Born into a Welsh farming family, Terfel possessed an interest in music from an early age, singing in chapel and winning several competitions. He entered the Guildhall School of Music in London in 1984, studying with Arthur Reckless and Rudolf Piernay, won the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Award in 1988 and graduated with the Guildhall’s Gold Medal in 1989. In the same year, he won the Lieder Prize in the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, coming second in the main competition to Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Terfel made his operatic stage debut as Guglielmo / Così fan tutte with Welsh National Opera (WNO) in 1990, followed by Figaro / Le nozze di Figaro, which he went on to sing with the English National Opera in 1991.
In that year also his international career began: with the Speaker / Die Zauberflöte at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels and the Mozart Figaro with the Santa Fe Opera. He made his debut at the Royal Opera House, London as Masetto / Don Giovanni in 1992 and the same year sang the Spirit Messenger / Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Salzburg Easter Festival, followed by Jochanaan / Salome at the Salzburg Festival, Figaro at the Vienna State Opera and Ford / Falstaff with the WNO; in addition he signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. He first appeared in Paris in 1993 at the Théâtre du Châtelet as Figaro, followed by debuts in the same role during 1994 at the Metropolitan Opera, New York and Teatro São Carlo, Lisbon.
Despite surgery for back problems Terfel continued to develop his repertoire, during 1996 singing Wolfram / Tannhäuser at the Met and Nick Shadow / The Rake’s Progress with WNO. He made his debut at La Scala, Milan in 1997 as Figaro and sang the title role in Don Giovanni for the first time on-stage in Paris in 1999, followed by his debut in the title role of Falstaff with the Chicago Lyric Opera and Royal Opera Company, London.
With the dawn of the new millennium Terfel, having scored considerable success with CDs of show songs by Lerner and Loewe and Rodgers and Hammerstein, branched out into stadium concerts, reflecting his broad recording repertoire. During 2007 he took part in the opening gala concert for the rededication of the Salt Lake City Tabernacle and sang the title role in a series of performances of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd at the Royal Festival Hall, London.
In 2005 Terfel added Captain Balstrode / Peter Grimes to his repertoire and although appearances as Wotan / Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Royal Opera House in 2007 were plagued by cancellations, he swiftly returned to form to give powerful interpretations of Scarpia / Tosca and the title role in Der fliegende Holländer at Covent Garden during 2009. His standing in central roles such as these was confirmed by his interpretations of Sachs / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with WNO in 2010 and of Wotan in the Met’s major new staging of Der Ring by Robert Lepage from the 2010–2011 season onwards. He also continued his survey of the male roles in Don Giovanni, opening the 2011–2012 season at La Scala as Leporello.
Terfel has received many awards: he was made a Commander of the British Empire in 2003 and was awarded the Queen’s Medal for Music in 2006. He possesses a strong bass-baritone voice, making him a significant figure internationally in his chosen repertoire; and while physically imposing, he shows subtlety and sensitivity in song.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).