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Bryn Terfel and Patrick Stewart reflect on crossovers and emotion in music and theatre

This morning I walked into the kitchen, and heard Libby Purves conduct an interview with Klaus Kruse, Bryn Terfel, Sir Patrick Stewart and Becky Unthank on BBC 4.

Libby must be one of the most empathetic interviewers ever, and she's also deeply and gracefully informed.

I can't say much about Kruse's Cart Macabre, staged in The Old Vic Tunnels, and I could not stay to hear the interview with Northumbrian folk singer and clog dancer Becky Unthank, one of the Unthank Sisters, but I was fascinated by what Bryn Terfel and Patrick Stewart had to say.

Stewart humorously noted that his years playing Shakespearean monarchs and sitting on thrones in tights was good preparation for playing Captain Jean-Luc Picard, in a space suit without pockets, on the Enterprise. He didn't seek the role. He was assisting a professor at UCLA in a Shakespeare seminar when a producer spotted him.

Stewart thought there was a certain noble tragedy to the series, and the language suggested Shakespeare. It seems more evocative of Tennyson to me - to go where no one has gone before, etc.


Most serious theatre people thought Stewart was slumming in space, and he was terrified he wouldn't have a career when he left the deck of the spaceship, but he has. So there is one crossover.

Stewart has been playing Macbeth on stage. His performance will appear on television this Sunday. Libby found the production horrifying and unnerving. Stewart talked about expressing anger on stage, and how emotionally difficult it was for him because it returned him to the thrall of his father. He was afraid that he would be overcome by hatred. With self-command and technique he has won past these fears.

Recently Bryn Terfel has been touring the world singing Das Rheingold, Der Meistersinger and Tosca. His roles in these operas are demanding emotionally and musically.


Raising claims he is "slumming" in the snow, Bryn has just released Carols and Christmas Songs

I can't say I really like Bryn's duet with Bing Crosby in White Christmas. Bing's voice seems overpowered by his. But I do love his version of In the Bleak Midwinter and the Welsh carol which Libby played.

Terfel, who has missed the births of two of his children because he was performing, and many other wonderful father-son occasions - for instance, glorious football goals - has been stung by accusations that he has ducked out of musical engagements. When travelling away from home, he says, "I take solace in a good story and a good meal and a good bottle of wine". He is also known to play golf.

More interesting, he refused to say he was an actor as well as a singer. "I cannot say I am an actor." Many who have seen him on stage might disagree, and the disagreement might stem from two different views of what acting is. Terfel believes he finds 'emotion and movement' within the music, and simply expresses that. Well, simply means years of unswerving dedication to technique.

The interview is worth listening to.

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