Sowing Seeds for Success

2nd June, 2015

Twenty four year old Welsh tenor Elgan Llŷr Thomas proves that hard work and commitment is a winning formula in Opera. Despite having been in full time education for the past seven years, Elgan, originally from Llandudno in North Wales, has dedicated all of his time to laying the foundations for a successful career in opera.

After graduating from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, he completed his Masters degree at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and is now engaged on their prestigious Opera Course. With one year remaining, Elgan has already started making a name for himself in the industry. He’s worked with Garsington Opera, singing in their chorus and understudying the roles of Binet in Offenbach’s Vert-Vert and Selimo in Rossini’s Maometto Secondo. He’s sung leading roles for Welsh language company, Opra Cymru and will be performing the role of Count Almaviva in the Barber of Seville at the Mananan International Festival of Music in the Isle of Man later this year. One of his operatic highlights includes performing the role of Johnny Inkslinger in Welsh National Youth Opera’s Centenary production of Britten’s Paul Bunyan in 2013, a role he performed to critical acclaim. The Guardian wrote of Elgan’s performance at the time:

“Bunyan may loom largest, but Johnny Inkslinger – a cipher for Auden himself – is the main focus, and here Elgan Llyr Thomas's tenor shone out as a real hope for the future.”

Performing in Paul Bunyan was very special. The opera was wonderful, the role was great and the production was even better! The role of Paul Bunyan, the larger than life folk hero, was voiced by Stephen Fry. Although he wasn’t physically present, a close-up of his face was projected onto a big screen, centre stage, like this omnipresent figure, throughout the opera. Following this very special production, I was actually invited as a guest alongside Stephen Fry on the BBC’s The One Show, which was a real honour.

Other highlights for Elgan include appearing in concert with Bryn Terfel at Bangor University and performing a duet with him on his 2010 Christmas programme for Welsh TV Channel, S4C.

Bryn Terfel is such a giant in the Operatic World, but when we’re back home, in Wales, we often forget this. I’ve worked with him several times, and my colleagues Trystan Llyr Griffiths and Menna Cazel have also worked with him on numerous occasions. It would be easy to become blasé about this and think that it’s the norm, but that’s not the case. We’re all aware of how very fortunate we’ve been to have such opportunities. I recently attended a performance of Don Giovanni with Bryn as his guest at the Royal Opera House. I walked in with him and everyone was staring – it was the ultimate treat and quite a thrill.

When Elgan started singing years ago, his first inclination was towards music-theatre, rather than opera:

I was 15/16 years old when I started singing, and music theatre was the first thing I thought of. After doing my grade 8 exam, my singing teacher suggested that I audition for the Royal Northern College in Manchester. A music degree with more emphasis on singing – ‘great’ I thought. During my second year, I was leaning more towards music theatre, but in my third year, I got to sing some opera repertoire properly for the first time, and really enjoyed it. The rest is history. There wasn’t a great epiphany or anything, it just happened.

I really have grown to love opera. I see it as the ultimate performing art form, combining genius music, beautiful and powerful singing, a full orchestra, and most importantly, great stories.

One of the perks of a successful operatic career can often be the chance to travel, see the world and perform overseas. Despite being in full time education, Elgan has already started to have a taste of things to come, having been to France, Hungary, Greece, Turkey. He recently travelled to China in a trip organised for first and second year opera students to perform opera scenes in front of a new audience in Shanghai – a once in a lifetime experience!

Opera is still relatively unexplored in China, so we performed various, fully staged opera scenes.

We flew out to Shanghai after finishing our last performance in London. We had technical rehearsal in the morning, dress rehearsal in the afternoon and a performance in the evening – we were quite disorientated!

Half the audience were under ten years old. In China, parents urge their children to be less traditional and to explore the Western Culture. There was a lot of talking whilst we were performing, parents explaining to their children what was going on. It was a very different, eye opening experience.

Elgan will also be heading to the sunny climes of Nice in the South of France this August, as he will be a finalist in the Les Azuriales Young Artists Masterclass and Competition.  Les Azuriales Opera focuses on finding truly outstanding young artists and making a significant difference to their early operatic careers. Various master classes will be organized during the week, with a competition to finish the week.

We’ll all be competing against each other for the monetary prizes. I think I’m the only tenor this year, so there’s no ‘direct’ competition! It’ll be an amazing experience and I’m really looking forward to it.

So where does this bright young tenor see himself in the next few years?

In five years’ time, I would like to be singing roles such as Nemorino in L’Elisir D’Amore by Donizetti or Ernesto in Don Pasquale or Mozart roles such as Ferrando in Cosi Fan tutte.

As for my role ‘wish-list’ other than that, I would really like to perform the role of Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress and also more works by Britten. We’re doing The Rape of Lucretia in College next year and I’ll be performing the role of Male Chorus, so I’m really looking forward to that. I’d love to work for Glyndebourne one day and would really like to opportunity to work in Germany.

My ultimate dream and long-term goal would be to sing the role of Cavaradossi in Puccini’s masterpiece Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He isn’t the typical love sick tenor, he has some clout!

In the meantime, Elgan continues to work hard on opera scenes and some new commissions at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in an effort to pave his way to the future and career he wants.

I don’t get much time to myself but I know what I want and I’m perfectly ready to work for it.