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Friday, 26 November, 1999, 13:24 GMT
Bryn's House party
Bryn Terfel
Bass-baritone Bryn Terfel helps reopen the Royal Opera House
By BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley

Acclaimed opera singer Bryn Terfel says that the 214m refurbishment of London's Royal Opera House has put it in the premier league of concert venues.

"This puts the Royal Opera House on the map as one of the top three opera houses in the world. Every performer... wants to perform there."

The Welsh bass-baritone has beaten many of the world's best dancers, conductors and singers to do just that - he opens the Royal Opera House's new season, taking the title role in Falstaff.

The revamp has put the Royal Opera House "on the map"
"It's a huge honour to be bestowed on somebody so young," said the 34-year-old.

The star is quick to dismiss the barrage of criticism levelled at the opera house for spending money on the extensive remodelling.

"It was important this house had this facelift. The facilities backstage weren't really up to the standard of any opera house. The facilities on stage rather limited their productions.

"Now I think they can do grander, much larger scale productions. That's the reason why the opera house had to catch up."

A high note

Terfel predicts a bright future for the Covent Garden venue and an end to the notoriety it has gained in the past two years - with behind-the-scenes rows, delays and walkouts dominating the headlines.

"It's going to be totally forgotten and history - and now everyone can focus on what happens in the Royal Opera House from now on."

The singer may well be right if box office sales are any indication.

Floral Hall
The new Floral Hall at the opera house
"Try and get a ticket for Falstaff. It's impossible, it's sold out 110%. Even the tickets for the dress rehearsals have gone."

Terfel had to book seats six months in advance. "And this comes from the man playing the title role."

He also believes that opera may have benefited from the furore over the house's rebuilding and the alleged elitism of the artform.

"It still kept the Royal Opera House in a kind of limelight. Everybody was talking about it," said Terfel - who is hopeful the debate will encourage opera virgins.

"Opera is one of the best artforms possible, you have an orchestra, you have music, you have a chorus, you have singers, you have a conductor, you have costumes, you have music, you have theatre, you have wonderful seats."

In the sleep seats

Terfel is quick to warn against the dangers of sumptuous upholstery. "You can have a great kip in an opera house."

While a student at London's prestigious Guildhall School of Music, Terfel himself dozed through his first opera - Madame Butterfly.

"If you spend 150 quid on a ticket to see an opera, you don't want to waste your time asleep.

Bryn Terfel
Terfel wakes up the audience
"You want to enjoy it, be there, live it, feel the music take you over. You want to be carried away for three hours, you want to laugh and cry.

"If you miss out on that, gosh, it's like missing out on a 1982 bottle of Bordeaux," which is some comparison coming from a wine buff like Terfel.

"You should be ready to go into an opera house, you should do your homework. Read at least the storyline... get a feel for the music, buy the record, listen to it.

"Your choice of opera has to be good. Don't go and see a Wagner opera for your first time, go and see Carmen, go and see Falstaff, go and see Boheme, go and see Madame Butterfly."

Operatic slapstick

Unsurprisingly he particularly recommends Verdi's Falstaff: "It's a huge romp. It borders on Benny Hill, borders on Laurel and Hardy. It's going to be the perfect piece to be the first piece at the Royal Opera House. Traditional, but controversial at the same time."

A farmer's son from North Wales, Terfel began his career singing traditional Welsh songs and counts Led Zeppelin and Frank Sinatra amongst his musical favourites.

He refutes any suggestion that opera is irrelevant to ordinary people: "I think everybody at a certain stage in their lives can be touched in some way by something operatic.

bryn and shirley
Terfel's "pinnacle" - singing with Shirley Bassey
"It's something that everybody has to at least taste. If you hate it, okay, hate it, and go back to Dire Straits and Queen."

Many who have never dreamed of setting foot in an opera house heard Terfel's award-winning voice at the start of the Rugby World Cup.

"I would say the pinnacle of my career was singing at the opening ceremony... in front of 72,500 Welshmen and over 300m viewers.

"The hairs stood up on the back of my neck as erect as they've ever been."

Just as Luciano Pavarotti became a star of the 1990 football World Cup, Terfel's performance has exposed a whole new audience to the operatic voice.

"If we create that interest, it's our job done."

The Royal Opera House opens officially on 1 December and Verdi's Falstaff featuring Bryn Terfel runs from 6 December for six performances.

A live broadcast of the opera spearheads BBC Two's Christmas music schedule.

"There will never be a decline in interest in opera...
"Everybody is touched by something operatic...
"Do you homework!"
See also:

16 Jul 99 | Entertainment
Opera star Bryn's a king
28 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Rush for Royal Opera tickets
30 Sep 99 | Rugby World Cup
Stars come out for Wales
24 Nov 99 | Entertainment
Royal Opera reopens with a closure
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