Bryn Terfel, Opera Singer. The Metropolitan Opera House, New York, 17th September 2010.













We meet at the fountain outside the Met. Bryn first came here in the early 90s with a production of Figaro. Today, his schedule extends five years into the future. New York, London, Paris, Milan, Geneva, Sydney: from his home in rural north Wales, Bryn travels around the world to perform. His relationship with place is complicated: while admitting that international travel is exciting, he describes himself as a bird whose instinct is to turn for home and the nest. His family, his language, his land… Graig Goch, Nant, Eryri.
Bryn left Wales in 1984 to study at the Guildhall in London, and remembers the longing (hiraeth) for his homeland, yet came to accept this feeling as part of his career. Hiraeth, an ache though it is, does solidify choices: he has made his home less than ten miles from his birthplace, married his childhood sweetheart, and sent his sons to his and his father’s old school. Despite having an apartment there, London is not home for him, and even less so is New York: “I am staying, and not living, here”.
Yet if he does have a favourite city, New York is a strong contender, not least due to language: “one enjoys a city when one can converse in it”. An English-speaking city is somewhere relatively open to the Welsh, English being the compulsory second language taught in Welsh-medium schools and reinforced by the influx of media from the rest of Britain and America. As opposed to England, where French, German or Spanish are compulsory in most schools and provide a basis for further learning of them, for many growing up in Wales, foreign languages other than English are perhaps emphasised less in the curriculum.
Today we are talking in Welsh, but even when surrounded by other languages, Bryn's inbuilt mother tongue is succour for hiraeth and a geographical substitute for home. Singing opera in Welsh is rare, but the experience of working with a majority Welsh cast in Die Meistersinger von N├╝rnberg in Cardiff this summer was a pleasure to him. German consonants are phonologically similar to Welsh, this perhaps a contributing factor in his preference for German operas, Wagner’s an example.
By now we are in the depths of the opera house, having passed through a rehearsal, the costume department with its staff of eighty, the orchestra pit, and finally into the Met’s canteen. The plastic plants and a lack of windows make it casino-like in here. A Russian soprano passes. Bryn calls her over: “how does it feel when you sing in your native language?” “Wonderful. Like home” she beams.
In the corner there’s a speaker broadcasting a rehearsal of Tales of Hoffmann live from the auditorium. Floors above, gondolas shuffle across the stage. Bryn sings along to Giulietta and Hoffmann’s song. “Here one is constantly alive to sound” – the sound of the opera house, the sound of the city, they are like living organisms. Does this make him behave differently to when at home? “This is the city that never sleeps, so the pace lasts longer here, one gets energy, it’s a city to walk in”.
New York’s grid system is easy to understand, a bit like its language is for Britons, so walking, in addition to talking, is easy here. Its park, Central Park (“lungs of the city”), translates well too, as a slice of Wales’ greenery.
If hiraeth determines our choice of where to build a nest, it also influences how we operate outside it.  As well as walking, essential to remaining strong away from home are smiles and a friendly word.  They are a currency that multiplies with use. Each puppeteer, wigmaker and doorman we pass, Bryn greets by name and is met affectionately in return.

I remember a strange old psalm that writer Jan Morris uses as a maxim when travelling: “grin like a dog, and run about the city”. In energy and amiability, Bryn does just this.










Bryn Terfel appears as Wotan in Wagner’s Das Rheingold this autumn at The Metropolitan Opera, New York.