A relative newcomer to the international arena of opera during the 1990s, Bryn Terfel emerged as an acclaimed bass baritone. By 2000, Terfel was distinguished among a rare elite of male singers, having starred masterfully both in the title role of Don Giovanni, and on separate occasions, as Giovanni’s servant, Leporello. Among the performances in his repertoire, Mozart’s Figaro was recognized as TerfePs signature role early in his career. Even in his early thirties, before he presumed to tackle the heavier roles reserved for the well-cured vocal chords of middle-aged singers, Terfel possessed a captivating combination of polished vocal skills, emotive acting ability, and an imposing physical bearing. He evoked a charismatic persona and endeared himself to fans worldwide.
Terfel was born Bryn Terfel Jones on November 9, 1965, in Pentglas, North Wales. He was raised in the fresh air and open space of the town of Pentglas in Northern Wales where his parents, Hefin and Nesta Jones, kept a sheep and cattle farm. The tiny hamlet was home to no more than one dozen structures, including a church and a shop, and it was a local family friend, D. G. (Selyf) Jones who initially taught Terfel to sing.
As a youngster, Terfel was the quintessential boy soprano. He spent weekends with his family, attending public recitals and competitions in the locale. It was the popular Welsh Eisteddfod folk festivals that served as the vehicle through which Terfel established his reputation as a youthful singer. Initially he won regional Eisteddfod contests, expanding gradually to compete in increasingly sophisticated challenges. He was particularly adept in the unique Welsh musical tradition of dueling harp and bard, called cerdd dant In cerdd dant, Terfel’s stage presence and improvisational skills came through clearly, as he assumed the role of the bard and responded ably with ad-lib verses to a harpist’s melodies.
As Terfel grew to adulthood, his body assumed a burly girth and a height of six feet, four inches. Likewise, his voice dropped to an equally burly bass baritone. His talent unfolded as his voice matured, and in 1983 he won the Wales International Eisteddfod. Although Terfel sang constantly as a boy—in church and at social events—his knowledge of music was drastically limited to pop and religious tunes. It was not until he moved to London, England, in 1984 and enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama that his musical horizons expanded to encompass the classical realm. At Guildhall, he studied with Arthur Reckless and then with Rudolf Pierney. Terfel continued working with Pierney even after graduating from the music college in 1989, and at the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition that year Terfel took second place in the overall competition, with first prize in the lieder competition.
As a professional performer, Terfel dropped his given surname of Jones when he joined the actor’s guild
Born Bryn Terfel Jones on November 9, 1965, in Pentglas, North Wales; son of Hefin and Nesta Jones; married Leslie; one son: Tomos. Education: Studied with Rudolf Pier nay, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, 1985-1989.
World debut, Guglielmo (Cosi Fan Tutte), Welsh National Opera, 1990; Convent Garden debut, Masetto (Don Giovanni), 1991; Jochanaan (Salome), Salzburg Festival, 1992; Metropolitan Opera debut, Figaro (Le Nozze de Figaro), 1994; Carnegie Hall debut, 1995; recital tour: Vienna, Munich, Milan, 1995; signed with Deutsche Grammophon, 1993.
Awards: Best Singer Gold Medal, Guildhall School of Music, 1989; Lieder Prize, Cardiff Singer of the World, 1989; Young Singer of the Year, Gramophone, 1992; Newcomer of the Year, Gramophone, 1993; Solo Vocal of the Year, Gramophone, 1994; People’s Award, Gramophone, 1995; British Critics Circle Award, 1992; Grand Prix, 1995; Edison Award, 1995; Solo Vocal Album of the Year, Grammaphon, 1995; Grammy Award, Best Vocal Album, 1997; Grammy Award, Best Classical Solo Vocal, 1997.
Addresses: Record company —Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Alte Rabenstrasse 2, 20148 Hamburg, Germany.
because another member of the guild was already using the name Bryn Jones. He made his world debut in 1990 at the Welsh National Opera in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, singing the role of Guglielmo. He performed in a London debut at the Royal Opera House at Convent Garden in 1991 as Don Giovanni in the Mozart opera of the same name. At the Salzburg Festival in 1992 he attracted international attention with his performance of Jochanaan (John the Baptist), which he sang opposite Catherine Malfitano’s Salome in the Richard Strauss opera of the same name. Deutsche Grammophon signed the singer to an exclusive contract in 1993. The following year heralded TerfePs Metropolitan Opera debut as Figaro in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. The young tenor awed critics and so impressed the opera world that the report of his debut received front-page coverage in the New York Times, a rare occurrence for that publication. The Figaro character quickly became associated with Terfel as his signature role. Upon his return to the Metropolitan Opera in 1995, he sang the role of Leporello opposite Patricia Schuman’s Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. When he later appeared in the title role of a Met production of the same work, he achieved a rare accomplishment coveted among male opera stars of performing in two starring roles on the same stage.
According to critics, TerfePs talent lay in his rare ability to change voice, a capability that enhanced his dramatic potential within the context of the opera. From smooth tones to guttural, straining exhortation, his voice clearly reflected the emotional extremes of his characters. “Only a handful of singers can spin a musical yarn as deftly [as Terfel], “according to George Jellinck in Stereo Review. Likewise Heidi Waleson noted of TerfePs Don Giovanni in the Wall Street Journal in 1999: “Yet every note Mr. Terfel sang was gorgeous. He shaped the recitatives with the mastery of a Shakespearean actor, and when he did ’La ci darem la mano’… the voice turned soft and exquisitely caressing….”
By the mid 1990s, Terfel was a major force in opera. His 1995 recording of Schubert, An die Musik, with Malcolm Martineau on piano, won the Gramophone solo vocal album of the year. Terfel had already won the Young Singer of the Year in 1992 and the Newcomer of the Year in 1993 from Gramophone. The following year he received the People’s Award, also from Gramophone. A well-received recording of Mozart’s Le Nozze, featuring Terfel in his ever-popular Figaro with John Eliot Gardiner conducting, won both Grand Prix and Edison Awards in 1995. World & /rated it among the best available versions of the Mozart opera. That year Terfel embarked on a recital tour of Europe, appearing in Vienna, Austria; Munich, Germany; and La Scala in Milan, Italy. Later in the same year he performed Mahler’s Kindertotenlider and Sixth Symphony for a debut concert at New York City’s Carnegie Hall with James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. In 1996, Terfel debuted in Orange County.
In January of 1996, Jamie James cited TerfePs recording, The Vagabond, in Stereo Review, facetiously dubbing the singer the Prince of Wales. James noted further that Terfel “… brings true elegance and grace to his music, “and his voice is “… a flexible, richly rued, marvelous thing.” In April of 1996, Terfel appeared on the calendar for the James Levine Twenty-fifth Anniversary Gala at New York City’s Lincoln Center. Terfel released a compact disc that year of Rodgers and Hammerstein selections entitled Something Wonder-ful. The album was a hit on the Billboard chart, and sold more than 100, 000 copies. Something Wonderful and ensuing crossover recordings by Terfel received plaudits from classical critics nonetheless.
In 1997, Terfel released Opera Arias, recorded with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and James Levine conducting. Critics hailed the work as a turning point that marked a significant maturation in TerfePs career and catapulted him to the forefront of his art, with arias selected from Terfel’s best-loved roles including Prince Igor, Falstaff, and Wolfram. The acclaimed album won two Grammy Awards for the rendition of Sir William Walton Balshazzar’s “Feast” as best solo vocal and for best vocal album. On February 1, 1998, Terfel performed at the Symphony Center in Chicago, with Malcolm Martineau on piano, a performance which inspired critical poetry from Lawrence A. Johnson in New Criterion who praised “the fluidity of [Terfel’s] legato, “and his “melting tenderness, “music that “floated like gossamer.” Terfel inspired the muse in all who witnessed his performances, or so it seemed, as Lawrence and others praised Terfel as, “one of the most engaging musical personalities of our time.” Many agreed that his spontaneous and lighthearted mien virtually beckoned his audiences and invited spectators to become enrapt in his performances. Indeed his recitals have featured Terfel performing even the moonwalk dance, among other feats of showmanship.
Terfel’s magnanimous persona led to his status as an established guest at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, Illinois. In 1998 he performed his Jochanaan with Maritano there. He performed his trademark lead character in Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco in October of 1998, followed by Wolfram in TannhauseraX New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. Again in February of 1999, he reprised his Figaro at Chicago’s Lyric Opera.
In 1999, he performed as Verdi’s Falstaff with the Royal Opera at Convent Garden. The following year, he appeared as Don Giovanni opposite Renee Fleming as Donna Anna. The production, under the direction of Stephen Lawless at the Metropolitan Opera with James Levine conducting, was a restaging of the Franco Zeffirelli version from 1990.
In the spring of 2000, Terfel performed as Nick Shadow in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in June, in San Francisco. That performance followed a 1999 release of John Eliot Gardiner’s Rake— also featuring Terfel—on Deutsche compact disc. Terfel and his 1999 recording partner, Cecilia Bartoli, were dubbed, “musical aristocrats” by David Gates in Newsweek. The two were viewed as “highly artistic and dramatically believable and also great entertainers, “by Mark Michael in American Record Guide. The album, Celia & Bryn, was recorded with the St. Cecilia Orchestra and Myung-Whun Chung conducting.
Critics looked to Terfel to perform heavier Wagnerian roles as his voice reached full maturity. He was scheduled for his first Wotan in Das Rheingold in Munich, Germany, in 2001.
Terfel, who eventually married his long-time sweetheart, Leslie, has one son, Tomos, born in 1994. The breadth of his fame earned for him the stature of a folk hero among the population of his native Wales. He maintained open communication with his fellow townspeople, sending postcards and conducting longdistance interviews from his various concert venues.
Something Wonderful: Bryn Terfel Sings Rodgers & Ham-merstein, Deutsche Grammophon, 1996.
Schubert, An die Musik, Deutsche Grammaphon, 1995.
Le Nozze di Figaro (John Eliot Gardiner conducting), Deutsche Grammophon, 1995.
Opera Arias (New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra), Deutsche Grammophon, 1997.
The Vagabond (with Malcolm Martineau on piano), Deutsche Grammophon, 1997.
Handel Opera Arias (Charles Mackerras conducting), Deutsche Grammophon, 1997.
If Ever I Would Leave You: The Songs of Alan Jay Lerner, Polygram, 1998.
Celia & Bryn, Decca, 1999.
Songs of My Welsh Home, Marquis, 2000.
American Record Guide, January/February 1996, p. 237; January/February 1997, p. 43; May/June 1999, p. 269.
Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2000, p. 8.
New Criterion, May 1998, p. 47.
Newsweek, March 29, 1999, p. 78.
New York Times, September 26, 2000, p. B7.
San Francisco Chronicle, June 12, 2000, p. D1.
Stereo Review, January 1996, p. 98; April 1998, p. 83.
Town & Country, April 1996, p. 42.
Wall Street Journal, October 3, 2000, p. A24.
World & I, September 1997, p. 126.
“Bryn Terfel,” All Music Guide, http://allmusic.eom/cg/x.dll (December 12, 2000).
“Biography,” http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/Stage/4118/biography.html (December 18, 2000).
Born: Bryn Terfel Jones; Pantglas, North Wales, 9 November 1965
Best-selling album since 1990: Something Wonderful: Bryn Terfel Sings Rodgers and Hammerstein (1996)
Bryn Terfel brought a superstar status to the bass-baritone voice in the 1990s that is usually reserved for the most high-profile tenors and sopranos. Blessed with a gorgeous vocal instrument that can range from the most delicate and expressive introspection to outright musical thunder, Terfel possesses a charismatic stage arsenal that runs the gamut from reckless comedy and suave romance to intense and angst-filled drama. His wide repertoire includes plum opera roles, oratorios, lieder, the folksongs of his native Wales, operetta, and Broadway-style musical theatre. Terfel not only brings impeccable technique and superb musicianship to his material, but also manages to communicate the inner meaning of the words he is singing in a unique and personal manner that has an extraordinary effect on his audiences.
Growing up on a farm in a country where even chores are routinely accompanied by song, Terfel was taught vocal technique early on by a family friend, D. G. "Selyf " Jones, and began singing in local choruses and winning amateur singing contests in nearby villages. Singing was the only ambition that Terfel ever had, and in 1984 he moved to London to attend the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he studied with Arthur Reckless and Rudolf Piernay. Upon graduating in 1989 and winning the school's Best Singer Gold Medal, Terfel placed second to Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the Cardiff Competition, though he did take home the Lieder prize. He made his operatic debut in 1990 as Guglielmo in Mozart's Cosi fan tutti at the Welsh National Opera and sang the title role in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro there as well. Those extraordinary successes had London's Covent Garden clamoring to have Terfel sing the title role in Mozart's Don Giovanni, but Terfel wisely chose to accept the small role of Masetto—and later Leporello—instead, allowing himself to develop before he would accept the title role.
Terfel's 1992 Salzburg Festival appearance as John the Baptist in Richard Strauss's Salome made Terfel an international sensation. That same year Terfel sang the Mahler Symphony No. 8 with James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival and made his American recital debut there the following evening, tossing off songs of Schubert and Schumann with such elegance, style, and meaning that those present could only marvel at how such talent and sophistication were possible in such a young singer. When Terfel sang his first Wagner role, the bit part of the thunder god Donner in Das Rheingold —the prologue to Wagner's four-opera Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle—at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1993, audiences and critics alike were already clamoring for Terfel to sing the gargantuan role of Wotan, the ruler of the gods, and a central character of the Ring cycle. Terfel's much-anticipated and triumphant Metropolitan Opera debut was in 1994 as Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro, the role in which he had made his American operatic debut at the Santa Fe Opera two years earlier.
"Not yet" has become a Terfel mantra in an era in which most opera companies are only too happy to exploit young singers with large box office appeal by offering them roles that may be beyond their experience and endurance levels and that could wear out their voice before it has fully developed. Terfel has remained careful about what he would sing and when, continuing to sing supporting roles in operas that he knew he would sing leading roles in eventually as a way to further develop his long-term character portrayals. By the time Terfel began singing the title role of Verdi's Falstaff in 1999, for instance, he had already sung Ford under director Peter Stein at the Welsh National Opera and collected a notebook of ideas from Stein about the lead character that served him well when he sang the lead in his much-acclaimed first performances of the role in Australia and Chicago, and for the reopening of Covent Garden.
In addition to breathing new life into the opera world, Terfel also recorded a successful collection of Rodgers and Hammerstein songs called Something Wonderful: Bryn Terfel Sings Rodgers and Hammerstein (1996). That was followed by If Ever I Would Leave You (1998), a Lerner and Loewe songbook, and a collection of Broadway duets with soprano Renée Fleming, Under the Stars (2003). Not simply an opera singer who sings musical theater for crossover appeal, Terfel gave a chilling interpretation of the title role in Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd at Lyric Opera of Chicago (2002), realizing a longtime ambition of the composer to have Terfel bring his musicianship and acting ability to the role. Terfel did not disappoint, and music critics, theater critics, and "serious" music and theater audiences alike were mesmerized by the powerful sonority, intensity, and dark humor that Terfel brought to his stunning portrayal of the "Demon Barber of Fleet Street."
That Terfel will continue to conquer the repertoire that he carefully chooses for himself seems a virtual certainty. Already a two-time Grammy Award winner who is selective about his recording projects, Terfel has indicated his desire to become the Wotan of the next generation, to take on Verdi and Puccini baritone roles, and to perform musical theater roles on Broadway.
R. Strauss, Salome (Deutsche Grammaphon, 1991); Delius, Sea Drift, Songs of Farewell, Songs of Sunset (Chandos, 1994); Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro (Deutsche Grammaphon, 1994); An die Musik: Favorite Schubert Songs (Deutsche Grammaphon, 1994); Lehár, The Merry Widow (Deutsche Grammaphon, 1995); The Vagabond (Deutsche Grammaphon, 1995); Wagner, Lohengrin (RCA, 1995); Schumann, Scenes from Goethe's Faust (Sony, 1995); Opera Arias (Deutsche Grammaphon, 1996); Something Wonderful: Bryn Terfel Sings Rodgers and Hammerstein (Decca, 1996); Mozart, Idomeneo (Deutsche Grammaphon, 1996); Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 (Deutsche Grammaphon, 1996); Handel Arias (Decca, 1997); Mendelssohn, Elijah (Decca, 1997); Mozart, Don Giovanni (Decca, 1997); Berlioz, La damnation de Faust (Deutsche Grammaphon, 1998); Mozart, Don Giovanni (Deutsche Grammaphon, 1998); If Ever I Would Leave You (Deutsche Grammaphon, 1998); Stravinsky, The Rake's Progress (Deutsche Grammaphon, 1999); in paradisum (Deutsche Grammaphon, 1999); We'll Keep a Welcome (Decca, 2000); Songs of My Welsh Home (Marquis re-release, 2000); Schumann, Schwanengesang (Marquis re-release, 2000); Schumann, Liederkreis, Op. 39, Romanzen and Balladen (Deutsche Grammaphon); Verdi, Falstaff (Deutsche Grammaphon, 2001); Wagner (Deutsche Grammaphon, 2002). With Cecilia Bartoli: Cecilia and Bryn (Decca, 1999). With Renée Fleming: Under the Stars (Decca, 2003).