We speak with the Welsh bass-baritone about his forthcoming minimal set at Dubai Opera, as well as his enduring love for Mozart’s music
Bryn Terfel is in good voice on back-to-basics new tour
Bryn Terfel’s voice has always been a force of nature. Audiences in the UAE and Oman have seen his bass-baritone voice reverberate around lush orchestral arrangements when the Welsh singer played at the Abu Dhabi Festival and at the Royal Opera House Muscat in 2013.
Now it is Dubai’s turn to receive the vocal treatment – this time, however, it will be in a more intimate format and repertoire. The 52-year-old will be accompanied by only a piano when performing at Dubai Opera on Sunday, with a programme that include arias and pop standards showcasing his influences. Which begs the question, is this Terfel in unplugged mode?
“I never looked at it like that. Perhaps you gave me an idea for a new tour,” he chuckles. “Indeed, this is a more stripped-down show where I can perhaps tell a story of the various music that influenced me throughout my career. You know, I am not getting any younger, so I am always grateful whenever I step on stage and perform.”
Despite the retrospective nature of the set, Terfel remains an in-demand performer, with engagements ranging from recitals and galas to full-blown opera productions. A scan through his itinerary finds him taking on the role of Scarpia in Tosca on New Year’s Eve as part of a month-long stint at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, followed by a series of concerts and recitals in the United States and Europe that will keep him busy until July.
And that is the just the beginning, Terfel explains: he follows the industry standard of having engagements booked up to four years in advance. This explains, he states, his recent move towards heavier roles in the opera cannon, such as Wotan from Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung and the title role of Falstaff in London in July, is all part of the plan.
“I still don’t know if it is a good idea to know what I am doing years from now, but opera houses need certainty when it comes to booking their season,” he concedes.
“But there is a lot of nuances when you are moving towards different category of voices. It is about finding the right orchestra, the right conductor and the right venue and, most importantly, the right time.”
Hence, these recitals – which pepper his calendar – are a welcome respite from such rigours. With a programme of personal and crowd favourites, it finds Terfel at his most personable and accessible. One of the hallmarks is that they will feature pieces from Mozart.
Born in the hamlet of Pant Glas in North Wales to a family of farmers, Terfel first had his vocal talents noticed in school, before announcing himself to audiences in United Kingdom by winning the Lieder Prize at the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 1989.
That period also included an intensive stint at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where in addition to studying great bass-baritone singers such as George London – “whose voice sounds like a cello” – Terfel delved into the world of Mozart, who had an appreciation for that register of voice. Terfel would go on to make his debut in 1990 as Guglielmo in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte at the Welsh National Opera, before going on to take the title role in The Marriage of Figaro a year later at the English National Opera. Then came the international engagements, with roles in productions including The Magic Flute in Paris and Milan.
“That remains the calling card for anyone entering the opera profession,” he says. “Many of the great roles were written by Mozart and I had absolute pure joy singing them. But it was a pretty intense time in that I was singing the role in both English and Italian. Then again, that is the remarkable thing about the human brain – once I learn the opera, then it is in the computer, so to speak, and stored for life.”
As Terfel approaches his fourth decade in the music’s world most cosmopolitan industry, the Cardiff resident is proud that he hasn’t lost his Welsh roots.
If and when his roles start drying up and his schedule becomes less gruelling, Terfel says he intends to focus on fostering the next generation of Welsh talent.
“I am glad that I am considered as an ambassador for music for Wales,” he says. “This is something I want to do more of once I have time because I absolutely want to work with more young singers.
“I like the fact that I live here and am still performing internationally. I think that is important for people to see that I am able to do that and that generally I am part of generation who are helping to plough the way forward for
Bryn Terfel performs at Dubai Opera on Sunday. Tickets cost from Dh200 from www.dubaiopera.com