Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel remains as commanding and charismatic as ever, judging by his latest Australian outing. Not seen in these parts since 2015, when he appeared with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, it’s obvious that time has little touched his hale, resonant instrument, and his dramatic instincts remain wholly undimmed.
Bryn Terfel. Photo supplied
Take his tender, ruminative account of the Fliedermonolog from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg as an example. Deploying a conversational tone and displaying an ease of projection, his phrasing was imbued with a freshness and spontaneity that made the aria seem like an unfolding psychological utterance, his trademark russet timbre and crisp diction the cherries on top.
Such attention to detail was more than carried through in Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge from Das Rheingold, which showed off the singer’s seemingly endless reserves of breath and intelligent handling of text. Sung with dark, glowing tone, Terfel conveyed the young Wotan’s rapture – hinting also at his impetuosity and pride – at the sight of his new home, dispatching a thrilling top F with plenty of weight behind it.
What a difference it was to see the Wotan of Die Walküre next, the bass-baritone showing him weighed down with cares and a growing awareness of his own profound fallibility. The ferocity of attack he brought to the opening phrases of Wotan’s Farewell gave way to a more intimate, mournful quality as he parted from his daughter, Terfel conveying not only the depth of the character’s sacrifice, but his feelings of impotence as a god unable to carry out his own will. Sung in long, arching phrases, Orchestra Victoria matched his dramatic commitment with some of its most vivid playing. Indeed, they provided sensitive support throughout the evening, opening the concert with a perfectly weighted account of the Act III Vorspiel from Lohengrin. Harpist Hannah Stone, Terfel’s partner, also brought both colour and character in Debussy’s Danses Sacrée et Profane and the third movement from the Mathias Harp Concerto.
More playful fare came after interval, with Terfel clearly relishing the chance to perform the Whistle Aria from Boito’s Mefistofele. A credo in which the title character declares “I want Nothingness and the universal ruin of Creation”, the bass-baritone brought a sense of gleeful menace to the aria, handling the more florid passages fluently and demonstrating a truly piercing whistle that drew delighted laughs from the audience. Each of the repeated “no”s were invested with a slightly different intent, making the aria a cheeky but ultimately chilling proclamation of malice.
A clever move it was to flow seamlessly into a perfectly judged rendition of The Ballad of Mack the Knife from Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. With a roguish twinkle in the eye, the bass-baritone delivered the text with an ironic detachment that tipped into something more sinister in the closing lines.
Terfel then offered up a winning account of Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific and a fully committed If I were a rich man from Fiddler on the Roof, even giving the audience some of the preceding dialogue, convincingly delivered. And if his encores – Welsh folk tune Ar Lan Y Mor and Malotte’s Golf Song – seemed not to be much more than an opportunity for the beloved opera singer to bust out some favourites, it was still a fun way to close out the night. Let’s hope Terfel returns to Sydney sometime soon.