A 25-year-old Welsh baritone dubbed the new Bryn Terfel has been crowned as the best young singer in the world.
Emyr Lloyd Jones, 25, put in a stirring performance to take the title of the Pendine International Voice of the Future at the 75th Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod.
Following a thrilling sing-off, watched by his proud parents and loving fiancée, he was presented with the Pendine Trophy – a solid silver salver, and a £3,000 prize by Mario Kreft MBE, proprietor of the arts-loving care organisation, Pendine Park, who sponsor the competition.
The prize comes from the Pendine Arts and Community Trust (PACT) which supports cultural and community initiatives across Wales.
In what the judges described as an extremely close decision, Emyr clinched the victory just ahead of the hugely talented soprano Oksana Lepska, of Latvia.
The two virtuosos had battled their way through preliminary rounds involving more than 20 competitors from countries as far afield as China and the USA.
Just six singers made it to the semi-finals which were held on the opening days of the Eisteddfod where they competed for the final two places to perform on the show-stopping night of the famous pavilion stage.
Emyr comes from Bontnewydd, near Gwynedd, which is less than 10 miles away from where Bryn Terfel was raised in Pantglas.
He said he was “over the moon” to have won such a prestigious prize especially in the eisteddfod’s landmark 75th anniversary year.
He said: “I feel absolutely honoured. There have been so many exceptional performances in this year’s competition that I was overwhelmed to have got into the final.
“It is an occasion which is very close to my heart. I have been competing and visiting the International Musical Eisteddfod with choirs since I was a young child so to achieve success like this in the pavilion for which I hold such affection, well it’s just staggering for me.”
Emyr impressed the Eisteddfod judges with his entrancing performances of Hai gia vinta la causa, from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro; The Cloths of Heaven, taken from a poem by WB Yeats and Y Cymro by Meirion Williams.
Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod executive producer, Camilla King, said his voice was reminiscent of opera mega-star Sir Bryn Terfel in his earlier years.
She said: “It has that same timbre, it’s rich, passionate, mellow and versatile. He doesn’t just sing but his voice takes you on a journey.
“I believe Emyr has the talent to become a future star of the same standing as Sir Bryn. In fact, both our finalists are outstanding talents and I’ve no doubt we will be seeing a lot more of them both in years to come.”
After studying for six years at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, where he met fiancée, fellow singer Rhiannon Ashley, Emyr’s career course is already moving on apace. He will spend the next two years studying at the famed Guildhall School of Music in London where Bryn Terfel was also once a student.
He is hugely excited to have been accepted by the Guildhall but the move has some bitter sweet consequences as it means he will be parted from Rhiannon for a year.
She is heading off to teach in the Welsh settlement of Patagonia in Argentina.
Emyr said: “We only got engaged just over a month ago and we are immensely looking forward to making a life together but at the same time we both have goals to achieve. It will be hard being apart but we already have plans for me to go over and visit Patagonia in December.”
Rhiannon, 25, who hails from Newcastle Emlyn, South Wales, was delighted to be in the audience with Emyr’s proud parents Derek and Gillian Jones, watching Emyr perform in the Pendine International Voice of the Future final.
She said: “We were on the edge of our seats. We’re all really thrilled for him. We knew he could do it and he sang brilliantly well. It’s been a fantastic evening.”
Emyr’s dream is to become a professional opera singer and have the chance to perform on some of the world’s great stages like the New York Met, La Scala in Milan and the Royal Opera House.
He would also love to perform with each of the national opera companies in Britain.
Mario Kreft added: “The ethos of the Eisteddfod chimes perfectly with the values of my wife, Gill, and I at Pendine Park in nurturing young talent.
“We firmly believe in the vital role played by music and arts in social care and as part of our enrichment programme for people with dementia.
“The Pendine Trophy, which is solid Edwardian silver bearing a Chester hallmark, was kindly donated by the late Tony Kaye of Kaye’s Jewellers. It’s a stunning and beautiful trophy.
“I think tonight we have heard some of the future famous names of the global operatic stage for sure. Both contestants have remarkable voices and they kept the audience enthralled with their different performances.
“To have such a high standard of competition particularly in this, the first year of live performances again following the difficult, heart-wrenching times of the pandemic, is wonderfully uplifting. It shows what a wealth of talent there still is among our younger generations of musicians.
“Emyr is a credit to his home village of Bontnewydd and an inspiration to other budding young singers from north Wales and further afield. It is our hope that this competition offers a stepping stone for outstanding young talents like Emyr and Oksana to go on and further their careers.”
Emyr said the cash windfall will be an enormous support towards his costs of living in London, as well as helping towards purchase of vital materials and extra tuition fees.
He said: “Apart from my delight about winning this is a tremendous boost on a practical level and will definitely help me afford to live in London, especially at a time when expenses everywhere are going up. I cannot thank Mario and Pendine enough.”
Eisteddfod chairman Dr Rhys Davies said the organisers would be overjoyed to see all the competitors again.
He said: “It has been a lovely evening, emotional, and heartwarming. We have been bowled over by the standard of performances. What a wonderful way to celebrate the 75th anniversary year of Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod.”