Bryn Terfel is so Bad he’s Brilliant

Bryn Terfel is a powerhouse both in vocal strength and flexibility. His command of the character reigns supreme regardless of the language he is singing.

Bryn Terfel releases a new CD Bad Boys with the Swedish Radio Choir and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Paul Daniel. It is made up of the characters we love to hate most, from Mephistopheles from Faust to Javert from Les Misérables. Bryn Terfel covers a broad range of languages from French, German, Italian and English equally at home with them all. The styles of music range from the height of Italian, French and German opera to modern musicals of New York and London.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable characteristics of Bryn’s voice is the incredible clarity and personality each role possesses. From track to track the darker nature of each of these “Bad Boys” is readily apparent without losing any of the words through excessive characterization. Sweeney Todd’s “Epiphany” is not an easy sing. The emotions shift quickly from one mood to the next, with moments of rapid words flitting then to sweeping agony, lamenting the past. Bryn brings both power and torment, creating the sense of the off-balance insanity needed to personally justify his actions with clarity of thought to carry out his plans.

“La calunnia” from Il Barbiere di Siviglia is one of my favorite arias and even though I have heard it hundreds of times, Bryn does not disappoint. The pace begins gentle lulling the listener into the sinister plot Don Basilio is hatching, but eventually builds to a fevered passion of evil intent. Here the power and flexibility of Bryn Terfel’s voice is ideally matched to bring out all the nuances of the character painting a depth necessary to make his words and actions believable.

The list of bad boys include Jago from Otello, Kaspar from Der Freischütz, Mackie Messer (Mack the Knife) from Die Dreigroschenoper (Three Penny Opera), Pizarro from Fidelio and perhaps the ultimate, the roles of Il Commendatore, Don Giovanni and Leporello from Don Giovanni with Bryn singing all three roles. Each role is given its own unique character. The last track is simply amazing in how well he captures the essence of all three characters on stage together and yet he had to record them separately – utter brilliance!

There are only two moments that I felt Bryn did not quite capture the roles as well as I would have liked. Some of this is due to a difference in approach to musical roles from Britain and the United States. If you listen to the London and the Broadway recordings of Les Misérables the vocal quality of London’s cast is of an overall better quality, but the characters are more alive in the Broadway version, showing their gritty nature. Although Javert is not necessarily a lower class character his character needs to be (IMHO) more anguished with notes less perfectly placed. “It ain’t necessarily so” from Porgy and Bess is another song that comes with baggage. The words are so perfectly matched to the black character of the period the musical is set, Bryn’s too perfect pronunciation just didn’t quite fit. However, both of these moments are more interpretation than quality of performance. Bryn Terfel is brilliant at being bad; his voice is strong and versatile and even if I don’t agree with his interpretation, his performances are first rate.

Bryn Terfel is certainly one of the leading bass-baritones in the world today. Bad Boys only further cements his position as the leading bad man in opera today. Throughout the CD his voice feels perfectly comfortable in each role and moves through each emotion and plot pondered with ease. Although his voice has the strength to power over an orchestra, he also has the command to capture the subtle soupçon of each character.

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