Terfel triumphs, of course, in Grange Park Opera double bill

Aleko / Gianni Schicchi

Grange Park Opera


Just when you think you have seen all there can be from Bryn Terfel along comes a new performance (or in this case two) that reminds just why the North Walian really deserves his star status.

Bryn Terfel, Aleko

As if to showcase his abilities we have him cast in two utterly contrasting roles, the jealous and tragic Aleko in Rachmaninov’s big drama and then Gianni Schicchi in Puccini’s frothy romp.  They are both staged in designer Jamie Vartan’s Florentine house, firstly as a trashed squat for a punk commune in Aleko, and then the elegant pad for the rich old man who pegs it as Gianni Schicchi opens. This works well and gets the grey cells working, trying to work out what other links there are between the two shows. The squat must be before the Schicchi, as when a picture is removed the graffiti of the squat is on the wall. However, the furniture that is trashed in Schicchi is in pristine condition in Aleko. Maybe I am taking it literally and director Stephen Medcalf is simply saying the punks of Aleko and the grasping family of Schicchi are the same really once you scratch the surface.

Pasquale Orchard and Bryn Terfel, Gianni Schicchi

As Aleko, Terfel is gloominess and troubled soul personified, he skulks around, spies on his free-spirit wife and daughter of his child wonderfully sung by Ailish Tynan as she sneaks around with her lover, from the warmly sung tenor of Luis Gomes who takes his moment in the spotlight with élan. Tynan, interestingly a winner of the Rosenblatt Song Prize that developed out of the Cardiff opera talent show several year’s after Terfel had been given a Lieder prize in the opera competition. 

Tefel rides into this squat on a bicycle. The destroyed by circumstances, dark but not cold-hearted Aleko, sings with gut-wrenching despair. This is wonderful stuff. The squat may be a place of free love, free spirits but Zemfira is caught in a stifling relationship with Aleko. Tynan brings out the frustration and near nihilism of the role.

In Schicchi, Terfel appears in red biker’s leathers, his daughter Lauretta having been riding pillion, having moved up from the bicycle of Aleko!.The fun starts the moment he appears, swaggering, his face and gestures ridiculing the money-grabbing family, a father’s softness for a daughter elegantly communicated through gesture, and a clever ruthlessness bubbling under the surface. In this ensemble piece Sara Fulgoni particularly stands out as Zita and soprano Pasquale Orchard singing a heartfelt O Mio Babbino Caro. Luis Gomes returns as her boyfriend Rinuccio. Tynan also appears in Schicchi, here as one of the greedy family members Nella, as does Robert Winslade Anderson, singing Betto.  The complement of ridiculous characters also includes Jeff Lloyd Roberts singing Gherardo, Nella’s lumpen husband. Matthew Brook sings a nicely arrogant Simone. They are all cleverly choreographed by Lynne Hockney.

In the small functional Grange Park Opera auditorium, the conducting of the BBC Concert Orchestra by Gianluca Marciano was well-measured in both works and let both the scores and the singers breathe.

Main image: Bryn Terfel, Aleko.

Images: Marc Brenner

To July 7, grangeparkopera.co.uk

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