In November you are performing two concerts for Opera Australia and then starring on the BRAVO arts cruise. Do you know yet what you’ll sing?
I’m still not quite decided but I know there will be some Wagner in there, I know there will be some music theatre, some Celtic songs, certainly some Fiddler on the Roof. Obviously on the cruise I have Tania Ferris, the mezzo [performing with me] and my long-time friend and collaborator Gareth Jones as the conductor, so whatever we do we would have done it many times. I do like the idea of the ‘bad boys’ as well, so misfits and malcontents [like Falstaff, Scarpia, the Flying Dutchman, and Sweeney Todd] will find their way in.
Sir Bryn Terfel. Photo supplied
Do you enjoy doing concerts featuring a mix of repertoire between operas?
Yes, that’s my bread and butter. Since I was a young bass-baritone I sang in miscellaneous concerts with male voice choirs so I think it’s something we’re kind of used to in Wales. In those concerts, people want to hear the nuggets, you know? I know José Carreras did the BRAVO Cruise a couple of years ago so he would have done exactly the same thing – Tosti songs, Neapolitan songs that he sings so beautifully and, of course, his Spanish zarzuela arias, which have been a part of his career for years. I think that’s indeed the pleasure one has in these kinds of concerts, to have a trip down memory lane.
I believe you’re quite relaxed about talking to the audience?
Yes, I think I’ve done that from the beginning of my career, sometimes too much maybe. But I think in the beginning it kind of helped me in my journey as a performer to be able to talk to the audience. It made me feel more comfortable. I didn’t want to create a barrier. In a sense that has also been [the case] in my operatic career as well. I’ve been performing some extraordinary roles from Scarpia to Wotan, Méphistophélès in Faust, all the Mozart characters – Figaro, Don Giovanni, Leporello – they’re storytellers and you have to be true to what the music tells you in a score. For instance, with Scarpia, every nuance, every gesture is in that score. If you don’t take the trouble to dissect that kind of intimacy, maybe it’s to one’s detriment. The wonderful directors that I worked with have always highlighted the strengths of the score, people like Peter Stein, David McVicar, the great directors of our generation.
How difficult is it to perform Wagner arias without the context of the opera?
That is answered quite simply. There are not many arias that [a bass-baritone] can take out of context from Wagnerian operas, they’re mostly 40, 50-minute scenes, especially the ones that I sing. But the one that usually shines is the one that’s sung by Wolfram in Tannhäuser, which the audience is waiting for, his aria to the evening star [O du mein holder Abendstern]. Wotan has two magnificent monologues that you can take out of context, which is the end of Walküre and the end of Rheingold. Otherwise there aren’t many arias one can use on the concert platform, so your hands are tied in a way. Maybe Wagner designed it to be that way. But, of course, there are magnificent orchestral pieces like The Ride of the Valkyries or the March in Lohengrin and those are the things we highlight on these kinds of evenings because let’s face it, I haven’t been to Australia for a while now and this is the first time I’m singing on a cruise. Doing something like this is incredible. I’ve never thought of being a person that could be invited to do something like this, so I’m truly excited about it. I sang with The Metropolitan Orchestra [who will play on the cruise] in the Leeuwin Estate concert four, five years ago now, and I had a wonderful time.
Will you bring your partner [Welsh harpist Hannah Stone] to Australia?
Yes, Hannah’s going to come and little Lili [our daughter] is going to come. My boys [his three sons from his first marriage] are working now and one is at school so it’s difficult for them to be there. I think Hannah’s parents might come because her brother is, at the moment, a doctor in Australia for a year.
Is it true that you always take your Welsh Rugby Union jumper when you travel?
Most of the time, yes, if the luggage allowance allows me to do it. Having a little baby girl, other things might be put into the case like teddy bears and bath toys because the rugby shirt is quite old now and it’s quite heavy.
You are returning to Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov at Covent Garden in June?
I sang Boris for the first time at the Royal Opera House [in 2016]. I was asked by the Berlin Deutsche Oper to come and sing it [in January] and did two performances there. You know, opera houses, especially in our generation, they like to have co-productions, so Richard Jones’ production of Boris Godunov went to Deutsche Oper. I loved that, I could go back to it and jump into that production at the drop of a hat. But I was quite curious to see how Boris would come back…I had two days with a Russian coach in Berlin, and, goodness me, it came back so quickly. We’re doing the original version which is the shorter version of Boris without the Polish scene.
To tell you the honest truth, I never thought an opera role would fit my voice like a glove again, like the roles I’ve had throughout my career. I would fight any person that says Boris Godunov is a bass role because it’s undoubtedly in the bass-baritone voice category and hence the reason why I absolutely adore to sing this magnificent troubled part in such iconic, deep, meaningful Russian music, and to have all those cellos playing wonderful melodies and those big bells in the Coronation Scene. The choral music is just outstanding. Boris’ death scene is magnificent, it’s incredibly moving… When Boris tells his son to take care of his sister Kseniya, sometimes the poor kids playing the children are in tears. They are fully versed. I had two boys in Berlin, they were magnificent, and I had one at Covent Garden who was brilliant as well. It’s not true in opera to not work with animals and children!
You’re also singing Scarpia at Covent Garden around the same time?
Usually I set myself a sort of rule, to never do back-to-back operas in an opera house. But this time I broke the rule because it is the Royal Opera House and it’s two roles that I enjoy singing. So, I’m doing Scarpia first at the beginning of May and in June, and Boris comes immediately after that.
You are also singing Wagner’s Dutchman regularly, including at the Metropolitan Opera in 202o. Are there new roles you are keen to tackle?
Welsh National Opera has just released its season and I’m doing Bluebeard’s Castle with them so this will be a new one, and I’m doing Don Pasquale with the Royal Opera House so that’s a new role. I’m always up for creating something new, especially with a company I particularly enjoy being with like Covent Garden
or WNO. I’m all for it.
Opera Australia presents Bryn Terfel in Concert at Sydney Opera House on November 6 and Arts Centre Melbourne on November 10
Terfel stars on the 2019 BRAVO Cruise of the Performing Arts leaving Sydney on November 12