Dame Gwyneth Jones hits back in bitter Wagner Society feud

A scene from Quartet, starring Dame Gwyneth Jones (left), along with Pauline COllins, Billy Collins and Patricia Loveland In a surprise move the Wagner Society’s committee decided it could no longer justify staging the masterclass following last year’s loss-making event, held at Princess Alexandra Hall, home of the Royal Over-seas League.However, Dame Gwyneth pointed out that it was far from unique for events staged by the society to fail to break even.“The main reason given for cancellation of the masterclass, namely that the equivalent event lost money last year, does not hold water.  While it did make a modest loss (of marginally over £1,000), it was certainly not unique in that respect,” she said.“Indeed, I note from the accounts for the year ended 31 December 2017 that, of the 11 events staged by the Society last year, all bar three lost money.  By far the biggest loss was in fact incurred by the singing competition itself, but I have heard no mention of cancelling the competition.”She also accused members of the committee of trying to “misrepresent” the reason last year’s masterclass made a loss.Dame Gwyneth said she had booked the London Welsh Society as a cheaper alternative to the Royal Overseas League for last year’s masterclass, and claimed that it was the committee which took the decision to return to Princess Alexandra Hall, which cost £1,200 to hire.She said: “This is not reflected in the minutes of the committee meeting of 19 June 2017, which falsely stated that: ‘if we had St Botolph’s for the MC it would have broken even, but Dame Gwyneth said we needed the ROSL’.  “I am at a loss to understand why certain committee members would be seeking to re-write history in this way.”Dame Gwyneth said the cancellation of the masterclass was “no way to treat” Michelle Alexander and Adam Music, the promising young singers who won the prize as part of the Wagner Society’s annual singing competition.“It is a great pity that the committee appears to have seen fit to let down these young singers in this way,” she said. “I very much want to honour my commitment to give the masterclass to the competition winners – it is a real shame that the committee appears determined, on the flimsiest of pretexts, to prevent me from doing so.”The soprano, who won a Grammy award for her interpretation of Brünnhilde in Der Ring des Nibelungen in 1983, traces her conflict with the society’s committee to their bitter dispute in 2014, when she says she raised concerns about the society’s book-keeping and financial records.“Despite the fact that those concerns proved to be well-founded, certain committee members responded by asking me to resign and then, when I did not, threatening me with legal proceedings for defamation. Fortunately, the matter was settled when they made a public apology to me and my husband,” she said.Richard Miles, chairman of the Wagner Society committee said: “The Committee does not recognise the version of events put forward. As far as the Committee is concerned there is no ‘agenda’ against our much-revered honorary President.“We are a body of Trustees who are under the unglamorous fiduciary obligation to act in the interests of our membership, which we discharge diligently and professionally. This includes safeguarding the Society’s finances.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. One of Britain’s most distinguished singers has accused fellow devotees of Richard Wagner of repeated attempts to undermine her position and “rewrite history”.Dame Gwyneth Jones has spoken out for the first time about the long running feud which has riven the Wagner Society, of which she has been president for nearly three decades.In the latest skirmish, revealed last week by The Sunday Telegraph, the society found itself at odds over a decision to cancel a sought-after public masterclass to have been held by the award winning soprano.The society’s committee took the decision to cancel the prestigious masterclass after last year’s event ran over budget.But Dame Gwyneth has now hit back, disputing the circumstances surrounding its cancellation and suggesting the decision appeared to be part of a wider agenda against her.The award-winning singer, who appeared in Dustin Hoffman’s film Quartet, survived an attempted coup against her in 2014 after fighting off accusations that she had become “dictatorial”.She said: “Given my long-standing support of the Wagner Society over the last 28 years, I am frankly surprised and dismayed that certain committee members should continue to conduct themselves in this way.” A scene from Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet, starring Dame Gwyneth Jones (left), along with Pauline COllins, Billy Collins and Patricia LovelandCredit:AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo