Obituary: Roderick Jones
Tuesday 29 September 1992
Roderick Jones was a typical product of the Sadler's Wells Opera tradition, an honest, strong, no-nonsense singer who was willing to tackle, and made his mark in, a wide range of roles, serious and comic. He made his debut in the famous premiere of Peter Grimes on 7 June 1945. On that epoch-making occasion Jones created the role of Balstrode in Britten's opera. His typically bluff portrayal was just what the part needed. It remains a thousand pities that his performance and that of the rest of the cast was not recorded for posterity.
It was the beginning of a five- year period for Jones as principal baritone with Sadler's Wells during which he boxed the compass of roles. He became a great favourite with the loyal Rosebery Avenue public who liked to hear their singers in a variety of parts. His most famous and the one he performed most often was Scarpia to the Tosca of the even more popular Victoria Sladen. They struck sparks off each other and produced the true frisson of verismo opera, not to forget their faultless diction, a sphere in which their successors could well learn much from them.
Allied to his Scarpia was his tormented Rigoletto. Here his high, well-placed baritone also carried complete conviction as he expressed the hunchback father's predicament in clear and confident fashion. He was also a strutting, attractive Escamillo, a sympathetic Marcello and a vicious Tonio. So it surprised many in the company that he also evinced a gift for comedy. He proved a wise old Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte and a properly ludicrous Belcore in the company's initial performances of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. When pure lyricism was called for he was also able to deliver the goods - as in the part of the upright Valentin in Faust. Other notable portrayals, these in out-of-the-way works, were the title-roles in Vaughan Williams's Sir John in Love (a Falstaff opera) and in Weinberger's Schwanda the Bagpiper. His strong sense of character was also present as the Sergeant in Hugh the Drover, a memorable portrayal opposite James Johnston's eloquent Hugh.
In 1951, upon the formation of the Welsh National Opera, he was true to his roots. After making his debut with the company as Tonio, he took part in two seminal Verdi productions of then-neglected works, playing the forceful father Montfort in The Sicilian Vespers and the tortured ruler of the title in Nabucco. These underlined his gifts as a singing-actor, one to whom the text was quite as important as the singing. Sadly the record companies overlooked his talents and there are few mementoes of his appreciable art.
The son of a miner, he left the pits to study at the Royal Academy of Music, first piano then voice. The war broke into the start of his career. After service in the Royal Navy, he was spotted by Joan Cross, ever on the look-out for new talent, who engaged him for Sadler's Wells, of which she was then director. His Balstrode was the result.
In the late 1950s his career rather petered out, although he was occasionally heard on Third Programme productions of operas. In 1961 he became director of the Jamaica School of Music but returned to Wales in 1970 as a teacher at Aberystwyth University College.
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