Strike at La Scala
13 November 2015
La Scala, Milan
Nominations open for the International Opera Awards 2016
9 November 2015
- CD (complete opera)
- CD (operatic recital)
- Female singer
- Lifetime achievement
- Male singer
- New production
- Rediscovered work
- World premiere
- Young singer
Happy Birthday to Bryn Terfel!
9 November 2015
As he approaches his 50th birthday this year, Bryn Terfel can look back over an extraordinary career of triumphs. His forties have been the years of Wotan, Hans Sachs, Dutchman and Scarpia – huge, meaty roles that demand the strength and stamina of a young man, but the wisdom and gravitas of an experienced singer.
He’s typically modest about his achievement, though. ‘I suppose I’m building up a repertoire,’ he says. ‘If you have a great conductor and a great director, you’ll get there. As an artist, I’ve trusted everybody I’ve worked with. I’m a committed artist and I give everything on the stage, good or bad.’ And when Terfel is good, he’s very, very good. I’d heard his Dutchman in Covent Garden the evening before we met, and even after all these years of punishing Wagner roles, he sounded fresh and full of vigour, delivering those long, anguished monologues and floated pianissimi without once losing the beauty of tone he had always been known for.
Now the Dutchman is over, Bryn can pack away Wagner for the rest of the year and concentrate on living a little. First he’s sharpening his barber’s knife as Sweeney Todd at ENO, with his old mate Emma Thompson, and in the 1960’s musical hit Fiddler on the Roof at Grange Park Opera in Hampshire.
Knowing that Bryn is booked up by international opera houses at least five or six years in advance, I wondered how the enterprising Wasfi Kani, founder on Grange Park and Pimlico Opera, had managed to sign him up for her intimate country-house venue.
‘It’s simple: I’m a huge fan of Wasfi and the work she does putting on opera in prisons,’ he explains. ‘I went to see her production of West Side Story in Wandsworth Prison and it was a most shocking two hours, sitting watching two rival gangs of inmates. I was so impressed that she could pull off something like that.’
Terfel had a couple of concert recitals at Grange Park, and Kani kept him in her sights until the right project came along. ‘I was singing in Tosca at Covent Garden, and I had just been killed with Gheorghiu’s dagger at the end of the second act. Wasfi came round to my dressing room and said, “I know what I want to do, and I’ve just got to get the rights to do it”. I was still dishevelled and dazed, but when she said Fiddler on the Roof, I said, “I know it, I love it and I’ve watched the film every Christmas since I was a child.” When I thought about it in Grange Park, I knew it would be perfect. It’s a tiny theatre and it will be almost like a Lieder recital. The audience will be drawn into it. They’re going to love it!’
There’s a small matter of dialogue to be learned: ‘I’ve already earmarked my vocal coach for that.’ Also the fact that Tevye is on stage almost the entire time ‘Yes…even better!'
Of course Terfel is a natural showman, and Fiddler will be the perfect opportunity for him to show off his comedic skills, his warmth and, to a lesser extent, his amazing bass-baritone voice. He’s tickled to be adding Tevye to his list of roles, even though he’s not the most obvious choice for a Jewish milkman (as the Jewish Chronicle pointed out). ‘I’ve played a chief of police who was abusing his power. I’ve played gods, I’ve played demons… and now I’m playing a big-hearted milkman, who has troubles with his five daughters. In fact it’s similar to the problems Wotan has with his daughters – just another family story!’ He’ll have to summon up that paternal twinkle once again, even though his own family consists of three teenage boys and no troublesome girls determined to thwart their father’s marriage plans for them.
With the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by David Charles Abell, direction and design by Antony McDonald and the brilliant Lucy Carter on lighting, it should be a spectacular evening, with hummable hits such as ‘Tradition’, ‘Matchmaker, matchmaker’, ‘Sunrise, sunset’. And Bryn has a few ideas of his own for ‘If I Were a Rich Man’, the most famous song in the show. ‘It might be a little bit different – who knows?’ Fiddler on the Roof, set in a small Jewish community in pre-revolutionary Russia, is hardly a knockabout comedy, given the pogroms and exile that face the villagers at the end.
On the other hand, it’s not as grim as the story of the Demon Barber. The 14 performances of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd at English National Opera that precede Terfel’s summer at Grange Park will take every ounce of snarling malice that he can summon. When he sang it last year at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic, it was the first time a contemporary composer had even given him notes. ‘Every time Sondheim saw me he said, “Darker, Bryn, darker." I thought, is that all you’ve got to say to me?’ Nevertheless, Terfel took his words to hand: one New York critic described his portrayal as ‘a mountain of seething rage […] whose embodiment of pure evil is bone-chilling’.
Terfel says working with Emma Thompson has been one of the highlights of the last decade. ‘I have nothing but superlatives for this amazing artist. I saw her singing with the New York Phil for the first time at the sitzprobe – she had never sung with a symphony orchestra before and she was as excited as a child with a Christmas present.
'We spent a week rehearsing in West Hampstead, putting in long hours and very hard work, but we wanted to solidify what we were going to do in New York. I enjoyed it so much and it gave me a strong impetus for rehearsing again.’
It wasn’t all deadly serious, though, especially when they got to Emma’s immortal line, ‘Popping pussies into pies.’ Terfel had an instinct that it was going to be a success, and he invited three or four attendants to come to New York. ‘John Berry, general director of English National Opera, was the only one who came. So now we have 14 shows at ENO as part of my 50th year celebrations. Brilliant!’
On 20 October, three weeks before his actual birthday, Bryn is hosting a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of his foundation for the support of young singers, launched in 2008. Always a generous, clubbable musician, he’ll be gathering friends and colleagues from many musical traditions – a little like his ‘Brynfest’ at the Faenol Festival and at London’s Southbank. The programme is still being finalised, but it’s going to reflect his 25 years of singing, everything from Wagner to Rodgers and Hammerstein. ‘But also it might include choirs, folk groups, rock stars, and instrumentalists. It’s gonna be fun, isn’t it?’ When he turns 50 in November, he’ll be between performances of Tosca in Monaco. Does he have any plans for the special day? He gives a big grin, like a 10-year-old. ‘Maybe I’ll hire a very fast car and drive around Monte Carlo!’
A 6ft 4in Welsh Wotan hurtling round the hairpins to the strains of The Ride of the Valkries – now that I’d pay to see.
Original manuscripts to be auctioned for Children in Need
4 November 2015
Sir James MacMillan's donation
The manuscript of Judith Weir's 'Praise Him with trumpet'
A sketch from Mark-Anthony Turnage's 'Anna Nicole'
November issue out now!
3 November 2015
With a voice described as “youthful, luminous and direct”, French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky talks to Opera Now about the secrets of his growing success; we meet the British companies leading the way in staging new work for young performers; and conductor René Jacobs discusses his fresh approach to recording Mozart’s operas. Plus, this season’s most inviting and adventurous operatic outpourings from the Renaissance and Baroque; the European Network of Opera Academies provides a platform for young opera professionals; Independent Opera marks its 10th anniversary with a provocative UK premiere; Helikon Opera returns to its redeveloped home in a characterful mansion near the Kremlin; the National Opera Studio’s Emily Gottlieb on training the next generation of top talent; Michael White wonders why opera singers can’t act; psychological complexity in Verdi’s Don Carlo; and your chance to WIN Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s new solo album Wait For Me.
Buy the print here.
Buy the digital version here.
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