Diva rings up curtain on a Glyndebourne for the Welsh valleys

Welsh Glyndebourne: Gwyneth Jones plans festival at Victorian singer's castle
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The Independent Online
MICHAEL PRESTAGE

Welsh opera lovers, still in mourning after the Millennium Fund's refusal to back a new opera house in Cardiff, have had their spirits lifted at the prospect of having their own Glyndebourne.

The internationally renowned Welsh soprano Dame Gwyneth Jones has bought the romantic castle of Craig-y-nos, in the Upper Tawe Valley of South Wales, and has gifted it to the nation. The castle will become a teaching and performing centre for opera.

To help finance the castle's purchase, Dame Gwyneth sold a property in Vienna. The gift to the Welsh nation also includes funds to establish a trust and manage it. "This is going to be my gift to my country from which my career has taken me away for so long," she said.

Following the Millennium Fund's decision not to make a grant to the pounds 86m Cardiff Bay opera house, it is hoped thatCraig-y-nos will grow to rival the annual Glyndebourne summer festival, in the shadow of the South Downs in East Sussex.

Fittingly, Craig-y-nos was once the home of another renowned opera singer, the Victorian bel canto soprano Madame Adelina Patti. It contains a 150- seat theatre for opera that still features some of the original scenery.

Dame Gwyneth, born at Pontnewydd, near Cwmbran, now lives in Switzerland and is best known for her performances in the dramatic soprano repertory as Puccini's Turandot, Wagner's Brunnhilde, and Richard Strauss's Elektra. She was at the castle this weekend. "The moment I stepped inside its gates," she said, "I fell under the spell of Craig-y-nos. When I stood in the music room I had this vision of the castle coming back to its former glory.

"It is going to be a place for young people to study and will hopefully see an end to Welsh singers having to go to London when they should be studying at home. There will also be summer festivals."

The Dame Gwyneth Jones Patti Trust will administer the castle and applications will be made to the Lottery and the Arts Council for grants towards the pounds 6m cost of restoring it to its Victorian splendour.

The castle was bought by Mme Patti, in 1878. She lived there until her death in 1919, adding extensively to it. After her death, it was used as a hospital until a consortium of local businessmen bought it in 1986, but their plans to turn it into a hotel and restaurant were hit by the recession.

The architect Roger Clive-Powell envisages the present project will take three years to complete. The institutional buildings from its days as a hospital will be removed and the original terraces, gardens and open auditorium restored.

Penny Jones, wife of the previous owner, Dr J T Jones, will be a trustee. She said: "It is very fitting that it is our own Welsh-born, world leading soprano Gwyneth Jones, who is doing this. That she is resurrecting what was Adelina Patti's country homemakes it doubly so. From a diva of the past to one of the present."

Mrs Jones said it was an important part of Wales's heritage that needed to be preserved.

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