Bryn Terfel - Bad Boys
The baddies always are more fun; in opera and musical theatre they are that much larger than life, too. Small wonder they prove (on the whole) such a perfect fit for the world’s most famous bass-baritone. So enter Satan himself – aka Boito’s Mefistofele – to call the tune and literally whistle his contempt at all things good in nature. Boito’s showstopper has Bryn Terfel plumbing the very depths of his bass extension and almost, but not quite, slipping from song into growl.
It’s a great start to his devilishly clever selection of “Bad Boys” and – by way of delicious contrast – it’s followed by one whose purveyance of evil takes an altogether more devious path. Terfel’s Chief of Police Scarpia – now well practised and celebrated – is the smoothest of operators using his oleaginous legato to lustful ends. Paul Daniel (a perceptive collaborator) and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus back up his odious insinuations with a resounding Te Deum. Vocally, orchestrally and as a piece of engineering, it sounds mighty fine.
Terfel, of course, brings the smell of the theatre into everything he does. His powerful vocal presence is born of physical presence and he harnesses words, in any language, like few others. Consider the deceptively subtle difference between Iago’s “Credo” and Barnaba’s more “in your face” derision in his blacker-than-black aria “O monumento!” from La Gioconda.
Not everything is quite on the money. Gershwin’s Sportin’ Life really needs a reedier tenorial sneer to the voice in “It ain’t necessarily so” and the whiter-than-white chorus is frankly an embarrassment. I also think that Donizetti’s roguish quack Dr Dulcamara needs a lighter touch. The devil is in the articulation and Terfel is a bit too beefy.
Brecht’s words for “The Ballad of Mack the Knife” casually slip off Terfel’s cords like the threats of a slickly attired bouncer and, speaking of the threat of cold steel, Sweeney Todd’s “Epiphany” (with a flash of Anne Sofie von Otter’s cockney Mrs Lovett – not ’arf bad) is scary to behold, though I do think that Terfel could have departed from the written line where he hurls the promise of vengeance at prospective customers.
The climax of the disc is the demise of Don Giovanni with Terfel offering an unholy trinity of all three characters. But the Don’s final cry of anguish does nothing to dispel the idea that the devil may not always get the best tunes but he certainly gets the best numbers.