Sunday, 26 May 2013

Bryn Terfel as the Flying Dutchman

My watercolour of Bryn Terfel as The Flying Dutchman.

When Bryn Terfel was performing The Flying Dutchman in La Scala in Milan, I flew down from Amsterdam to chat about an exciting new commission for the Birmingham Symphony Hall Collection – a painting of Bryn! We quickly agreed that a watercolour of him in performance would be a more creative approach than just a conventional portrait. The leading role of the Dutchman in Wagner’s opera Der Fliegende Holländer had already become another of Bryn Terfel’s acclaimed interpretations, so the choice was obvious.

This painting is inspired by fragments of the Dutchman’s role that Bryn sang to me in our portrait “sitting” (actually standing) in a Milan apartment. He chose parts of the famous monologue “Die Frist ist um” (“The term is up…once more”) when the Dutch captain is pleading with the angel in heaven and wrestling with his fate. The mariner is condemned to roam the seas, allowed to go ashore after every seven years. But if he can find someone who will be faithful to him unto death, he will be released from his curse. Since then, I’ve been playing this opera continuously in my studio (and every other recording Bryn has made!). My paintings are always driven by the music and I delved deep into the intense emotions of the plot, from depression to disappointment, ecstasy and tragedy. It gets quite exhausting!

Rejecting idiosyncratic images from various opera productions, I put together my own impressions of Bryn as the Dutchman, with a seaman’s hands, tanned complexion, long hair and leather long-coat and with a somewhat ambiguous expression, somewhere between desperation and a glimpse of hope. The background and brushwork suggest not only the stormy atmosphere, but the emotional drama of the surging music. Bryn’s phenomenally expressive voice and his dramatic stage presence made the creation of this painting a very intense experience.  

Here are some of Bryn's own comments about the painting: "Just opened the painting on my laptop and I love it. You soooo got the character, my ear, my eyes and what's impressive I think is the hands. What is also really great is that I see my dad in this painting. Really uncanny. I think it will look fabulous next to Dame K and JosĂ©!! Many thanks, man. Bryn".

I share some Celtic roots with Bryn (my mother used to sing to us in Welsh) and I’ve wanted to paint him for years. I’m so thrilled that my watercolour (84 x 56cm) of this great bass-baritone, to be unveiled on June 7th, will now have a rightful place in this unique collection. Commissioned by Jayne Cadbury and funded by The George Cadbury Trust, this commission brings the Symphony Hall Collection to a total of twenty-eight of my paintings of great musicians who have performed there.


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