Saturday, November 10, 2007

Borrowed writing

I have posted this article because it says some things that are contrary to things I said in a previous post. Things have to be copied from the New York Times because they disappear very quickly.

Welsh Bass-Baritone Hears the Call of Home

Published: November 10, 2007

During a recent rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera for Mozart’s “Nozze di Figaro” the marvelous Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel exuded charisma, pretending to answer his cellphone mid-aria. Mr. Terfel’s Met performances as Figaro, a signature role and the one with which he made his Met debut in 1994, start this afternoon, and this will be his swan song in the part.

Mr. Terfel will also lend his dramatic intensity, fine diction and instantly recognizable, richly expressive voice to Mendelssohn’s majestic oratorio “Elijah,” with the Collegiate Chorale at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 19.

While reminiscing fondly about the 1998 opening of Jonathan Miller’s production of “Le Nozze di Figaro,” Mr. Terfel, who is married with three young sons, said, “There was a twinge of sadness within that period as well, as I missed the birth of my second child.”

“When you’re a young singer,” he added, “the words are always ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ as you’re afraid you’ll never get the same contract again. But I should have been home, really. I should have canceled the whole thing.”

The problems Mr. Terfel, who turned 42 yesterday, has always faced juggling family life and career came to a peak in September. He withdrew from eagerly anticipated appearances as Wotan in Wagner’s “Ring” cycle at the Royal Opera House in London because his 6-year-old son had broken a finger and required three operations.

Mr. Terfel’s decision prompted a terse, angry statement from the Royal Opera House and a collective roar from irate fans, columnists and bloggers. But Mr. Terfel also received “stunning letters” of support, he said, and he remains unrepentant.

“I missed two of my children’s births,” he said. “I’ll never get over the fact that people didn’t turn round to me and say: ‘Look, you should be at home now. You shouldn’t be here rehearsing.’

“Wotan can wait. Being a father cannot wait. If something happens to my children again, I’ll do the same thing. I’ll be home, and people should recognize that fact. If there’s something on your mind, and you’re not 100 percent, it will be detrimental to you as an artist. It’s much better that I stayed at home than sang six very terrible performances of Wotan.”

Mr. Terfel said that his wife, Lesley, was initially adamant that he go ahead with the “Ring” performances, contrary to reports in the British news media, but he didn’t even unpack his suitcase during rehearsals.

“I’ve never been so uncomfortable at going into an opera house,” he said. “As you can see, I’m usually very comfortable.”

He certainly appears comfortable at the Met, striding around the maze of corridors backstage in jeans and sneakers and warmly greeting colleagues with a lilting Welsh accent as lyrical as his singing. Mr. Terfel’s first complete “Ring “ will be Robert Lepage’s new production, which begins in the 2010-11 season at the Met.

Other Wagnerian milestones ahead include his Hans Sachs in “Die Meistersinger” at the Welsh National Opera in 2009-10. “Wagner can enchant you, carry you off into a different world,” he said. “With Mozart you can have a social life, but when you’re singing Wagner, it’s a different animal. I’ll never forget reaching the end of ‘Walküre’ for the first time. I was a blubbering wreck, crying away in the corner of the opera house by myself.”

Mr. Terfel will take something of a sabbatical next year, to focus on recitals and record a disc of Celtic songs. His only operatic performance will be in Verdi’s “Falstaff” with the Welsh National Opera. He hopes the break will provide insights into his career trajectory. “Do I want to give more time to my home opera company?” he muses. “I think it’s going towards that direction.”

Mr. Terfel could then spend more time with his family in northwest Wales, near Caernarfon. He grew up on a sheep farm in Pantglas, speaking Welsh, and regularly participated in the Welsh singing competitions known as the eisteddfodau. A recording of the prepubescent Terfel singing at an eisteddfod reveals his precocious musicality.

His schoolmates ridiculed his love of singing, “but I had the height to take care of myself,” said Mr. Terfel, who at 6 foot 3 has the bearish build of a rugby player. He attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and his career took off after he won the lieder prize in the 1989 BBC Singer of the World competition in Cardiff, back in Wales.

Since then, Mr. Terfel has tackled a dizzying array of music, including Broadway and popular songs. “I did a lot of concerts with male-voice choirs in Wales, and the last thing you’d sing would be a Wagner aria,” he said. “They’d much rather hear ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’” Mr. Terfel sang the title role in Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” in London and Chicago and said he would love to have Mr. Sondheim write an opera for him.

Mr. Terfel’s Deutsche Grammophon catalog, though impressive, includes a few crossover discs featuring saccharine orchestrations and collaborations of dubious artistic merit. One crossover album sold in excess of 800,000 copies, he said.

“Perhaps the businessman kicks in as well then,” he added. “So come on, there’s a bandwagon, and am I to miss out on the sales of 800,000 compared to selling 60,000 of a Schubert record? No, I’m not.”

Along with the Schubert lieder disc, there are notable recordings of English and Welsh songs, Wagner and Handel arias, Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” (He has given acclaimed performances of both the title role and Leporello in “Don Giovanni.”) A recent disc, “Tutto Mozart!,” features arias by Papageno in “Die Zauberflöte” and Count Almaviva in “Figaro,” roles Mr. Terfel has never sung onstage, but might.

What’s on his iPod? Wagner, the Beatles and Elvis Presley. Mr. Terfel describes Presley as “very classically orientated with his voice and diction and very sincere and wanting to get everything perfect.” He could be describing himself.

Bryn Terfel sings Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera until Dec 1; (212) 362-6000, He sings “Elijah” at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 19; (212) 247-7800,

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