New York State of Mind

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), April 15, 2004 | Go to article overview

New York State of Mind


Byline: By MARIO BASINI Western Mail

Stars Bryn Terfel, Gwyn Hughes Jones and Jason Howard are putting Wales on the world stage. Mario Basini, reporting from New York, argues why they are the nation's best export today

THEY ARE, compared to a Rolls Royce or a European Airbus, comparatively cheap to produce. Once they are properly trained and tuned, their running costs are few. And they bring many thousands of pounds into the Welsh economy each year.

There is a good argument for saying that the current crop of Wales' young opera stars are among our most efficient exports. Certainly they are a popular and prestigious brand for the sophisticated musical audiences of the world.

For example, recently in New York - a city with a particularly highly- developed and critical musical taste - you could catch three of them performing on the same day. During the day you could see the Anglesey-born tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones at the Metropolitan Opera House and watch his fellow North Walian, baritone Bryn Terfel, at the same venue in the evening. In between, the nimble-footed could see Merthyr Tydfil's Jason Howard at the New York City Opera.

Graphic proof of the popularity of the current crop of great Welsh voices came at the world-famous Carnegie Hall this week when the best of them, Bryn Terfel, gave a recital to the rapturous acclaim of a full house.

It was a virtuoso performance which highlighted not just his superb control over that magnificent voice, but also his great dramatic gifts. He has the ability to project true emotion into a song or an aria whether it is a tragic lament or a rollicking comic monologue.

At one point during his many encores he came down off the stage to sing a sexy aria from Don Giovanni to a series of delighted women sitting in the front row. In moments he was transformed into the crafty, seductive anti-hero of Mozart's opera. That fusion of the dramatic and the musical, so reminiscent of another great Welsh baritone, the late Sir Geraint Evans, guarantees Bryn Terfel his position in the front rank of opera stars for as long as he wants it.

His programme, which included folk songs such as Ar Hyd Y Nos and Danny Boy as well as songs by composers as different as Schubert, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and the Italian Paolo Tosti, was designed to bring out all the attributes of a world talent. And the response of the audience was suitably ecstatic.

They rose to their feet, cheered and called for more. A group of Welsh exiles seated in one of the plush hall's many boxes, rapturously unfurled a huge Welsh flag which they waved triumphantly. It was an occasion to befit a venue in which many of the greatest modern geniuses have performed and whose opening night included an appearance from Tchaikovsky.

It was more than just a great musical occasion. The recital spearheaded a concerted effort to make North Americans aware of the opening of a Welsh musical venue which threatens to outlustre Carnegie Hall itself. …

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