Bryn Terfel

Latoya Newman

GRAMMY, Classical Brit and Gramophone award-winning opera star Bryn Terfel will soon be embarking on a tour of South Africa, including a stop-over in Durban.

The Welshman has not only performed in the best opera houses in the world, but he is also well known for his work in musicals, with one of the highlights of this year being semi-staged performances of Sweeney Todd at the Lincoln Centre in New York, as well as at the Llangollen International Music Festival in North Wales.

Opera fans easily understand the magnitude of having an artist of Terfel’s stature on home soil. But to help the layman understand, having Terfel here is as big as, say, having someone like Josh Groban perform locally.

Tonight spoke to Charl van Heyningen, who is bringing Terfel to South Africa, to tell us a bit more about the tour.

“I used to sing opera myself, and I’ve been a fan of Bryn Terfel since he started in the late 1980s.

“We tried to bring him out in 2005, but it didn’t work out. And now, nine years later, we have managed to do it.

“He is one of the world’s very best bass baritones, and a bass baritone is a very pleasant, deep, massive voice. He has one of the biggest voices in the industry. His voice can fill very big spaces.

“But it’s not just the size of his voice – there’s a golden timbre which is so pleasant. It’s a warm, rich, robust, strong, beautiful voice. He really brings the meaning of music to light. He’s a very musical singer,” he said.

Van Heyningen said part of the reason for Terfel’s massive following was his work in popular musicals.

“Bryn doesn’t only sing opera – he has also recorded albums of the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein from South Pacific, and he’s done Sweeney Todd in New York. He’s also done Camelot and Oklahoma. He’s very well known on the musical front.”

Terfel will be accompanied by South African pianist Nina Schumann on this tour.

“Usually singers like Bryn don’t want to perform with anybody except their own accompanist. But I mentioned to him that we have very good accompanists in South Africa, and asked if he’d be willing to work with a South African.

“I chose Nina because I know her very well. I know how good she is. She’s played for stars such as Michelle Breedt (a renowned mezzo-soprano) in places like the Royal Albert Hall in London. So Nina is at the top of her game.”

Two programmes will be available for this tour. There will be a popular programme that Terfel will sing in Durban and Joburg, which will include pieces by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Schubert and Mozart, as well as Celtic songs.

The more serious performance in Pretoria will see Terfel performing songs on poems by John Masefield, pieces by Schumann and Schubert, as well as traditional songs from the Celtic isles.

“The Joburg and Durban programme is popular. But because we are doing Pretoria as well, and Joburg and Pretoria are so close together, I asked him to do a different programme for Pretoria. People who want to see a more serious programme can see him in Pretoria.”

Van Heyningen said that as a promoter he was usually cautious about bringing major acts to Durban, but he wanted to give local audiences a chance to see greatness on stage.

“Durban doesn’t get the best of the artists all the time, but this time I wanted to give Durban audiences a chance to see one of the world’s best singers in action.

“He is probably one of the three best bass baritones in the world, and to have him in KwaZulu-Natal is a nice coup for Durban…

“If you take the cost of bringing a singer like this into account, we are really selling the tickets as cheaply as we can. So we hope people will support the performance.”

A press release lists a host of achievements in Terfel’s career.

Among these are that he is known for his versatility as a concert performer, with highlights ranging from the opening ceremony of the Wales Millennium Centre, the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms, and the Royal Variety Show to a gala concert with Andrea Bocelli in New York’s Central Park.

Having won Grammy, Classical Brit and Gramophone awards, his discography encompasses the operas of Mozart, Wagner and Strauss, and more than 10 solo discs, including lieder, American musical theatre, and Welsh and sacred songs.

Performances: May 6 at Linder Auditorium, Joburg, 8pm, tickets R550 and R490 (popular programme); May 9 at Durban City Hall, 7.30pm, tickets R420 and R350 (popular programme); and May 11 at ZK Matthews Hall, Unisa, Pretoria, 4pm, tickets R550 and R490 (serious programme). Bookings through Computicket.