Bryn Terfel´s fist-ever visit to Copenhagen (and second-ever to Denmark) was the first installment of a small Scandinavian Tour, bringing him to Stockholm, Oslo, Gothenburg and Trondheim within the next couple of months. “I have taken this year off from opera, which is why I have the opportunity to perform here tonight” he announced from the stage [!].
On this tour Bryn Terfel is joined by two Welsh artists, conductor Gareth Jones and harpist Catrin Finch. Terfel appeared the consummate professional with a top-tuned program showing off his greatest strengths as expected, as well as his greatest weaknesses (less expected).
First of all Bryn Terfel is a superb performer. He is a superb physical as well as vocal comedian. He has superb sense of characterization and a virtually immaculate diction. He has star quality in spades as well as plenty of the indefinable likeability factor. He simply appears genuinely sympathetic as well as down to earth in a charismatic way. All to a degree that you´d almost not believe anybody to be so insolent as to accuse this man of unprofessionalism…
Looking at the glossy premade Scandinavian Touring programmes in English (sold for 8 Euros) stating that “Bryn is pleased to have an association with several companies, most notably Rolex, Clogau Gold and Penderyn Distillery” made this feeling disappear, though.
There is no doubt that Bryn Terfel is firmly rooted in his native Wales, and luckily the traditional music of Wales has an allure sufficient to warrant an entire solo-album as well as half a section of a concert. Though apparently not quite half a section, as Welsh traditionals were spiced up with Granada (I suppose if Rolando Villazón can, why not Bryn Terfel?) and Irish as well as Scottish traditionals..
I´ll admit that singing along to Molly Malone is not my favourite pastime, though the audience in general, including a hard-core bunch of Welsh fans sitting right behind me, seemed to love it all, including the flirtatious remarks aimed to charm ladies in their 50´s without offending their husbands (the majority of the audience).
A calculated attempt to make easy money or a genuine wish to champion the music of his native country (as well as to promote young Welsh artists such as harpist Catrin Finch)? An unanswerable question as well as ultimately an unimportant one. Either you are entertained or you are not, Bryn Terfel´s personal considerations apart. And who can blame him for wanting to make money, while he can? And, by the way, he was entertaining. But also a bit too calculated.
Obviously nobody paid these top tickets prices to hear the young harpist Catrin Finch. However, the pieces she played seemed to substitute for the usual routine performances of routine operatic orchestral interludes, in which case she provided a rather welcome departure from the norm.
However, I am puzzled as to why Bryn Terfel chose to open and close the first section of the concert with three arias showing him at his weakest: Iago´s Credo from Otello (a role he has not performed on stage) and the Faust Méphistophéles Serenade and Veau D´Or. It was quite evident that he simply does not have the required support in his middle voice for these dramatic parts. Already at the D´Or in the first line Le Veau D´Or he was in trouble.
Bryn Terfel´s voice doesn´t have the steely projection of a dramatic bassbarytone. And technically he simply doesn´t seem to control the outerlying segments of his voice upon applying pressure.
His most unfortunate, in my opinion, artistical decision to play Méphistophéles as a comedian resulting in widespread laughter during both the Serenade and the Veau D´Or just seemed to underscore my point. I am sure the audience would have responded at least as enthusiastically had he chosen to sing Mozart or something more suitable to show off his considerable strengths.
Like Wolfram´s song to the Evening Star (Tannhäuser), where he was simply superb floating some of the most exquisite pianissimos I have yet heard. Or his famous characterization of Falstaff, probably his best part.
This is Bryn Terfel´s true fach: A lyrical bassbarytone and a comedian with character in spades. Also demonstrated in the second half of the program, superbly performed, though admittedly less to my taste. According to recent interviews, Bryn Terfel looks at his future and sees a line-up of heavy Wagnerian bass-barytone parts such as Wotan, Hans Sachs and Flying Dutchman. He just seems such a nice, down to earth person. How can you not wish him good luck? I still wish he would do more Leporello´s, Figaro´s (this part he has "officially" retired), Wolfram´s and Falstaff´s.
Programme (which will be repeated throughout the Scandinavian Tour):
”Credo” – Otello
"Ehi! Paggio! L´onore! Ladri!” – Falstaff
Debussy: ”Danse Sacreée et profane” with Catrin Finch
”Wie todesahnung---O du mein holden Abenstern” – Tannhäuser
Eugene Onegin polonaise
”Vous qui faites l´endormie” – Méphistophéles´ Serenade from Faust
”Le Veau D´Or” – Faust
Granada“Carneval de Venice” – Catrin Finch
Welsh Traditional – Bryn Terfel/Catrin Finch
Loch Lomond and Molly Malone – Bryn Terfel
”How to handle a woman” – Camelot
”You´ll never walk alone” – Carousel
Extra: A Welsh traditional (Bryn Terfel) plus a harp-solo (Catrin Finch)
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Overall impression: 4
Overall impression: 4