Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel bestrides today’s music scene like a colossus. He has been at the very top of his profession for two decades, since first gaining fame as a ‘Cardiff Singer of the World’ prize-winner in 1989. He is revered not only as one of the world’s finest opera singers, but also as a superb interpreter of Lieder and art songs, and he brings more persuasive panache than any other to the great show songs. Now, following on from a remarkable line of brilliant recitals for Deutsche Grammophon, he at last gives us one that is really bad!
In opera the bass-baritone has frequently to portray the villain of the piece, and Bryn Terfel, with his towering presence, has brought most of them to vibrant life on stage with an irresistible swagger – truly the villain you love to hate. In his newly-recorded album Bad Boys he demonstrates an extraordinary range of operatic wickedness. Look at this line-up of 15 musical villains, some of the most unscrupulous, cynical, devious, roguish figures of the opera stage. Bryn calls them the “demonic misfits and malcontents of this wonderful music”.
They certainly make for a sequence of kaleidoscopic variety, from Mozart to Les Misérables. Satan himself appears twice, in Gounod’s Faust and in Boito’s Mefistofele, whistling as well as singing. Boito also scripted two other evil scoundrels of Italian opera: Barnaba in La Gioconda and Iago in Otello. There are also the comic rogues from Il barbiere di Siviglia and L’elisir d’amore as well as the fearsome Baron Scarpia from Tosca in Bryn’s overwhelming portrayal.
German depravity comes in the form of Kaspar from Der Freischütz, Don Pizarro from Fidelio, and blood-thirsty Mack the Knife himself. From there the rogues’ gallery takes in Gilbert & Sullivan (Ruddigore), Gershwin (the dope dealing Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess), and two peaks of the 20th century musical: Sweeney Todd (also featuring a cockney Anne Sophie von Otter!) and Les Misérables.
The whole, unique entertainment is brought to a close with a real tour de force. From Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Bryn Terfel sings three roles: not only the Don, but manservant Leporello and the statue of the Commendatore come to drag Giovanni down to Hell. Truly, there’s never been an operatic recital like this!