Opera singer's 'unusual' story will be told

At the age of 41, Wiltonian Betty Jones entered the world of professional opera, and 44 years later decided to share her journey in an autobiography, titled The Music in My Life.

On Thursday, Feb. 5, Ms. Jones’s husband, Eugene D. Jones, will help share his wife’s story “of how she decided to enter the difficult world of being an opera singer past the age of 40” at Wilton Library.

“It’s a very unusual story, and it all started here in Wilton,” said Mr. Jones, 90, who has lived in Wilton with his 85-year-old wife for 61 years.

Prior to becoming an opera singer, Mr. Jones said, his wife was a housewife who sang at the Wilton Congregational Church.

“The choir director thought she had a good voice and asked her to sing for a former neighbor, Georgiana Schenck,” said Mr. Jones.

“Betty sang for her and she said, ‘You sing very well but you don’t know how to sing, but I want to teach you,’ and Betty ended up singing her first opera when she was 41 years old and went on and ended up at the Metropolitan Opera.”

During the author talk, Mr. Jones said, he will share various stories of his wife’s life and career — “from majoring in art at Sarah Lawrence College, to singing at the Kennedy Center, to singing in Mexico City and Germany, to singing at Carnegie Hall in 1978.”

Career

In 1976, Mr. Jones said, his wife performed a piece by Wilton jazz musician Dave Brubeck at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Before Mr. Brubeck moved into his “big home,” said Mr. Jones, he rented a house near the Jones family.

“He used to come here, write music, and he and Betty would rehearse,” said Mr. Jones. “We became good friends.”

“Betty became known as a ‘rescuer’ because she would go on at the last minute if somebody got sick,” said Mr. Jones.

One time in 1978, said Mr. Jones, his wife received a call at their home in Wilton around 2 p.m. and was asked to cover for Roberta Knie at New York City’s Carnegie Hall that night.

“She did, and she performed Oberon with everyone from the Metropolitan Opera there,” said Mr. Jones, who said they were impressed by her performance. “She was written up in every newspaper in New York.”

In fact, Ms. Jones was described as “secure and powerful” and “a sound musician and reliable singer” in an article in The New Yorker.

During her career, Ms. Jones had many principal soprano roles, including:

  • Aida, Tosca, Turandot and Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro.
  • Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera.
  • Senta in Der Fliegende Hollande.
  • Odabella in Attila.
  • Eva in Die Meistersinger.
  • Abigaille in Nabucco.

Ms. Jones also had various roles in the complete Wagner Ring Cycle.

The book

Ms. Jones started writing The Music in My Life about three or four years ago, said Mr. Jones.

“When she first started writing it, she just started writing,” said Mr. Jones. “We had a lot of fun doing it. Betty wrote everything in longhand and I was her faithful typist.”

In her book, Ms. Jones thanked Johnny Rose, whom she described as “a wonderful pianist,” for suggesting she write about her life.

Mr. Jones said he thought Mr. Rose’s suggestion was a great idea and encouraged his wife to attend a writing class at the Wilton Senior Center.

In the class, Ms. Jones had to write a two- to three-page story each week, which was then reviewed by other class participants, whom she thanked in her book for their “wonderful comradeship and very helpful comments on some of my early writings.”

“A lot of people know Betty — she’s been singing around here for a long time,” said Mr. Jones. “A lot of people have stopped Betty and me and said they started reading the book and couldn’t put it down.”

The Music in My Life is available for $9 in both paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.com, and $9.99 in paperback and Nook Book format on barnesandnoble.com.

The 7-8:30 p.m. author talk at the library is free, but registration is highly recommended. Information:wiltonlibrary.org, 203-762-3950, ext. 213.