Anne Edwards

Soprano vivid in Verdi roles

When the Welsh soprano Anne Edwards began her career she was a pretty girl with a pretty, light lyric voice - a delightful Mimi in La bohème, a sprightly Nedda in Pagliacci and a romantic Marguerite in Faust. She was an excellent actress, indeed she once appeared in a play at the Royal Court Theatre, but, as her vocal power grew, so did her dramatic strength, and she became a vivid exponent of those (often unpleasant) early Verdi heroines such as Odabella in Attila and Abigaille in Nabucco. At the other end of the spectrum, she was a notable interpreter of the soprano part in the Verdi Requiem: once in France she sang three performances in four days of the Requiem, in cities as far apart as Lille and Lyons.

Born in Builth Wells in 1930, Edwards trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. She sang two roles with Welsh National Opera in their season at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London during the summer of 1957: Margherita in Boito's Mefistofele, for which she was perhaps not yet ready, and Anna, sister of the prophet Zaccariah in Nabucco, a small role that, incidentally, she later recorded. She joined the Carl Rosa Opera Company, singing roles such as Mimi, Nedda, Marguerite and also two Mozart roles, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni and the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro.

Edwards's future husband, Colin Courtney, was a clarinettist in the Carl Rosa Orchestra, and they were married in 1959. The Carl Rosa was nearing the end of its precarious existence because of lack of funds. Many of the singers were taken over by Sadler's Wells Opera (now English National Opera) and in December 1959 Edwards sang Mimi for them, followed by the Countess in January 1960. In August that year Carl Rosa gave a final season at the Prince's Theatre in London, and Edwards sang Donna Elvira, a role well suited to her temperament and to her growing dramatic involvement.

After the copyright on the Gilbert and Sullivan operas ran out in 1961, there was a rush to perform the works in a more modern way than that hitherto permitted by the D'Oyly Carte company. Productions of The Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore, directed with great ingenuity by Tyrone Guthrie, were given at Stratford, Ontario, and in 1962 were brought to London for a short season at Her Majesty's Theatre. The casts were mixed Canadian and British; Edwards shared the roles of Mabel in Pirates and Josephine in Pinafore with Marian Studholm and after the London season toured the United States and Canada for eight weeks with the two productions.

Edwards sang at Covent Garden during the 1965/66 Season, as Gerhilde in Die Walküre and then as Second Maid in Richard Strauss's Elektra. She returned to Sadler's Wells, now installed at the London Coliseum, in 1970 for Colin Graham's new production of The Tales of Hoffmann, in which Edwards artfully appeared as Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta and Stella. In December 1973 she was called to the Teatro Liceu, Barcelona, in an emergency to sing Odabella in Attila. The conductor was Placido Domingo and she scored a great triumph. Next month she was in Paris for a concert performance of Attila by ORTF, French radio, which was equally successful.

London got the chance to hear Edwards as Odabella later that year in a concert performance of Attila at the Royal Festival Hall with Justino Diaz in the title role. It was an exhilarating experience. In 1975 Edwards returned to ORTF in Paris to sing Leonora in Oberto, Verdi's first opera. This contains the first of the long chain of father/daughter duets in Verdi's operas, as well as a fine aria for Leonora. She went back again to Paris in 1976 to sing Abigaille in Nabucco, the ultimate in Verdi's anti-heroines. The irony is that Abigaille is not Nabucco's daughter as she believes, but the child of a slave.

Elizabeth Forbes

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