Bryn Terfel biography

Bryn Terfel

Last updated: 18 November 2008

Whether it's opera, art song, folk song, oratorio or popular song, live or recorded, Bryn Terfel is a towering presence in the international music world.

The combination of a great voice, immaculate diction, commanding stage presence and flair for acting has made Bryn Terfel the hottest property in opera throughout the world.

I started singing because I come from Wales.

Bryn Terfel

Since his stage debut with Welsh National Opera in 1990, singing Guglielmo in Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, he quickly went on to build up his operatic repertoire. His first international offer came from Salzburg, and since then he has appeared in all the major opera houses of the world, with music as diverse as Mozart and Wagner, Puccini and Stravinsky, Verdi and Britten.

Bryn Terfel's signature roles include Figaro in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and the title role in Verdi's Falstaff. In 2004 he made his debut as Wotan in Wagner's Ring Cycle at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, to rave reviews from the music press, including "In his first Wotan, Bryn Terfel fulfils his destiny as an operatic singer" (Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph).

He also excels in the more intimate setting of the recital room and has more than fulfilled the promise shown when he won the 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World Lieder prize. He sings the full range from German Lieder by Schubert and Schumann to English songs by Vaughan Williams, Butterworth, Finzi and Ireland, and has recorded several award-winning CDs with this repertoire.

And that's not all. Bryn Terfel achieves seemingly effortlessly what many other classical artists attempt with less success - the 'crossover' album. He has recorded two best-selling albums of show songs by Rodgers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loewe.

Terfel also performs and records his beloved Welsh folk songs - not so much a crossover project as a return to his singing roots.

Bryn Terfel was born near Caernarfon in rural North Wales in 1965, and was singing onstage at Eisteddfodau from the age of four. He studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, his first big break coming when he won the major Kathleen Ferrier Award in 1988. The now-famous 'battle of the baritones' with Dmitri Hvorostovsky followed at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition the following year.

Although Bryn Terfel performs all over the world, he retains very strong links with Wales. His August bank holiday festival at Faenol in North Wales has become a major feature of the music calendar. Major guest artists queue up to be invited, and have included Andrea Bocelli, Van Morrison, José Carreras, Aled Jones and Katherine Jenkins.

He has been very strong in his support for a home for opera in Wales - and when plans to build one went awry in the late 1990s he even went so far as to announce that he would no longer be able to perform in Wales until one was built. Since the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay opened in 2004, Bryn has been performed there many times, including his role debut as The Flying Dutchman with WNO in 2006 and appearances with the Mariinsky Theatre and Valery Gergiev in 2009. Another important role debut, that of Hans Sachs in WNO's new production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, takes place there in 2010.

He continues to perform with and support young singers, composers and musicians in Wales, has remained with his Welsh agent throughout his career, and has not moved from his home in North Wales.

Awards for Bryn Terfel's work are numerous, ranging from the Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal performance in 1996 to Male Artist of the Year and Album of the Year for the platinum-selling Bryn in the 2004 Classical Brit Awards. He received the CBE in the 2003 New Year Honours.

Bryn was awarded the Queen's Medal for Music in 2006, an honour given to musicians who make a major impact on the musical life of Britain. Master of the Queen's Music, composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, described him as an "inspiring figure", not only for his performances in the opera houses of the world but also due to his popularisation of music to a wider audience through his television performances and his festival at Faenol in north Wales.

Bryn continues to expand his huge recording portfolio, which covers a wide range of material, from whole operas to art song to Broadway musicals to folksong. Many of his recent releases are of compilations of material on a theme: for example Simple Gifts, released in 2005, contains spiritual and meditative music from across a wide range of genres, and Bad Boys, released in 2009, celebrates the role of the villain, from Mephistopheles to Don Giovanni to Sweeney Todd to Sportin' Life.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.