The Llangollen debut of opera great Luciano Pavarotti is clear in the memory of an International Musical Eisteddfod stalwart.
Retired nurse Hafwen Ryder was still a teenager at Llangollen Grammar School and a volunteer usher in the marquee where the Chorus Rossini from Modena in Italy performed to win the Male Voice Choir competition in 1955. Hafwen, 75,who now lives in Chirk, said: “I remember the choir performing and that they were very good but of course no-one knew who Pavarotti was then.
“I do have a limited edition picture of Pavarotti when he came back to the Eisteddfod in 1995 and I’m happy to loan that to the Pavarotti exhibition being staged at this year’s event in July.”
The Eisteddfod starts on Tuesday, July 7, and runs until Sunday night, July 12, and the Pavarotti exhibition will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Italian maestro’s 1955 appearance and the 20th of his return.
Hafwen’s own connections with the annual festival go back even further. She said: “I was a volunteer from my school days and I recited the Peace Message in 1953 – I remember I was coached and tested to make sure I could do it by W S Gwyn Williams, the musical director, because it was broadcast live in those days.
“I was also there in 1953 when the Obernkirchen Choir sang The Happy Wanderer and I have so many happy memories of the Eisteddfod.”
Hafwen became friends with one of the Obernkirchen girls, Erika Fisher, and they were penfriends for over 50 years until Erika’s death in 2004 and met up when she and her husband returned to Llangollen.
Her own family’s connections with the event are also strong – her brother, Delwyn Lewis, now retired, was a policeman who used to direct the traffic during Eisteddfod week and his wife, Eira, is still an active volunteer.
Hafwen, whose daughter, Helen, is an occupational therapist in Dundee, went on to train as a nurse in Liverpool and later returned to nurse in Llangollen and Chirk, and she said: “The Eisteddfod is a wonderful event and that’s shown that you can make friends with people who come there to perform and that friendship lasts for years.
“I was an usher for many years and used to sell programmes – we used to get a penny for each one we sold
“I still love to go to the Eisteddfod, especially to the Choir of the World competition on Saturdays and to the concert on Sunday if it’s a good one.”
She also remembers the Eisteddfod Chairman, Gethin Davies, as an usher back in the 1950s and he remembers her too though he doesn’t remember the choir from Modena which launched Pavarotti’s glittering career.
“I was probably thinking about my girlfriend,” he said: “But I remember Hafwen very well and her reciting the Peace Message, she was only the second person to do it.
“I remember Pavarotti coming in 1995 and I actually introduced him onto the stage – the concert is still shown quite regularly on the Sky Arts channel.
“I was chairman and I remember he came on waving his handkerchief and he was great and sang some marvellous stuff, including one of his own composition. He even conducted the audience and we were all la-la-la-ing along in accompaniment.
“He was backed by the Modena choir which was a mixed choir by then – in 1955 it was a male voice choir.
“It was actually Pavarotti himself who initiated his return. He said it was something he had always wanted to do because of the part Llangollen had played in his career.
“He always said that it was winning at Llangollen in 1955 that convinced him that he could make singing his career and he wasn’t wrong, was he?”
Robin Argent, from Dalar Wen, Denbigh, also has fond memories of the Eisteddfod and of seeing Pavarotti in 1995.
He said: “I’ve still got the tickets my late wife, Del, and I had, £85 each. A group of us used to go to the Sunday concert every year, have a picnic on the field and go down to the concert and I particularly remember this one.
“I took a photo of Pavarotti and had it enlarged and I’ve got the actual tickets framed as well.
“It was absolutely fantastic. I’ve seen it since on TV and it was very impressive.”
It is another tenor that will be one of the stars of this year’s Eisteddfod, Alfie Boe, who will sing songs from the Musicals at the Thursday evening concert, one of the highlights of another packed week which will begin on Tuesday with Children’s Day and the Parade of Nations, led by Eisteddfod President Terry Waite before the evening Heart of Llangollen concert featuring a galaxy of international talent.
Wednesday’s programme will include a new competition for the International Young Musician of the Year as well as the Children’s Choir of the World while Thursday’s competitions will see another first, the International Voice of Musical Theatre Trophy.
Friday’s Open Category for choirs will showcase styles like gospel, barbershop, jazz, pop and glee styles and will also see the International Voice of the Future decided with the prize including the chance to sing at one of the evening concerts the following year.
The Blue Riband event, the Choir of the World for the Pavarotti Trophy, is decided on Saturday night as well as the Open Dance competition and Sunday sees the Eisteddfod let its hair down for Llanfest before the climactic final concert.
The feel good atmosphere spreads out to the Eisteddfod field through the week as hundreds of competitors and thousands of visitors mingle with spontaneous performances breaking out.
Visitors can enjoy live music at the 200-seat S4C Stage, join in with dance workshops or just soak up the heady atmosphere throughout the week world-class competitors perform in a spectacular celebration of cultures with stunning choral music and lively traditional dance, especially on Folk Friday when the outdoor stages will feature world-class music and dance.