On Monday I decided all of a sudden that I would, after all, go to see Bryn Terfel sing with the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra the following evening. Because unlike most normal, sane people, I saw the ads for this concert months ago and decided not to go. Until at the last minute, it occured to me how very strange this decision really was. So I got the last ticket in the back row of the stalls — which is, incidentally, an incredibly good seat.
They opened with the Figaro overture, impressively tight and taut and buzzing with energy but oh, I'm sorry, too fast. I mean of course it needs to be played at a bit of a gallop, it ought to be fun — but this time it all just went by too fast to hold on to, done before I managed to catch up. Anyway, that was that and then there was Bryn. And I had to keep reminding myself that I'd never seen him live before, because he just seemed so familiar, so personable — hard to remember that it's someone you know from recordings and films, rather than some nice Welsh man off the street. What a charmer. He sang four arias, and spoke to the audience in between them all, making a seamless transition from high artistry to casual banter and back again. You can't resist him in either capacity, whether he's singing Mozart gorgeously or just talking. At one point, he'd just begun to speak when a woman in the audience sneezed — "bless you" he said, without missing a beat, and won an ovation for it. Leaving aside all his talent, expressive gifts, technical mastery etc etc, he just comes across as the most genuinely nice person you could hope to meet. And you do feel just that at the end, that you've met him. Am I really saying all this about a bass baritone?
But let's get to the singing. I've always liked Bryn but never taken too huge an interest until very recently — his Mozart CD is fast becoming a favourite of mine. On Tuesday night he sang two Mozart concert arias and wonder of wonders, lived up to and indeed exceeded the promise of the studio recordings. 'Cosi dunque tradirsci...Aspri rimorsi atroci" was the first, and wonderful; but the second, "Io ti lascio, o cara, addio" was something else entirely, radiant and heartbreaking. Baritone pianissimi are not something I've ever really though much about, but he was using them to entrancing effect, singing with such sensitivity and care that he imbued this conventional little four line farewell with a dignified poignancy on the level of the Countess Almaviva. After the Mozart came Wagner — a beautifully floating "O du mein holder Abendstern" and magnificent, majestic "Die Frist ist um". This last was really the hit of the night — having sung the first three arias in more or less straight concert style, for this he added a few movements, a simple gesture here and there, and I understood more that I ever really have just how compelling he must be in serious roles — as Wotan, Scarpia and so on. It was a brilliant, powerful way to finish his half of the programme, a half which was so riveting and satisfying that it felt like a whole. Before he left us for good we were given, thankfully, two encores, in which he managed to fill his swooning audience with even more adoring passion. Seats had been sold for this performance in the choir and organ galleries, which are behind the stage, with only a back view of the singer — so when he returned with his first encore, a Welsh song, he hummed the first verse to the main part of the hall, then turned around and sang the rest of it straight to them, conquering them completely I'm sure. After that came "Deh vieni alla finestra", sung as he strolled around the hall with rose in hand, serenading various women as he went before finally choosing one to give the flower to. In the wrong hands it could be cheesy, but not here. There's just not an affected or artificial bone in his body, and he manages to be simultaneously a nice down-to-earth guy and a genuinely gifted artist.
Everybody else in the world knows this already, I know. I did too, I suppose, but it took this experience for me to really appreciate it. He really is wonderful and I'm so glad I went after all.