Bryn Terfel has played the world’s greatest opera houses, but is heading home for four summer music specials. Marion McMullen finds out why the operatic powerhouse has plenty to sing about.
Hollywood stars keep snapping up all the good singing roles in the movies, but Bryn Terfel is not bitter.
“I suppose I missed my chance in Sweeney Todd with Johnny Depp and Javert in Les Miserables was that Australian guy, Russell Crowe, but there is always Camelot,” points out the Welsh opera star pragmatically. “Mind you, I’d be filling big shoes. Richard Burton played King Arthur on Broadway.”
Tinseltown’s loss is the opera world’s gain, for Bryn is in demand all over the world and his engagement diary is planned up to five years ahead.
The bass-baritone is one of the most sought after international voices and has performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, La Scala in Milan and Sydney Opera House.
Two years ago he appeared with Andrea Bocelli at a gala concert in Central Park, New York, in front of more than 70,000 people and he has sung the title role of Sweeney Todd.
He’s already played in Australia and New Zealand this year and will shortly be adding to his air miles with dates planned for all over the world.
“You’ve got to make hay while the sun shines,” he says of his packed schedule. “I got a call from the Mariinsky in Russia asking ‘can you come over next week to open the new theatre and can you do a concert version of Tosca?’”
“I’m always travelling, but I’m not complaining. It’s not going to last forever. I’ve found the best way to beat jet-lag is to sleep longer in your own bed before you fly and then read or watch movies.
“I’ve been to New Zealand, Australia recently and sung with the Mormon Tabarnacle Choir in Salt Lake City in America. That’s a lot of travelling, but I say enjoy it while it lasts.”
The father of three is reported to be living apart from his wife and childhood sweetheart Lesley, but professionally his career is going from strength to strength.
He has won acclaim for his portrayals of Figaro, Falstaff and Wotan. He’s picked up a Grammy, Classical Brit and Gramophone Award along the way – as well as a CBE and the Queen’s Medal for Music – and has recorded Mozart, Wagner and Strauss operas, American musical theatre and Welsh songs, as well as sacred music.
“My warbling has been confined to Verdi and Wagner this year,” says the 48-year-old – it is the 200th anniversary of the birth of the two composers.
“There are concerts, recitals and performances and then there are gaps and it’s a bit like filling teeth arranging other things around the gaps.”
The farmer’s son, born in Pant Glas, Caernarfonshire, will be heading back to the UK this summer to play four exclusive dates. Kicking off at Birmingham Symphony Hall on June 7, he then heads to Cardiff, London and Manchester.
“I’m journeying back to things I have done in the last 25 years,” he says happily. “I’m performing favourite arias like Bizet’s Les Toréadors from Carmen, Verdi’s Ehi! paggio! from Falstaff and Ella giammai m’amo from Don Carlos and there’s a sojourn of Fiddler On The Roof.”
Bryn is also championing fellow Welsh talent and is being joined for the dates by soprano Gwawr Edwards and mezzo-soprano Caryl Hughes.
He’s also known for his versatility as a concert performer, with highlights ranging from the opening ceremony of the Wales Millennium Centre, BBC Last Night of the Proms and for nine years hosted his own festival in Faenol, North Wales.
The opera superstar is also Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s “artist in residence” and will be taking part in a series of concerts in September.
“I started out singing in a male voice choir. They put on concerts in Wales and wanted a soloist,” he remembers. “I was singing Welsh songs, lullabies and songs like Some Enchanted Evening and Oh, What A Beautiful Morning. Without that I don’t think I would have been so confident on the stage when I started. It all began from there.”
* Bryn Terfel plays Symphony Hall, Birmingham, on June 7. For tickets tel: 0121 780 4949.