Edgar Evans

June 9th, 1912, Cwrt Newydd, Wales – February 22nd, 2007, Harrow

Picture of Edgar Evans
Evans was born in Cwrt Newydd, Wale. The son of a farmer and the youngest – by eight years – of 13 children, Completely untaught, Evans practiced both 'preaching' in the declamatory 'Welsh chapel' style and singing in a barn-cum-boiler house on the farm. He received no encouragement as a boy – being always told that he sang too loudly. At 11 he entered the local Eisteddfod as a singer unsuccessfully, but by the age of 17 he had improved enough to steal the show at an end of term concert at his secondary school in Newquay. He went on to win various prizes at local Eisteddfodau as a baritone.

The opportunity to take up singing professionally came when Evans was heard singing 'Loch Lomond' by a talent scout in a pub called The Irish House, Piccadilly, while on a rugby trip to London in 1935. He was taken immediately to the Odd Spot nightclub in London's West End, from where he was referred to Arthur Fagg, conductor of the London Choral Society, who knew Dawson Freer, a singing teacher at the Royal College of Music.

One week later, Evans became a pupil of Freer's – who began by telling him that he sang too loudly! These early lessons helped Evans to establish himself as a professional singer, but he felt that his voice and vocal technique improved immeasurably when, later in his career, the Royal Opera arranged for him to continue his studies – this time with the Italian maestro Luigi Ricci in Rome.

For 18 months, Evans studied with Dawson Freer, using up his legacy from his father – who had died in 1927 – to support himself and pay the six guineas for every ten singing lessons. Running out of funds, Evans took on a milk round in Camberwell – for the Royal Arsenal Co-Operative – getting up at five o'clock each morning and, eventually, progressed to the round in Coldharbour Lane in Brixton.

Some 18 months after meeting Freer, Edgar gave his first audition. As a result Lilian Baylis offered him a contract to sing as a chorister, under the direction of chorus master Geoffrey Corbett, with the Sadler's Wells Opera Company in 1937 on a salary of £ 3 a week – the same wage he was getting as a milkman.

From September 1939 to June 1942 he was a member of the Police Reserve – again on wages of £ 3 a week – having been turned down for service in the armed forces: he was dogged by kidney problems throughout his life.

Throughout the war, he was singing in shows for the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) and ENSA, entertaining the troops, under the direction of Walter Legge and performing with artists including Maggie Teyte, Joyce Grenfell and many others. After 18 months, he left the police to concentrate on performing, and, in all, he sang in over 500 concerts during the war.

In the latter years of the war and when hostilities ceased, Edgar toured the main theatres in the UK and Europe, singing with the 'Anglo-Russian Merry Go Round Company' performing in a number of cities, including Paris.

For a while, he was in Bernard Delfont's production of Gay Rosalinda at the Palace Theatre, in London, under the musical direction of Richard Tauber. He later worked for Delfont again in a show in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight.

A chance meeting with Henry Robinson, formerly stage manager at Sadler's Wells, resulted in Evans applying for an audition with the newly formed Covent Garden Opera Company. Singing 'E lucevan le stelle' from Tosca and the 'Flower song' from Carmen, he was chosen from scores of tenor hopefuls from around the world and progressed successfully through three auditions to receive the offer of a contract from the Administrator, David Webster, in the middle of August 1946.

His first roles were as the Bird God and Lover in Purcell's Faerie queene in a cast that included Michael Hordern, Constance Shacklock, Margot Fonteyn and Moira Shearer. He made his Covent Garden debut, deputising for Heddle Nash, HT: Surely an improvement. as 'des Grieux' in Manon, under the direction of Reginald Goodall.

He became one of the first British singers to sing in opera abroad after the war when Erich Kleiber took him to sing in Wagner's Ring in Rome, with the Rome Opera. Later, he was the tenor soloist in Beethoven's Choral Symphony when Kleiber conducted the work at Covent Garden at a concert to help establish an artists' pension fund.

Within three weeks of returning from Ricci in Rome, the higher part of his vocal range now completely secure, Evans sang Calaf in Turandot under the baton of Sir John Barbirolli. He regularly demonstrated his remarkable strength of voice by singing several major roles including Pinkerton (in Madama Butterfly), Don José (Carmen), Max (Der Freischütz) and Peter Grimes in the same week.

Eventually the stress of this punishing schedule caught up with him and he was forced to rest for 20 weeks. After this he never resumed the preeminence among principal tenors at Covent Garden that had been his.

On his retirement from Covent Garden, Evans was invited by Sir David Willcocks to join the teaching staff at the Royal College of Music. For ten years he taught vocal technique there and many singers can pay tribute to his masterly teaching.

His final public appearance as a soloist was at the wedding of Robert (Bob) and Helen Little, at Marshalswick Baptist Free Church, St Albans, on 18 October 1980. He sang Ombra mai fu from Händel's opera Serse.

He sang with leading singers; with leading orchestras, both in Britain and on the Continent, and worked with leading conductors including Erich Kleiber, Karl Rankl, Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir John Barbirolli, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Sir Georg Solti, Otto Klemperer, Rudolf Kempe and Carlo Maria Giulini. Among those to whom he felt he owed a special debt of gratitude was Peter Gellhorn who, as a repetiteur and conductor at Covent Garden, taught Evans the part of German in The queen of spades in the remarkably short time of just 14 hours.

He sang the title role in Peter Grimes and Captain Vere (Billy Budd) after Peter Pears had initially brought these characters to theatrical life. He sang Grigorij in Boris Godunov, in English, under Clemens Krauss, and later in Russian; Števa in Janáček's Její pastorkyňa (Jenůfa) under Rafael Kubelík; the Drum major in Alban Berg's Wozzeck, under Kleiber; Calaf in Turandot under Barbirolli and many more roles. Barbirolli and Kleiber were among Evans' favourite conductors, closely followed by Kempe and Giulini.

Only the recording studio failed to do justice to Evans's robust, romantic voice. Appearances as Melot in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (HMV) under Furtwängler; Britten's Albert Herring (Decca), with the composer conducting, and his recording of 'Nessun dorma' from Turandot are all that remain to stir the memory.

He married Nan (née Walters, died December 1998) on 19 August 1939. Their son Huw died in June 1999, and Evans had two grandchildren; Rebecca and Edward. Evans himself died in Northwick Park Hospital Harrow.

Edgar Evans sings Turandot: Nessun dorma
In RA format


The Ephesian matron (Roman centurion) – King's Cross, Town Hall, 28 May 1946
The faithful centinel (Henry) – Bridgewater, Arts Center, 11 October 1946
Le nozze di Figaro (Basilio) – Bridgewater, Arts Center, 12 October 1946
The fairy queen (The god of the birds, The lover) – London, Covent Garden, Christmas 1946
Manon – London, Covent Garden, 25 March 1947
Turandot (Pang) – London, Covent Garden, 29 May 1947
Der Rosenkavalier (Sänger, Wirt) – Glasgow, Royal, 18 August 1947
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Vogelgesang) – London, Covent Garden, 4 February 1948
Boris Godunov (Dmitri) – London, Covent Garden, 12 May 1948
Salome (Narraboth) – London, Covent Garden, 11 November 1949
Tristan und Isolde (Junger Seemann) – London, Covent Garden
Tristan und Isolde (Melot) – London, Covent Garden
La traviata – Liverpool, Empire, 18 March 1950
Carmen – West Bromwich, Town Hall, 25 March 1950
Das Rheingold (Froh) – London, Covent Garden, 19 June 1950
Der fliegende Holländer (Steuermann) – London, Covent Garden, 19 October 1950
Pique Dame – London, Covent Garden, 23 December 1950
Blodwen (Syr Hywel Ddu) – London, Kingsway Hall, 3 March 1951
The pilgrim's progress (Interpreter, Celestial voice) – London, Covent Garden, 26 April 1951
Turandot (Calaf) – London, Covent Garden, 12 January 1952
Wozzeck (Andres) – London, Covent Garden, 22 January 1952
Billy Budd (Vere) – London, Covent Garden, 26 April 1952
Un ballo in maschera – London, Covent Garden, 23 October 1952
La bohème – London, Covent Garden, 12 February 1953
Elektra – London, Covent Garden, 13 May 1953
Peter Grimes (Grimes) – London, Covent Garden, 20 November 1953
Madama Butterfly – Croydon, Davis Theater, 27 February 1954
Der Freischütz – Manchester, Palace, 26 March 1954
Wozzeck (Tambourmajor) – London, Covent Garden, 3 November 1954
Les contes d'Hoffmann – London, Covent Garden, 20 November 1954
Její pastorkyňa (Jenůfa) (Števa) – London, Covent Garden, 10 December 1956
Ruth (Boaz) – Aldeburgh, Jubilee Hall, 20 June 1957
Don Carlo (Lerma) – London, Covent Garden, 9 May 1958
Les Troyens (Helenus) – London, Covent Garden, 2 May 1960
Peter Grimes (Boles) – London, Covent Garden, 17 November 1960
Katerina Ismailova (Zinovy) – London, Covent Garden, 2 December 1963
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Moser) – London, Covent Garden, 24 January 1959
Victory (Davidson) – London, Covent Garden, 13 April 1970
Parsifal (Knight) – London, Covent Garden, 21 April 1971
Rigoletto (Borsa) – London, Covent Garden
The visit of the old lady (Butler) – Glyndebourne, 2 June 1972
Menna (Arwel Hughes, composer)
Reference: Robert Little: Edgar Evans, Extempore,2005, Bob Little press & public relations
I wish to thank Robert Little for the recording.

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