reviews have garnished Jonas Kaufmann’s career the last few
years. Listening to his first recital disc, due for release
on 14 January 2008, the day of his first Alfredo at Covent Garden,
it is easy to see why. With film-star looks to match he seems
predestined for great things. He has the classy Prague Philharmonic
backing him, conducted by one of the more sought after Italian
opera conductors of the younger generation. The sound is out
of Decca’s top drawer, so the prerequisites are the best possible.
The repertoire is a baker’s dozen of the most well-known arias,
presented in an order without any discernible logic – presumably
to be as varied as possible and showcase his versatility. The
only aria that may not be familiar to everyone is Invocation
à la nature from La Damnation de Faust. The promotional
material – I haven’t seen the finished product – speaks a lot
of his excellence as a Mozart singer, but this composer “has
been left for another day” – a day to look forward to. Let’s
start listening without too many preconceptions and see what
are his fortes and whether there are any drawbacks.
old warhorse Che gelida manina from La Bohème
reveals an expansive and rather robust voice with a certain
vibrancy. It is thrilling and on overdrive he almost brings
the house down, but he is definitely no can belto singer:
on the contrary what at once strikes the listener is his natural
feeling for the musical phrase, the ebb and flow of the music,
and his ability to convey the text. The famous high C poses
no problems; it is powerful and penetrating but not in the least
vulgar. It is followed by a delicious scaling down to a honeyed
pianissimo end. An impressive calling card!
Flower Song is tender but with an under-lying intensity, reminiscent
of Jon Vickers – a superb Don José, 35–40 years ago. Kaufmann
seems to be that rare thing: a fully fledged spinto tenor with
all the qualities of a lyric singer. His phrasing is exemplary
and the soft end of the aria is sung to perfection with a slight
crescendo on the final note, followed by a decrescendo.
sings the Martha aria in the original German: soft and
nuanced like Tauber but with quite a different sheen and ring
to the top notes. In E lucevan le stelle the despair
and resignation is well depicted and he sings the aria from
Don Carlo with the intensity of Domingo – who actually
was one of his early inspirations. More accurately perhaps it
is, Giuseppe Giacomini, whom he resembles in his way of sometimes
squeezing the tone. It isn’t pinched as it can be with some
singers and it isn’t exactly disturbing – just a characteristic
aria from Der Freischütz is a testing piece, requiring
both lyrical and dramatic qualities. Kaufmann has both in abundance
and is truly impressive in the stormy end section. Here he surpasses
René Kollo and even outshines Wolfgang Windgassen, who has long
been a favourite here. Of Alfredo’s scene – the one that opens
act two of La traviata - we get not only the recitative
and aria but also the short dialogue with Annina, leading over
to the cabaletta, which is sung with élan. His honeyed delivery
of the recitative and the youthfully glowing aria draws a fine
portrait of the infatuated Alfredo.
seems that he is especially attuned to the French repertoire.
The Flower Song, as mentioned, is so sensitive. Even more so
he impresses in Manon with soft, beautiful phrasing,
fine legato and impassioned but controlled exposure of the character’s
feelings. It is all very alive, very involving. So is the Faust
aria – as a matter of fact I can’t remember when I heard it
presented with such delicious and inward qualities. And he takes
the high C pianissimo!
Prize Song from Meistersinger is perhaps too restrained.
It is after all a show-piece, a public address but there is
no lack of bravura in the final bars.
French repertoire concludes this highly enjoyable recital. There
he sings beautifully in the Berlioz aria. His Werther is sensitive
but also thrillingly powerful at the climaxes, reminding us
that the first Werther, Ernst van Dyck, was a noted Wagner singer.
has been a plethora of fine new tenors making their marks during
this first decade of the new millennium. Judging from this debut
recital Jonas Kaufmann is well equipped to be among the leaders
– and stay there.