Bayreuth’s English mezzo was a paragon of kindness

Bayreuth’s English mezzo was a paragon of kindness


norman lebrecht

March 01, 2014

The English soprano Una Barry has allowed us to share her reflections on the death of her much-loved teacher, Anna Reynolds.



Anna never sent Christmas cards from Germany but always made a point of ringing us all up at Christmas, and last Christmas was no exception, and when I promised somehow I would get to see her this year. It was always much nicer and more personal than a card. She was fun and we never failed over the years to had a good laugh with her. The last time I spoke to Anna was towards the end of January before I went to Turkey to tell her that I was going to be singing in Salzburg at the end of May, and had added on a couple of extra days to the flight home from Munich so I could get to see her at last. Alas, it was not meant to be.

Anna taught me a lot when I studied with her in Germany in three or four weekly bursts a year from 2002 to 2004. She made it affordable and worthwhile, and we were able to stay in her huge house as part of the deal – a converted barn! She has got me singing far more opera, albeit too late in life, but still it was a good development and she made me work. It was only the ever changing circumstances at home in London that made it more difficult for me to go to Germany to study singing with her and Jean. It was always fun going over there and on my last trip to see her in July 2009, she generously gave me the treat of going to Bayreuth to see Götterdammerung where I remember our own Andrew Shaw sang everyone off the stage!

Anna met the American tenor, Jean Cox, whilst singing Wagner at Bayreuth. She married Jean and moved permanently to Germany, giving up her career so that she could be there for him and for his career, which she felt by then was far more important and high profile than hers. She kept her little house in Fulham all those years, and so they used to come to London for a few weeks once or twice a year, and always came to us for a meal in Bow when over, driving all the way from South Germany in a four-wheel drive full of stuff! Jean was then diagnosed with Parkinsons. He was very poorly even in 2009 but still at home when I was there visiting them. He died only last June at the age of 90, and she certainly was there for him right up to the end, giving up most of her teaching to care for him with the help of other professional carers coming into the house. He was then admitted to a home for some months, where Anna would visit him daily with the help of friends and neighbours doing the daily 30-mile round trip she too had given up driving by then.

After Jean’s death, Anna started doing a bit of teaching again. Her memory was failing her a bit, which she admitted to herself and which we sort of noticed, but then there was nothing wrong with her ears as a teacher, or her mind in conversation, or her fine piano playing, or her opinion on some of the singers around today, particularly the ‘commercial celebrity singers’! It was also obvious to us that she missed Jean enormously. Many of us used to ring her up more often for a chat from then on, which she loved. It seemed to us that life became difficult living in such an enormous house on her own at the age of 82 or 83, which was somewhat in the middle of nowhere, but was great for so many years when it was full to bursting with students and a place from where they used to run courses and small-scale operas long before I ever met them.



  • Cyndee Szymkowicz says:

    Very beautifully written, Uma. I met you in Peesten one summer when I was also studying there. I worked with Anna frequently from the summer of 1986 until I had my last real lesson with her in June of 2012. Yes, she was getting quite forgetful, but I never sang as well as when Anna was teaching me.

    After I participated in Anna and Jean’s Mastercourse “The Art of Singing Wagner”, Anna encouraged me to come over to Germany in the fall to audition. I got my first contract in my last week of auditions: two years in Flensburg, singing everything from Mimi to Fidelio to Senta. Every 6 weeks we had a week off while the orchestra rehearsed for their concert series, and I would hop in my car and speed down to Mannheim, where Anna and Jean still lived “furing the season”, for lessons, and then a year later, all the way to Peesten when they moved there full time.

    The comradery was almost as important as our lessons. What fabulous times those were! We will all miss Anna and keep her in our hearts. Cyndee Szymkowicz, Mannheim, Germany