Welsh opera star Bryn Terfel is one of the artists performing at the Coronation of King Charles. But who is he, and what is he best known for?


Who is Bryn Terfel?

Bryn Terfel is an operatic superstar - unquestionably the most famous living Welsh operatic bass-baritone and one of the most famous Welsh singers ever.

Towards the start of his singing career, Terfel was most often heard singing Mozart roles - especially those of Figaro and Don Giovanni.

As his career has progressed, though, Bryn Terfel has moved onto heavier roles, in particular those from the operas of Puccini and Wagner. His vocal heft has made him a particularly good fit for beefy Wagnerian roles such as Wotan, as well as one of opera's greatest baddies: Scarpia from Tosca.

And he has embraced a good deal of non-classical music too, not least Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, in which he and Emma Thompson made a devilish double-act as the killer barber and his pie-baking accomplice.

How old is Bryn Terfel?

Bryn Terfel was born on 9 November 1965 in Caernarfonshire, the son of a farmer. His first language is Welsh. He was taught how to sing by a family friend, beginning with traditional Welsh songs.

Where did he study?

After moving to London aged 19, Bryn Terfel studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, winning both the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Prize and the Gold Medal upon graduation.

In 1989 he came second in the Cardiff Singer of the Year award, behind Dmitri Hvorostovsky in a close competition which would become known as the 'Battle of the Baritones'.

What was his first operatic role?

In 1990 Bryn Terfel made his operatic debut as Guglielmo in Mozart's Così fan tutte for Welsh National Opera.

When was his big break?

Bryn Terfel's big international breakthrough came in 1992, when he sang Jochanaan in Richard Strauss's Salome at the Salzburg Festival.

The year 1992 was a big one for Terfel. He also made his Royal Opera House debut that year, playing the role of Masetto in Don Giovanni. That same year, Terfel took his first bow at the Salzburg Easter Festival, singing the role of the Spirit Messenger in Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten ('The Woman without a Shadow'). He also made his Vienna State Opera debut that year, singing Figaro, and his US concert debut singing in Mahler's Eighth Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under James Levine.

Other prestigious roles soon followed and he went onto work with some of the most famous opera companies in the world and performed at some of the most famous opera houses, including Milan's La Scala.

Is Bryn Terfel married?

Terfel has been married twice. His first marriage was to his childhood sweetheart, Lesley. The couple were together from 1987 until 2013 and have three sons.

More recently, in 2019, Terfel married harpist Hannah Stone at Caersalem Newydd Baptist Church in Hannah's home city of Swansea.

Does Bryn Terfel have any children?

He has three sons from his first marriage, and a daughter with Hannah.

What are Bryn Terfel's best recordings?

Bryn Terfel has recorded plenty of wonderful stuff from the operatic world. Try these for starters:

Mozart: Opera Arias

Bryn Terfel / English Baroque Soloists / John Eliot Gardiner
Deutsche Grammophon

Wagner: Orchestral Music; Arias

Bryn Terfel / Swedish Radio Chorus / Berlin Philharmonic / Claudio Abbado
Deutsche Grammophon

For a general introduction to Bryn's art, try this excellent two-CD primer, featuring beautiful renditions of a mix of opera standards and popular songs such as 'Amazing Grace':

The Art of Bryn Terfel

Deutsche Grammophon

And, especially for all our Welsh readers, try this introduction to some of Wales's finest folk songs, including 'Men of Harlech' and 'Land of My Fathers':

We'll Keep a Welcome


Orchestra of Welsh National Opera / Gareth Jones
Deutsche Grammophon