The great-nephew of one of Wales’s greatest singers is to sing with alongside operatic great Bryn Terfel at this summer’s Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod.
Thirty years ago Terfel was inspired and helped by the legendary Sir Geraint Evans and now Berwyn Pearce, 26, (pictured right) is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his great-uncle, Sir Geraint Evans and carve out a musical career.
His big break comes this July after being called in as a late replacement for one of the starring roles in Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the curtain-raiser to this year’s Eisteddfod in Llangollen on Monday, July 7.
Bryn Terfel heads a star-studded cast which also includes Carmarthen tenor Wynne Evans, Gio Compario of the Go Compare TV ads, and top soprano Shan Cothi.
And taking the role of the young sailor, Anthony Hope, who falls in love with Todd’s daughter, Johanna, is Berwyn, a Welsh-speaker from Cilfynydd, near Pontypridd, home village of Sir Geraint, a miner’s son who died in 1992.
He was a star of the Royal Opera House and, like Bryn Terfel (pictured left), a bass-baritone who performed in the great opera houses of the world in roles such as Falstaff and Figaro.
Bryn Terfel, who sang at Sir Geraint’s memorial service, said: “He was an inspiration to young Welsh singers like me and he helped me when I first started out. It’s fantastic that I may now also be able to help Berwyn along the way as well and I’m really looking forward to it.”
It had looked a case of so near and yet so far for Berwym, a teacher at Cwmderwen Primary School, in Blackwood, in Gwent, who had been short-listed for the role of Anthony at auditions in Cardiff.
He reached the final auditions, attended by Bryn himself, but just missed out to another young tenor, Tom Hier, from Merthyr, who has had to drop out because of final year college commitments at the Guildford School of Acting.
Now he’s got his chance and he’s thrilled at the prospect: “I’m over the moon,” he said: “I’ve come off the bench and got my chance.
“I got down to the last two and didn’t get the part and that was worse than getting turned down in the first round but then I was told that the part was mine because Tom couldn’t make the main rehearsals.
“My family are absolutely thrilled, especially my mum (Jane Pearce) who is the daughter of Sir Geraint’s sister. She’s like all mums, she takes things harder than I do and she’s more excited when things go well.”
Berwyn, a graduate of the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, remembers visiting his famous great-uncle at his holiday home in Aberaeron before his death in 1992.
He said: “I remember him as an elderly man when we went to visit but I was very close to my Auntie Brenda, Uncle Geraint’s widow, and his family.
“I’m so chuffed for them really and one of the first people we rang was Uncle Huw, Geraint’s son and I’m hoping he’ll be coming to see me in the performance.
“The school where I teach have been great too. They’ve been checking on my progress and they’re delighted I’ve got this chance.
“It’s a brilliant opportunity. I played the part in college and I’d always wanted the chance to do it again because it’s one of the best musicals there is so it’s huge for me.”
He will be playing alongside Lauren Morris, from Solihull, as the star-crossed young lovers and he added: “She’s a lovely girl and it will be great to sing with her.
“That’s one of the great things about this business. You get to meet and work with so many different and talented people.
“It will be incredible to perform with Bryn Terfel, especially because of who my great-uncle was, but that won’t count for anything in the performance.”
Terfel himself chose the three young unknowns – 14-year-old Dewi Wykes, from Llangynhafal, near Ruthin, a pupil of Ysgol Brynhyfryd, will play urchin Tobias Ragg – for Sondheim’s acclaimed show which was first performed in 1979.
They were whittled down from over 80 hopefuls who took part in auditions at the Wales Millennium Centre, in Cardiff, and the Royal International Pavilion, in Llangollen
Terfel said: “It was a wonderful standard, the standard one would expect for Llangollen, and to have Sir Geraint’s great nephew there is a real bonus.
“It’s a one-off performance and I can’t wait. It will be a special day in Llangollen when we perform Sweeney.”
Alongside Bryn making the decision was Eisteddfod Musical Director Eilir Owen Griffiths who said: “Tom was obviously desperately disappointed but the main rehearsal coincided with his graduation production at the end of a three year course.
“But these things happen and it means a wonderful opportunity for Berwyn and that’s just the magic of the business where an understudy can step in and take the first steps to stardom.
“That’s one of our roles at the Eisteddfod, to provide chances for young talent to flourish and there can be no bigger opportunity than to sing alongside a legend like Bryn Terfel.
“It was so close between Tom and Berwyn for the part. Berwyn is a class act and a strong, strong contender who will bring a special performance to the role – he is a good looking young man with a real presence.”
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Sondheim is set in 19th century London and tells the story of the crazed barber who murders his clients and supplies the bodies to his accomplice, piemaker Mrs Lovett.
Sondheim’s multi-award winning classic was first performed on Broadway in 1979 and has since been a regular production across the world and on the big screen in 2007 when superstar Johnny Depp played Todd and Helena Bonham Carter was Mrs Lovett.
Bryn Terfel, who took the role in 2002 in Chicago, is fresh from a performance of it by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at the Lincoln Center in New York in March when Oscar-winner Emma Thompson played Mrs Lovett.
He said: “That was a fair crack of the whip with lots of blood, playing this man driven by revenge.
“It was very impressive to have Stephen Sondheim there and telling you what he thought of the performance. It’s his favourite work and has been performed all over the world and made into a Hollywood blockbuster.
“It will be special doing it in Llangollen with Gareth Jones there conducting the Sinfonia Cymru and I can’t wait.”
It will be the first time he has performed on the International Eisteddfod stage since he opened the 2006 festival, his first appearance at Llangollen in a decade.
Sweeney Todd will be the curtain raiser to six tremendous days at Llangollen which begin on Tuesday, July 8, with this year’s concerts featuring Dutch jazz diva Caro Emerald, American tenor star Noah Stewart, a new work by composer Karl Jenkins, the Cape Town Opera, the Choir of the World competition on Saturday night and legendary British rockers Status Quo closing the event on Sunday night.
To book tickets and for more information on the 2014 festival go to the website at www.international-eisteddfod.