Paul Carey Jones may be based in London and describes himself as Welsh-Irish (his mother’s parents were from Mayo) but there is certainly no mistaking he is a Cardiffian at heart. Brought up in the city, his parents have lived in Rhiwbina for more than 50 years, and educated at Ysgol Gymraeg Melin Gruffydd and Ysgol Glantaf, he is a knowledgeable Cardiff City fan and very rooted in the regional and national culture of his homeland.
Yet while he now has a very successful singing career and took lessons at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama as a schoolboy, he studied Physics at Queen’s College Oxford, and returned to Ysgol Glantaf as a teacher.
But with music in his blood (well, probably his genes) and as a winner of National Eisteddfod prizes including in 2001 the National Eisteddfod’s most prestigious prize for young singers, the W. Towyn Roberts Scholarship), he switched school life for a place on the postgraduate course at the Royal Academy of Music. Further training followed at the National Opera Studio before stage roles beckoned including work with Welsh National Opera, Northern Ireland Opera, summer festivals including Opera Holland Park. International work has included China, Italy, Ireland. The China work included the Chinese premieres of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde at the Beijing Music Festival and the Shanghai MISA Festival. Paul particularly enjoyed the experience as school pupils from Northern Ireland travelled to China to form the children’s chorus.
David in L’amico Fritz with Opera Holland Park
Noye in Noye’s Fludde at the Beijing Music Festival and the Shanghai MISA Festival
Scarpia in Tosca, Opera Northern Ireland
While he is currently singing a variety of roles including most recently this summer in Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz at Opera Holland Park and a concert performance of Cavalleria rusticana at Iford Arts, it was his second outing as Wotan for Longborough Festival that drew most attention. His Wagnerian heldenbariton repertoire, including the roles of Wotan, Amfortas and Kurwenal, mark a pivotal period in any singer’s life and particularly being part of a new Ring cycle being created at the Cotswolds opera company with Penarth-based musical director Anthony Negus. The next garagantum undertaking is Siegfried in summer 2022.
“This is the right time for that role, the perfect time in my own development arc and it will be for years to come,” he said, explaining that with so much interest in Wagnerian performances having such roles in his repertoire will reap dividends. “But 20 or even just 15 years ago it was not a plan,” he added. Yet the types of singers that are cast in roles can vary from country to country. It is interesting that different countries tend to have their own tastes for what a role should sound like. That is partly due to the venues as well with North America having such huge opera theatres. That might not be an ideal house for some singers especially when singing Wotan and having to survive!” However, he says his international work has shown that when a singer is known to be from Wales he or she is seen as a “premium brand”.
Yes, committed to Wales but his rand of nationalism is fully embracing of diverse cultures. “I have Welsh speaking friends from the heartlands of North and West Wales where the language was historically stronger but that is not necessarily the case now and it is quite right that we are thinking about ourselves as a nation, the present and the future and not just the past identity. We are more of a melting pot and that is also why I feel good about being in London as well, with different cultures mixing together, some long established and some new.”
Covid has certainly brought changes to singers’ lives.” Growing up in Wales and wanting to be a singer you always knew you would have to travel and that can mean being away nine, ten, eleven months a year depending on where roles are available. Now there are interesting conversations initiated by Covid across the industry as people have not been able to travel and there are interesting dialogues in 2021 about how we relate to our communities as in some way the industry has moved away from the community roots from which we first came. It is all coming full circle.” He believes that also means singers being more involved in some of the decision-making taking place in large opera companies where managers sometimes forget the unique selling point of opera is – singing – and in an era when costs are cut a singer who speak up can be seen as being difficult.”
During the summer singers have been working across a variety of stages from the festival operas that have been a godsend as the state funded companies have taken their grants and shut up shop, others have formed their own small companies to create their own work, but others have seen their careers disappear. Meanwhile, some of the state-funded companies are even now seemingly showing more interest in what could be seen as important if peripheral (if not box ticking) work than acting staging operas and employing singers.
As a stylish and hard-hitting writer, the bass-baritone has also not held back from expressing some disdain for some in his own industry. In the first wave of lockdown when the Chancellor came up with some support for the arts, he wrote on his Ranitidine and Tonic site, of the danger government support for the arts failed to reach artists as they were on the lower rungs of importance of arts organisations because “because in the modern UK arts industry, artists are not employees: we are the raw material. And part of the job of those selling the product is to keep the cost of the raw material to a minimum.
“I don’t blame any individual in any of those jobs. In their shoes I would be doing exactly the same. It’s literally what they’re paid to do, and many of them are far more enlightened and benevolent than they have any need to be. This is a criticism of the system, not of the individuals within it. In many cases, we’re lucky to have them.”
Like other singers, he has also reflected on how the precarious state of work for freelance singers, which is virtually all apart from some staff choruses, particularly since the demise of employed staff principals which went the way of many full-time permanent orchestras and choruses. He has survived but some singers’ careers have not, making his comments more poignant, and he hoped those running arts organisations would take a wider view and “start to think of ways in which British opera singers – that huge native natural resource which they only occasionally have the courage, imagination and expertise to tap into – could be saved. Otherwise, this might be the moment that UK opera finally eats itself. Where buildings and offices are maintained while artistic talent is left to wither and die. Where all that remains is the imported husk of an irrelevant foreign museum piece, as our detractors so often sneeringly accuse us of being.”
Sadly, even a cursory glance down the list of names of artists booked at his own “national” company now that work is finally being presented again shows an alarming paucity of Welsh singers – yet again they are having to work in England and abroad.
Fortunately, this singer similarly has work beyond Wales where the “premium brand” is appreciated, and for now as summer draws to an end, he can catch up on some cricket and soccer, watching at least, and maybe Wotan-like keeping one eye on the vagaries of the inhabitants of the world around him – and popping home to visit his folks in Cardiff.
Giving It Away – Classical Music in Lockdown, and other fairy tales.
Stranded in London when the Coronavirus pandemic hit, Welsh opera singer Paul Carey Jones began chronicling the voyage of the classical music industry through the perils – and opportunities – of a global pandemic. Based on his hit blog series Coronaclassical, this book is his lockdown story so far. https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08M253WSX
Wotan in Walkure with Longborough Opera