Opera Australia: Bryn Terfel in Concert review [Melbourne]

In an evening of sterling musicianship, master singer Bryn Terfel held a capacity audience spellbound in a carefully curated program that also saw Orchestra Victoria performing at their very best.

Maestro Gareth Jones, a regular collaborator of Terfel’s, oversaw a varied program that ranged from German opera to the lights of Broadway. Complementing the musical diversity was harpist Hannah Stone, who married Terfel in July this year.

The first half focused exclusively on Wagner, a composer who has been heard far more widely in Melbourne in recent years. With significant experience in the great composer’s music, Orchestra Victoria was able to launch straight into the depth and quality required to immerse the audience in splendid music.

Resounding brass was a feature of the Prelude to Act III from Lohengrin, after which Terfel was warmly and enthusiastically greeted as he took to the stage. Looking supremely relaxed in black three piece suit and open neck shirt, Terfel’s calm, gentle manner belied none of the work and focus required to perform at this level. A singer in full command of his extraordinary gift, Terfel delivered the Wagner selections as though acting the role in a fully staged production.

Terfel’s vocal excellence was complemented by his genial personality. Following opening aria “Was duftet doch der Flieder,” from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Terfel quipped that it was as though Hans Sachs had just heard the next Lady Gaga. In introducing later selections, Terfel explained that bass baritones such as he are bound to end up playing “misfits and malcontents.”

Orchestra Victoria is a renowned pit orchestra with particular experience with Wagner’s Ring Cycle; on this occasion, they also showed themselves to be an excellent stage orchestra. The Ring relies on drawing audiences into a trance over very long periods of time, making it all the more incredible that that this level of performance was achieved with short selections. The success was due to Terfel’s keen focus and nuanced dramatic expression as well as the magnificent orchestral music, as meticulously conducted by Jones.

The second half of the program opened with the pomp and sparkle of Berlioz’s “Rakoczky March” from The Damnation of Faust. Terfel switched seamlessly to Italian for “Son lo spirito che nega” from Boito’s Mefistofele before returning to German to sing “Mack the Knife,” from Weill’s The Threepenny Opera with a devilishly sinister smile.

Not quite as comfortable on stage as Terfel, harpist Stone soon relaxed as she began to play, impressing first with “Danses Sacrée et Profane” by Debussy, later retuning for the Third Movement of William Mathias’ Harp Concerto. The point where Stone really won over the audience was in her sweetly demure introduction of her encore piece, which was a rather dazzling performance of “Baroque Flamenco,” composed by “hip harpist” Deborah Henson-Conant.

Terfel concluded with a pair of Broadway classics, delivering exquisite final pianissimo notes in “Some Enchanted Evening” before throwing himself into “If I Were a Rich Man,” complete with opening monologue. Terfel and Stone performed beautifully together in a charming encore, the traditional Welsh folk song “Ar Lan y Môr.”

A star of the world stage and a gentleman indeed, future Melbourne appearances by Terfel are keenly anticipated.

Bryn Terfel in Concert played at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne, 8pm Sunday 10 November 2019.

Categories: Opera, Reviews

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5 replies »

  1. I agree generally with your review, however, as far as it being a capacity audience, I was sitting in the Balcony and was
    surrounded by hundreds of empty seats.

  2. I wonder if this concert was poorly advertised?. As a Welsh-born Terfel ‘tragic’, I would love to have been present but I didn’t know about the concert until I read your review

    • Good point, Tony. They may have mainly advertising to regular opera goers rather than the wider public. There are so many arts events on in Melbourne, it is a bit hard for special artists to stand out. The last time Terfel was here was 2015 – hope you don’t have to wait four years to see him next time

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