After all the recent complaints about short-changing programmes and dodgy tenor partners it was clear that no one was going to accuse Bryn Terfel of not giving value for money with a programme of eleven substantial vocal pieces! Unfortunately his choice of partners was somewhat less felicitous.
The Sinfonia Cymru got the evening off to a somewhat shaky start with the overture to Forza del Destino which was marred by sour woodwind and fluffed strings. Gareth Jones’ foursquare conducting did little to enliven proceedings. When will promoters learn that using a top rank conductor paired with the headline singer can make the difference between a good and stunning evening? There were constant issues of balance all evening which, with a voice the size of Terfel’s, is inexcusable.
Terfel’s first offering was Dulcamara’s entrance aria which he dispatched with immaculate diction and a keen sense of fun. It was instructive to hear a voice of this quality in a role far too often assigned to veteran buffos. He followed with the Fischia aria from Boito’s Mefistofele, a work long overdue for revival at the ROH. Terfel caught the overweening arrogance and biting satire of one of the great satanic roles.
After the dreary ballet music from Faust Terfel re-merged in full hunting fig, complete with shotgun, to give us Schweig, Schweig from Freischutz. This, for me, was one of the most keenly anticipated arias and he did not disappoint. When the ROH finally get round to reviving the opera Terfel should be front runner for Kaspar.
The final items of Act 1 were a volcanic Veau d’Or, a dreadful English version of the Soldiers chorus which included female soldiers(!) and the Te Deum from Tosca which, despite Terfel’s monumental singing, was compromised by dreary conducting and lacklustre chorus singing.
Act 2 commenced with the Credo from Otello. When Terfel first started singing this aria I was of the opinion that it fundamentally did not suit his voice. However he seems to have grown into it and the top notes rang out in exciting fashion. He also perfectly caught the moment of staring into the abyss before “La morte e il nulla”.
The opening number from Sweeney Todd followed but Sondheim’s spine chilling music was scuppered by the over polite chorus who could have been singing G&S for all the menace they evinced. It is also my opinion that Terfel should have been discreetly miked in the music theatre numbers as the orchestration is geared for amplified singers.
A nicely pointed Moritat from Threepenny Opera (Again a joy to hear this sung rather than growled!) and a rollicking When the night wind howls from Ruddigore followed and Terfel rounded off the evening with a surprisingly successful Ain’t necessarily so.
The encores consisted of an unwanted Rumble from West Side Story and Stars from Les Mis. The latter, with its overthick orchestration, once again pointed up the need for vocal amplification as even Terfel struggled to dominate the orchestra. A small point – Defining Javert as a Bad Boy seems wrong. Remorseless and completely without imagination certainly, but definitely not a villain.
If I sound unduly negative about this event it is because it could have been truly great had Terfel been granted the right level of collaborators which, given the exorbitant ticket prices charged by Raymond Gubbay, should have been affordable. As it was it was still enjoyable but very much carried by Bryn’s genius.