Sir Bryn Terfel: On stage you have to tell a story: communicate with the audience even if you’re singing a Wagnerian monologue taken out of the context of the opera. You still have to deliver 100% emotion. Try to convince yourself to enjoy the artistic act.

SIR BRYN TERFEL is a celebrated Welsh bass-baritone singer. He originally became known for his masterful turns in Mozart operas before turning to heavier roles, particularly by Wagner. The son of a Snowdonian farmer, Bryn Terfel had an interest in and flair for music from a very early age. He was taught to sing traditional Welsh songs by a family friend and went on to win numerous competitions. He moved to London in 1984 to study at the Guildhall School of Music, from which he graduated in 1989. He came second, after Dmitri Hvorostovsky, in the Cardiff BBC Singer of the World Competition the same year. He made his operatic début in 1990 as Guglielmo in Cosi Fan Tutte at Welsh National Opera and major operatic roles soon followed with performances in Santa Fe, Salzburg, Vienna, New York and Chicago. His album, Simple Gifts, a sequel to the huge-selling ‘Bryn’, shows off the versatility of his voice. He’s joined by countryman Aled Jones, guitarist John Williams and superb English baritone Simon Keenlyside. Other projects include a pop opera about the French Revolution by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters – in which he sings the Ringmaster, the Troublemaker and the King of France. A Grammy, Classical Brit and Gramophone Award winner, Sir Bryn was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to Opera in 2003, was awarded the Queen’s Medal for Music in 2006 and received a knighthood for his service to music in 2017. He was the last recipient of the Shakespeare Prize by the Alfred Toepfer Foundation and in 2015.

It’s such a pleasure to meet you again after exactly 3 years, this time virtually, and to have you interviewed for OPERA Charm Magazine! It’s an honour and I want to thank you first of all for your time! It was an honour to meet you in 2017 and then again in 2019, when we also had our first interview. It’s pretty much your “fault” that OPERA Charm exists today, do you know that, Sir Bryn?

Yes! I remember! It was in Bucharest, at the Enescu Festival… when I was supposed to be Lang Lang (laughs – Sir Bryn Terfel replaced the pianist Lang Lang that had cancelled last minute his participation to the Festival due to health issues). Oh, well done! I’m glad to hear these news!

Where does this phone call find you?

I’m in Paris, singing Tosca. It’s going well!

Your singing under the baton of M° Gustavo Dudamel, a legend. How’s your collaboration like?

Some people have so much hype. This man, Gustavo Dudamel can live up to all the expectations! It’s just another sphere of musicality, passion… and the history behind him! From the first sitzprobe (a rehearsal where the singers sing with orchestra focusing attention on integrating the two groups), you could see how comfortable he is on the podium, with 140 people in front of him. You can feel it, he’s very popular in the audience as well. When the Te Deum finishes in the act 1, the audience goes up really crazy for everything. You can feel it. It’s not only from the mise-en-scène or the piece itself, but also for what Gustavo is doing in the pit. He gives such boundless energy!

How about Scarpia? You’ve been performing this role quite a lot lately. What’s he like in your vision, in your interpretation?

Of course, any director would dissect the music first and see what can be portrait through different moves and quality of dark, shade and lights. The production here is quite destructive in the sense that it’s very dark. It pinpoints the aspect of religion and the seducer, the connosieur of wine and women that he really is, mistreating and misusing all the power has been given to his office. So it’s a beautiful set for act one and it’s a tremendous set for act 2. We need it! We need that wood to transport our voices to very big theaters. I always said that it’s very important what the designers do before the singers even step into the opera house, to give us a tremendous vehicle to performing, because in the end we are story tellers on the stage, Bianca. Tito Gobbi always said Tutto fa brodo with Scarpia. All the elements, the costume, the walk, the look, the wig, the table, the wine, the feather. Just everything is like a chessboard for him. And I particularly thrive on the situation of being very calm in that office, but when the time comes to turning the screw, he’s relentless. Musically, the singers tend to sing very loudly in this piece (Te Deum), because all the operatic forces are the: the organ, the bells, the full orchestra, the full chorus, the extras… it’s just so powerful and an incredibly imaginative… If any director fails in these 10 minutes of music, it’s quite a shock to anybody. Here, in this production in Paris, they’ve thrown the kitchen sink on the stage. Those powerful images are incredible for any audience to witness, I think. There’s Saioa Hernández performing Tosca – brilliant – and, of course, Joseph Calleja as Cavaradossi, singing for the second time in Opera Bastille. Lots of elements! On top of that, Joseph twisted his knee during the rehearsals and has been struggling a lot. And you know, we, as performers and singer, need to have our bodies working. Because his knee can give up on any notes that he’s singing at the moment, it’s quite painful for him, but he’s fighting through it with great taste.

Read the entire interview here, in the 7th/2022 issue of OPERA Charm Magazine.

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