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Bryn Terfel's commanding voice is universally acclaimed as one of our era's greatest - and 80,000 Utahns heard it live in December 2003, when Terfel gave a string of Yuletide performances with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City's LDS Conference Center.

The towering bass-baritone returned this week to perform Mendelssohn's oratorio "Elijah" - again with the Tabernacle Choir, but this time in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. While in town, Terfel made time to talk about the loves of his life - family, good music of many types and his Welsh homeland.

Easygoing, open and casual, Terfel's presence dashes any preconceived notions about flighty, egotistical opera singers. The 41-year-old comes across as a gregarious, overgrown farm boy, and with good reason. He was brought up on a sheep and cattle farm in craggy north Wales.

"It's a good thing my father owned border collies," he said with a laugh, "or it would have been my brother and me chasing the sheep up and down 2,000 feet of mountain."

Terfel lives near his birthplace with his wife and three sons, and guards his family time jealously. It was the values of his working-class upbringing that made singing come so naturally, he said.

"The people didn't go in for television or radio. They joined choirs," he said. "Music is in every home, and the Welsh language lends itself to singing."

During his youth, Terfel sang folk and popular songs and church hymns, winning his share of singing contests so prevalent in Welsh towns. After high-school graduation, he auditioned for London's Guildhall School of music, his first trip outside Wales. Although Terfel had little experience with opera, his raw talent was evident.

Opening doors: Since his 1990 opera debut, Terfel has made his way through most of the great roles suitable for his voice. He has several favorites. Figaro was the "calling card" that opened doors early in his career. Wotan, Wagner's fallible god, is his recent obsession - and the vehicle for his career-enhancing climb up "the Everest of 'the Ring.' "

His all-time favorite opera role is Falstaff, Verdi's tragicomic take on Shakespeare's over-the-hill knight. Despite the discomforts of wearing a fat suit, wig and mustache, Terfel loves the world-weary Falstaff and the operatic world that surrounds him.

"It's like a Flemish painting," Terfel said. "Everyone in it has a life. . . . It's pure joy."

The oratorio role of Elijah, which brought Terfel to Utah, is also special to him, and he has performed it many times. In 1997, The New York Times gave a glowing appraisal of Terfel's Elijah that communicates the singer's magnetic stage presence:

"The strapping Mr. Terfel, familiar in lighthearted roles at the Metropolitan Opera, threw himself into this grueling part with a vividly uninhibited yet keenly modulated theatrical sensibility. Showing fierce passion and vocal power, he seemed every inch the tormented and bullying prophet of the work's biblical text."

Terfel has never limited himself to classical and operatic music, though. He has cleared his 2008 schedule of operatic performances, in fact. He's tired of being away from home for the 12-week stretches required to rehearse and perform an opera, and wants to consider options for the next stage of his career.

Terfel is married to his childhood sweetheart. He said their sons, ages 12, 8 and 6, enjoy music but love rugby more. Most important, "they like to have their father at home," he said.

He likes being at home in Wales, too, and tries to give back to the nation that helped form his character and foster his talent. Eight years ago, he started an August festival that is now fulfilling his hope of drawing the great names of the music world to north Wales.

"It's an eclectic mix of music," he said, "from Van Morrison to José Carreras."

Terfel's recordings are similarly not exclusive to opera. His recordings of great operatic roles are destined to become musical landmarks of our time. Still, his discs of time-tested folk music and show tunes also are wildly popular.

Perhaps that is because when Terfel sings "Get Me to the Church on Time," there is no sense that an opera star has gone slumming in the London streets. Terfel sounds like a golden-voiced regular bloke out for a night of fun with his mates.

Songs of the Celtics: Proud of his Celtic heritage, Terfel is looking forward to his next recording project - a collection of songs that will trace the Celtic migration from northern Spain to the Breton coast of France to Cornwall, then Wales and Ireland.

"You know what an Irishman is, don't you?" he asks, then answers with a twinkle: "A Welshman that could swim."

Terfel is considering what comes after his 2008 sabbatical from opera. He has sung the list of roles he set out to conquer, but has one last, great hankering.

"I'm waiting for an opera to be created on my voice," Terfel said. And he knows just which character he hopes to portray:

"Citizen Kane," said Terfel. If the rights can be obtained from the Orson Welles estate, Terfel believes the iconic film could be a great opera - and that Charles Foster Kane could be an ideal role for him.

"He's an industrialist; he's married to a soprano; and there's that great 'mad scene' at the end with Rosebud."

Terfel hopes American music-drama composer Stephen Sondheim can be enlisted for the project. The two musicians met when Terfel portrayed the murderous barber in Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" at Chicago Lyric Opera.

Sondheim hasn't been asked yet, but Terfel plans to broach the question this July when he performs a concert version of "Sweeney Todd" to celebrate the reopening of London's newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall.

Terfel also plans to continue the relationship he has formed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He yearns to sing "Elijah" with the Tabernacle Choir in England, the nation where it was commissioned and first performed.

"Like [playwright and wit] Oscar Wilde, I'm easily pleased," Terfel said. "Only the best will do. And this is the best choir you will ever hear in the world."

Coming from a Welshman, that's high praise, indeed.

Get in line

* WELSH BARITONE BRYN TERFEL joins the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for its weekly broadcast "Music and the Spoken Word" today at 9:30 a.m. at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square. Free tickets are gone, but some standby seating may be available. Those desiring standby seats should line up before 9:15 a.m. near the Temple Square flagpole.

* THE BROADCAST IS CARRIED on KSL Channel 5 and KSL 1160 AM.