Bryn Terfel’s voice and magnetism provide a memorable night

By Lawrence A. Johnson


There is charisma and there is star power.  And then there is Bryn Terfel.

The celebrated opera singer is a force of nature, possessing an ample bass-baritone that remains one of the most imposing yet flexible voices of our time. Yet it is the 6’3″ Welshman’s larger-than-life personality that makes his concerts so memorable, Terfel seizing and commanding the stage with his uninhibited presence, humor and seemingly boundless energy.

Terfel made his debut at the Knight Concert Hall Monday night for the final season event of Florida Grand Opera’s Superstar Concert Series, and with an equally successful assist from soprano Sarah Coburn, provided a consistently delightful evening of opera and song, with worthy support by Stewart Robertson and the FGO orchestra.

In the opera house, Terfel’s powerful performances have served to redefine the roles of Falstaff, Don Giovanni, Scarpia and Mephistopheles. His big bass-baritone is capable of imposing dramatic intensity as well as the softest, feather-light pianissimos, and Monday, the singer moved from Mozart and Wagner to folksong and Broadway with seemingly effortless ease.

Terfel opened with Die Frist ist um, the extended opening monologue from Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. So darkly malevolent and keenly felt was Terfel’s powerful rendering that one needn’t know a word of German to understand the cursed protagonist’s sense of loss and bitter anger. He also brought a venemous chill to Mephistopheles’ Serenade from Faust, showing the malign evil beneath the surface swagger and faux bonhomie.

Yet Terfel is an artist who clearly doesn’t take himself or the trappings of opera and recitals too seriously. His relaxed informality was winningly displayed in his short introductions, engaging anecdotes and infectious conviviality, as if to say, “Look, this concert hall thing is a bit stiff and silly, and let’s just all have a good time.”

  For a scene from Falstaff, he came out with a generously padded belly and encouraged the orchestra’s violinists to pat it, before delivering a wonderfully rich and robust rendition of the bibulous knight’s sardonic honor monologue, tossing the pillow into the audience at the end. And in the Act II duet, Quanto amore, from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore with Coburn, he indulged in much funny stage business with Dulcamara’s magical “elixir” (here, a bottle of beer) and a can opener, even opening it and appearing to take a generous triumphant swig.

Terfel remains a wonderful Mozartian, delivering a lovely rendering of the concert aria, Io ti lascio. The singer has retired the role of Figaro from his active repertoire unfortunately, but showed his inimitable Mozart style in a characterful Non piu andrai with an anti-authoritarian snarl in the valet’s voice.

In his Celtic and Broadway selections, Terfel reduced the vast 2,200-seat venue to an intimate parlor. Asking the audience’s indulgence, he sang the touching Irish song, Passing By, to those seated behind the stage, a gracious gesture, even with the treacly orchestration. The tragic Scottish ode Loch Lomond received a rousing rendition, with the singer urging the audience to join in, making for an anthemic climax.  He also gave a warm and intimate account of How to Handle a Woman from Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, a song, he noted, made famous by his compatriot, Richard Burton. 

Sarah Coburn was an equally magnetic partner Monday, singing quite magnificently even while five months’ pregnant.  Deploying her bright, resplendent soprano, Coburn showed pure gleaming tone and faultless coloratura style in an aria from La Sonnambula and Manon’s Gavotte. Best of all was a dazzling Una voce poca fa from Rossini’s Barber of Seville, thrown off with remarkable facility, playfully stratospheric trills, seamless diminuendos and apt vixenish spirit. The two singers joined forces for the Donizetti duet as well as a stirring yet non-sticky You’ll Never Walk Alone, a Terfel favorite.

The opening Overture to The Flying Dutchman was short on drama, and elsewhere conductor Robertson’s boisterous accompaniments prevented Terfel from floating his patented soft pianissimos. Yet for the most part, the Scottish conductor provided attentive and energetic direction, drawing solid to excellent playing from the FGO Orchestra, with a lively rendition of Mozart’s Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio and a fizzing account of Gershwin’s Girl Crazy Overture

For an encore, Terfel served up a richly Mediterranean Granada, the singer easily getting his big voice around the fast, twisting vocal line. The final encore offered more Rodgers and Hammerstein from Carousel with If I Loved You, which proved a bit of an anticlimax with the orchestra too loud and the vocalism less inspired. But, no matter: to quote another Rodgers and Hammerstein song, it was a grand night for singing with two supremely gifted vocal artists.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Bryn Terfel’s voice and magnetism provide a memorable night”

  1. Posted Feb 18, 2011 at 3:29 pm by Sarah Turnage

    I wish I could have been there to hear Bryn. I discovered him on YouTube by chance and have been searching for anything of his that I could find. I loved his performances with Cecelia Bartoli which he was the most seductive duke in Don Giovana – and as Scarpia at the other end of the spectrum. He is amazing!

  2. Posted Apr 05, 2011 at 8:49 pm by Sarah Turnage

    I would love to hear him sing Wotan’s farewell in person. The YouTube dvd is very unsatisfactory because the volume is too low and it starts and stops frequently. Does anyone know why they made his cloak so ragged and his shirt and cream color vest so unlike what a god would wear? In spite of all this, I can hear his great voice and see his wonderful rendition – his acting is superb.

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