Music interview: Sir Bryn Terfel – ‘The scope of one’s repertoire is sometimes truly life changing’

Sir Bryn Terfel
Sir Bryn Terfel
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There’s an opportunity to see one of the world’s great opera singers right on Yorkshire’s doorstep this summer at Harrogate Music Festival.

Renowned Welsh bass-baritone Sir Bryn Terfel will perform a personal, intimate concert in the beautiful Royal Hall, Harrogate.

“My programme is a trip down memory lane,” Sir Bryn said. “Some songs are the first I ever learnt as a classical singer. One my grandmother chose, some from my first singing teacher, some from my second singing teacher. Some are the first cycle of songs I ever learnt. This gives a palate of colours and repertoire that is indeed endless. From Welsh to French to English to Italian. The scope of one’s repertoire is sometimes truly life changing. Some are tunes that I adore, some are poems that strike a chord. Some are there because I adore singing them.”

He’ll also be performing Schumann and Schubert alongside beautiful Welsh folk songs.

Sir Bryn, who was knighted by the Queen for services to music, is especially recognised for his portrayals of Figaro, Falstaff and Wotan. Despite being award-laden, and starring in opera halls and leading music venues across the world, Sir Bryn insists he’s still just ‘the farmer’s son from North Wales’.

He enthuses about the Welsh tradition fostering musical talent: “Undoubtedly the Eisteddfod plays an important part in the nurturing of talent in Wales from the local competitions and to the yearly highlight of the National Eisteddfod every August. I certainly would not be where I am had it not been for the immense support of such an iconic historical platform.

“From a personal perspective I think also the Welsh language has an immense bearing on the development of a voice before its training comes to the foreground. I have always felt comfortable in many languages due to my strong beginnings in the folk doing tradition and the eventual crossing into the old Victorian repertoire that your grandparents adored. A circle of training had already been completed before I even stepped into the guiding hand of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.”

As someone who has sang all over the world, it was his debut at La Scala in Milan in the Marriage of Figaro, conducted by Riccardo Muti, which really stands out as a defining moment.

“The first time I sang in front of my school in North Wales was nothing compared to being on that stage in Milan. And I tell you something - that is quite a statement. Although I knew I was pretty good at singing I did in fact detest singing in front of the school. But it stood me in good stead to be there in Milan facing the most knowledgeable audience that I had ever encountered in their iconic opera house in their famous production with their incredible maestro. I have never ever felt such nerves in my entire life. Shaking like a leaf, dry mouthed and humbled beyond belief.”

Harrogate International Festivals delivers its month-long Harrogate Music Festival, which starts June 30 and runs throughout July in venues across the town. Do we need to do more to support the arts and Festivals like Harrogate?

“Of course we have our Proms and Edinburgh festival which are our national treasure,” Bryn said, “but do we give enough support to the rest? I would say a tremendously loud Wagnerian yes to having festivals and I would say that the Government and local authorities should make a point of having such a vibrant festival life in the UK. Even more so now and to the future.”

Harrogate Festival runs throughout the month of July, featuring poet Ian McMillan, jazz icon Tim Garland, the Alex Mendham Orchestra, Oz Clarke, the European Union Chamber Orchestra, outdoor theatre troupe Oddsocks, the BBC3 Radio 3 New Generation Artists, and much more. Visit harrogateinternationalfestivals.com for the full programme.

Sir Bryn Terfel, Royal Hall, Harrogate, Saturday July 29, 7.30pm. Box Office: 01423 562303.

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