Wednesday 22 October 2008

Bryn Terfel in Copenhagen

Bryn Terfel, Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen. Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gareth Jones. October 21th 2008.

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):

Nabucco ouverture
”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
Candide ouverture.
”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


Anonymous said...

Before reading your post, I had no idea that Bryn Terfel had, or indeed should want to sing Mephisto.
I have done my homework, and found this on YouTube:
a clip from a 2004 production (not too bad looking, I daresay).
Compared to this, would you say that the BT you heard recently is... better ? much the same ? gone to the worse ?
I like this 2004 clip, BT's French is near flawless (only this ever so difficult pouissance instead of puissance), and although theoretically not dark enough, I don't mind a more baritonal colour in this part - particularly when that coulour is as luscious as Mr. Terfel's. I don't mind too much either the very sharp phrases...
Well, tell us, how has he evolved since then ?

curzon said...

Rather a short programme! If I am not seeing Bryn in opera I would rather catch him in a lieder recital when there is none of the customary padding. Mind you many other singers are far worse offenders. I saw a recital with Gheorghiu recently when she sang at most 18 minutes of music in a programme lasting over two hours. In the second half we had to sit through 18 minutes of the Romeo and Juliet overture. Indifferently played and absolutely no connection with any item on the programme - to say I was pissed off is gross understatement!
Re Bryn and Mephistopheles - He was fantastic in the Paapano/McVicar production at Covent Garden. It was shown on TV but never issued on DVD for some reason. A great pity as there aren't any decent Fausts on DVD to my knowledge.


mostly opera... said...

As far as I know Bryn Terfel has only sung Méphistophéles in the David McVicar/Pappano production you mention at Covent Garden 2004(with Alagna and Gheorghiu) a couple of seasons ago. I am not sure a final decision has been made regarding a DVD- release. Agreed, there is a disgraceful lack of suitable Faust-DVDs (read: There really are none)...

However, this McVicar thing is not the answer to my prayers (though many will probably disagree). I have only seen it on television and the main reason is that I simply do not really find Bryn Terfel a convincing Mephistopheles (I believe I have mentioned this several times before). Vocally, I´d say his voice is slightly thinner today than in 2004.

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