent Garden, which he regarded as his operatic home.

Robert Tear (1939-2011)

Born in Barry, in the Vale of Glamorgan, Robert Tear made his first forays into music singing in his school choir and at the age of seven, in 1946, took part in Welsh National Opera's first production: Cavalleria Rusticana.
His main operatic debut, however, came in 1963, singing the Male Chorus in Benjamin Britten's Rape of Lucretia with the English Opera Group. The tenor would go on to become well-known for singing the music of Britten, even if the composer himself allegedly 'ghosted' Tear after he chose to perform in Michael Tippett's The Knot Garden at Covent Garden rather than appearing in the premiere of Britten's Owen Wingrave.
The ghosting did not harm Tear's career: widely admired for his phenomenal vocal technique, charm and stage charisma, he remained much in demand right up until his retirement in 2009, and left behind around 250 discs of repertoire ranging from Bach to Victorian parlour songs.

Margaret Price (1941-2011)

Though born to musical family, Margaret Price was not encouraged to become a singer. Her father - a talented amateur pianist - told her that no daughter of his was 'going into the theatre', and at the time she didn't mind too much, given that her dream was to become a biology teacher.
But when she was 15, her school music teacher organised an audition with the English organist and choral conductor Charles Kennedy Scott, who persuaded her to study with him at Trinity College of Music in London.
She went on to perform multiple roles with Welsh National Opera, Covent Garden, Glyndebourne and at various venues in Germany, where she settled for a number of years. Adored for the pure, light quality of her soprano voice, which stood her in particularly good stead when performing Mozart (a speciality of hers), she remains one of the most admired sopranos of her generation.

Gwyneth Jones

Widely regarded as one of the greatest Wagnerian sopranos of the twentieth century, Gwyneth Jones was born in Pontnewynydd, Monmouthshire, and worked as a secretary before auditioning for the Royal College of Music.< dir="auto">Over the years she became known for her formidable vocal power and stamina, one of her most acclaimed achievements being her muscular interpretation of Brunnhilde in Bayreuth's Centenary Ring Cycle in 1976.dir="auto">Younger viewers, however, might remember her from Quartet, Dustin Hoffman's film about a group of retired opera singers, in which she and Maggie Smith played rival Prima Donnas.

Rebecca Evans

Born in Pontryhydhyfen in South Wales, Rebecca Evans originally trained to be a nurse before being advised by Bryn Terfel to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama - as she described in a 2007 interview: '[Bryn] asked me what I was doing, and I told him I'd just got a junior assistant's post in an operating theatre.
"You fool!", he said. "You need to go to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and you need to go NOW!" Since then she has become renowned for the warmth of her tone, and the humanity of her characterisations, performing lead roles in venues all around the world. But her favourite composer is Mozart. 'I couldn't live a day without him,' says Evans, whose interpretations of two Marriage of Figaro roles - Susanna and the Countess - are world-famous.

Katherine Jenkins

The daughter of a factory worker and an NHS radiographer, Katherine Jenkins was brought up on a council estate in Neath, and was a high-flyer at school, achieving A grades in both her GCSE's and A levels.
Music, however, was her passion, and, after achieving distinctions in both Grade 8 singing and piano, she went on to win a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.
For a while she supported herself as a freelance voice coach, a tour guide on the London Eye, and as a model, becoming the Face of Wales in 2000.
But her musical breakthrough came at the age of 22, in 2003, when Universal Records heard her demo tape and immediately signed her up for £1 million. She has since become one of the UK's best selling crossover artists, having released 13 number one albums.

Dennis O'Neill

Born in Pontarddulais, to Welsh and Irish parents, Dennis O'Neill decided to become an opera singer at the age of 19, after spending a summer as an apprentice singer at the Opera Barga Festival in Tuscany.
With a voice that has often been described as 'Italianate', he has devoted much of his career to interpreting the works of Verdi, singing in opera houses all over the world, with over 200 performances at Covent Garden alone.
In between he strives to pass on his experience to young singers, and in 2006 founded Wales International Academy of Voice, where he is now director.

Stuart Burrows

Born on the same street in Clifynyddas as Geraint Evans, Stuart Burrows made his first forays into music as a child, singing soprano from his bedroom window to the neighbours below.
Despite his love of music, however, he initially made his career as a teacher, and was so skilled as a rugby player that Leeds Rugby League Club offered him a contract. It wasn't until the last minute that he changed his mind and decided instead to try his luck as a tenor.
It worked out well, and before long Burrows was singing with Welsh National Opera, making his big breakthrough in 1965, when Stravinsky heard him and asked him to sing his Oedipus Rex in Athens. Since then he has sung a huge range of repertoire in all sorts of far-flung venues. But it is with music by Mozart, Donizetti and French composers such as Berlioz and Massenet, that Burrows - known for the purity of his voice, and his sophisticated approach to phrasing - has become most closely associated.

Elin Manahan Thomas

An academic go-getter, whose father M. Wynn Thomas is a Professor of Literature at Swansea University, Elin Manahan Thomas achieved a starred first in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge University, before devoting herself to music.
A member of the Swansea Bach Choir in her youth, she initially forged a career singing in the Monteverdi Choir and The Sixteen, amongst other ensembles.
Baroque repertoire that she chose to specialise in.
She has since had some extremely high-profile opportunites for showcasing it, not least the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018, where she sang Handel's Eternal source of light divine.<


Photo: Frankie Fouganthin


Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.