BRYN TERFEL is a world-renowned Welsh bass-baritone opera and concert singer who has performed regularly at the most prestigious international concert venues and opera houses in becoming a best-selling classical artist.
He has won two Grammy Awards, four Classic Brit awards and a Gramophone Award with a discography encompassing operas of Mozart, Wagner and Strauss, and more than 15 solo discs including Lieder, American musical theatre, Welsh songs and sacred repertory.
Terfel was initially associated with the roles of Mozart, particularly Figaro and Don Giovanni, but subsequently shifted his attention to heavier roles, especially those by Puccini and Wagner.
He is a patron of the Welsh language and Welsh culture, facets of his life which are largely unknown outside his native Wales. In 2000 he released We’ll Keep a Welcome – The Welsh Album, an anthology of favourite traditional songs.
Terfel has been awarded the honour, by the National Eisteddfod, of membership of the Gorsedd of Bards. The Gorsedd was created in 1792 as a celebration of Welsh heritage, and inductees are considered to have contributed notably to Welsh culture.
Terfel started the Faenol Festival, at the Faenol Estate near Snowdonia, north Wales, in 2000. Billed as Bryn Terfel’s Faenol Festival and often referred to simply as BrynFest, it turned into an annual music festival, running for nine years in Wales and featuring internationally famous opera singers as well as popular Welsh artists.
The four-day festival later moved to London and was hosted by Terfel at the Southbank Centre as part of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of the World.
Terfel was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2003, awarded the Queen’s Medal for Music in 2006 and knighted in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to music.
He is an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and was presented with an Honorary Doctorate in Music by both Bangor University and the Royal College of Music in 2012.
Bryn Terfel Jones was born on November 9, 1965, at Pant Glas, Caernarfonshire, the son of a farmer. His first language is Welsh. To avoid confusion with another Welsh baritone, Delme Bryn-Jones, he chose Bryn Terfel as his professional name.
He had an interest in, and talent for, music from a very young age. A family friend taught him how to sing, starting with traditional Welsh songs.
After winning numerous competitions for his singing, he moved to London in 1984 and entered the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where he studied under Rudolf Piernay. He graduated in 1989, winning both the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Award and the Gold Medal. The same year he came second behind Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the Cardiff BBC Singer of the World Competition, but won the Lieder Prize.
In 1990, Terfel made his operatic début as Guglielmo in Così fan tutte at the Welsh National Opera, and later in the same season he sang the title role in The Marriage of Figaro, a role with which he made his debut with the English National Opera in 1991.
His international operatic career began that same year when he sang the Speaker in Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels and he made his United States début as Figaro at the Santa Fe Opera.
In 1992 Terfel made his Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, début as Masetto in Don Giovanni, with Thomas Allen in the title role. That same year he made his Salzburg Easter Festival debut singing the role of the Spirit Messenger in Die Frau ohne Schatten.
This was followed by an international breakthrough at the main Salzburg Festival when he sang Jochanaan in Strauss’s Salome. He went on to make his début as Figaro at the Vienna State Opera.
In June 1992, Terfel made his US concert debut, singing in Mahler’s Eighth Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival under the baton of James Levine. Also at the festival, he and Levine (at the piano) performed Schumann’s Liederkreis (op. 39) and Schubert’s Schwanengesang, and later he was Abimélech in Saint-Saëns’s Samson and Delilah (with Plácido Domingo and Denyce Graves in the title roles), also with the CSO under Levine.
Also in 1992, he signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon, and returned to the Welsh National Opera to sing Ford in Falstaff. In 1993, he recorded the role of Wilfred Shadbolt in The Yeomen of the Guard, by Gilbert and Sullivan and sang Figaro to acclaim at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.
Terfel sang Figaro at Covent Garden in 1994, and made both his Metropolitan Opera and Teatro Nacional de São Carlos débuts in the same role. However, back surgery in 1994 (and again in 2000) prevented him from performing in several scheduled events.
In 1996, he expanded his repertoire to include more Wagner, singing Wolfram in Tannhäuser at the Metropolitan Opera, and Stravinsky, singing Nick Shadow in The Rake’s Progress at the Welsh National Opera. These performances won him the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for the singer of the year.
In 1999, he performed in Paris the title role of Don Giovanni for the first time and sang his first Falstaff at the Lyric Opera of Chicago; the latter of which he reprised in the inaugural production at the newly-refurbished Royal Opera House.
That same year, Terfel returned home to Wales to perform the Rugby World Cup anthem World in Union with Shirley Bassey at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, before the 1999 Rugby World Cup final.
In 2003, Terfel hosted and performed on the stage with opera tenor José Carreras and soprano Hayley Westenra in front of the capacity crowd of 10,000 people from Faenol Festival in Wales.
Terfel has not shied away from popular music either. He has recorded CDs of songs by Lerner and Loewe and Rodgers and Hammerstein. In 2001 he commissioned and performed Atgof o’r Sêr (Memory of the Stars) at the National Eisteddfod with the composer Robat Arwyn.
Terfel intended to take 2008 as a sabbatical from opera performances, but broke this to take the title role in WNO’s revival of Falstaff. Terfel made his debut as Hans Sachs in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger in a production for Welsh National Opera in Cardiff and on tour during 2010.
The cast of this production gave a ‘concert staging’ at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the 2010 BBC Proms, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and on BBC Four television. In July, again at the Proms, he performed in a concert from the Royal Albert Hall celebrating the works of Stephen Sondheim in his 80th birthday year.
Terfel took on the role of Wotan for the premiere performances of Robert Lepage’s new Met staging of Wagner’s Der Ring 2010–12. He sang the role in all three of the four Der Ring operas that feature Wotan: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre and Siegfried.
In September 2014, Terfel reprised his role as Sweeney Todd in the Live from Lincoln Center concert production of Sweeney Todd, which was broadcast on PBS. This production also starred Emma Thompson as Mrs Lovett and Audra McDonald as the Beggar Woman.
He marked his 50th birthday and 25 years in the profession with a special one-off Gala Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, presented by Hollywood star and compatriot Michael Sheen. The celebrations continued at Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre, where he sang Scarpia in a special concert performance of Tosca with Welsh National Opera.
In 2016, Terfel took the title role in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, directed by Antonio Pappano at the Royal Opera House.
Ahead of a concert in Melbourne in 2019, Opera Australia noted: “When Bryn Terfel sings, everyone stops to listen.”
Terfel was married to his childhood sweetheart, Lesley, in 1987 until their divorce in 2013. The couple have three sons.
In 2017, he and harpist Hannah Stone had a daughter. The couple married on July 26, 2019, at Caersalem Newydd Bapist Church in the bride’s home city of Swansea.
Terfel is president of the Welsh homelessness charity Shelter Cymru and is patron of Bobath Children’s Therapy Centre Wales, a registered charity based in Cardiff which provides specialist Bobath therapy to children from all over Wales who have cerebral palsy.
He was a leading petitioner in the creation of Bontnewydd railway station on the rebuilt Welsh Highland Railway, and in part sponsored its construction.
Partial solo discography
Bryn Terfel – Volume I (1988)
Bryn Terfel – Volume II (1990)
The Vagabond and Other Songs by Vaughan Williams, Butterworth, Finzi and Ireland (1995)
Something Wonderful (1996)
Handel Arias (1997)
We’ll Keep a Welcome (2000)
Some Enchanted Evening (2001)
Under the Stars (2003), with Renée Fleming
Simple Gifts (2005)
Tutto Mozart! (2006)
First Love (2008), songs from the British Isles
Carols and Christmas Songs (2010)
Homeward Bound (2013), with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
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