on 18 November 2010
Jonas Kaufmann has of late been a sensation in the operatic world. The frenzy actually got its momentum from his Grammophone Award recording of Strauss's lieder.
I have got most, if not all, of Kaufmann's DVDs and vocal albums. Like most German tenors, he started out as a 'lyrical tenor' singing Mozart and Schubert and some baroque roles. Indeed, he has been a strikingly good interpretor even in his earlier years.
His debut album for Decca was 'Romantic Arias' for tenor. That album contained mostly Italian (and a number of French) operatic arias, and he struck me as being better in the French stuff than the Italian.
Hence it is not without trepidation that I approached his recent solo release on Italian 'verismo' opera arias.
An instant relief was gained when I finished off the second track and approahced the third. Yes - the album is a consistently high-standard performance of some of the most dramatically intense operatic arias.
Kaufmann is never 'Italianate' in the same way as Corelli or del Monaco, nor Placido Domingo. However, he is nonetheless an exceptionally intelligent interpretor, and actually succeeds admirably in forming his own verismo style with a wonderful deployment of his unique timbre.
No - his is NOT the 'successor' of Placido Domingo, nor Jon Vickers, nor of any one, in fact. With his ravishingly expressive voice and wonderful characterisations, he IS a new phenomenon - the 'Kaufmann Phenomenon'.
Indeed, his performance in this album is nowhere short of being phenomenal. His former slight restrictions in Italian repertoire have become 'former' - one immediately senses a big step forward both in terms of vocal production and musical style. The arias from 'Andrea Chenier', 'Cavaliar Rusticana', 'Francesca di Rimini' and 'Adriana Lecouvreur' are familiar enough for the listeners to draw immediate comparisons with the past top interpretors. One would not need to hesitate, upon listening to Kaufmann, to warm up to the luscious singing and wonderful new interpretations.
on 19 December 2010
In the operatic world, there are now many fine lyrical tenors, almost a 'United Nations' of fine singers. However for me, Jonas Kaufmann is the greatest. I first heard him at Covent Garden in September last year in 'Don Carlo' and was immediately impressed by the voice of this man, his stage presence and his superb acting ability.
Kaufmann is a German, as was the late, great Fritz Wunderlich. Wunderlich sang the Italian repertoire too, but almost all his recorded work is sung in German, as was the fashion in the Germany of his day. Not so Jonas Kaufmann, he sings in the language in which the opera was written, be it German or French or Italian. He first CD explored the familiar Italian and French repertory followed by a second CD where he concentrated mainly on Wagner plus a little of Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven.
Now with this new disc, he is back in the Italian field, all the items from the 19th century, but this time, he mixes the familiar with some lesser known works, and avoids Puccini and Verdi altogether. For instance, there is an aria from the Leoncavallo 'La Boheme' and some lesser known pieces by Zandonai, Ponchielli and Refice. The voice is thrillingly powerful but he is perfectly capable of singing softly when necessary. Some may find the voice a little dark for this kind of singing, but I do not think it matters one bit. Try this disc, I believe that you will not regret it.
Despite my impatience to see Jonas Kaufmann move into the great Wagner roles, I realise that to rush that process could be fatal to one of the few very great voices singing today and I am delighted by his evident intention to keep his voice still light and flexible enough to sing Mozart, even at this stage of his career. While I do not find that he has the sweetness and "ping" ideal for Puccini, he is very fine in Verdi and the movement into verismo is not too great a leap. Kaufmann is now forty; his powerful, smoky voice is now presumably at its peak, and while it will never have the juicy resonance of Corelli he is a superb vocal actor who throws himself into his characterisations and utterly convinces the listener of the sincerity with which he inhabits his roles. There is a plaintive as well as a heroic quality to his singing; he has virtually eliminated the glottal, "gulping" tic - presumably injected for emotive effect - which was beginning to infect his vocal production and he now sings "straight", relying on tonal colouring and superb control of dynamics. The top B in his "Come un bel dì di maggio" is appropriately climactic; he then moves straight into a deeply affecting account of that wonderfully melancholy aria "È la solita storia", using a mesmeric half voice. It is that combination of baritonal heft and restrained delicacy which he can command that makes his voice so moving; he can scale his voice right down to express tenderness then deliver thrilling top A's and B's. It is such a pleasure to hear a singer begin so many arias with due attention to dynamics and subtlety rather than go straight for the "can belto shock and awe" attack. Thus "Dai campi" builds properly to the climactic "a meditar" and is all the better for the contrast Kaufmann engineers between it and the meditative, almost tentative, opening phrases. Similarly, "Giunto sul passo estremo" is a genuine psychological portrait; I love the way Kaufmann gives the best possible advocacy to Boito's oft-derided music which I so enjoy. He even shows his command of the fabled "messa di voce" (producing a smooth, swelling crescendo and then a diminuendo on one note) - a bel canto technique almost lost amongst modern singers.
The opening track is a surprise: a virtually unknown aria from Zandonai's "Giulietta e Romeo", a choice typical of a novel, artfully structured programme designed to provide maximum pleasure without recourse to too many old chestnuts - although I suppose no verismo recital would be complete without "Vesti la giubba", especially when it is delivered as it is here with such passion and artistry. Another novelty is an aria from Ponchielli's "I Lituani"; not especially original as music, perhaps, but a pleasure to hear. I am also delighted to see Kaufmann's inclusion of Refice's exquisite song "Ombra di nube", which was made into an immortal gramophone classic by the great Claudia Muzio in one of my favourite recordings. Kaufmann cannot erase memories of her vulnerable, otherworldly poise, but he sings that lovely music with real Innigkeit and actually adopts a "new" voice of incomparable tenderness for such a large instrument. With "Cielo e mar" we are back on more familiar Ponchielli territory, and once again Kaufmann rethinks the aria to make it a lesson in restrained, poetic power rather than the usual bombastic bawl. One gem follows another and I amazed by the judicious admixture of intelligence and passion that Kaufmann brings to all the music he sings here. The generous recital concludes with a real belter: the final duet from "Andrea Chénier", when the lovers declare their undying devotion as they are trundled off to the guillotine. Kaufmann and guest soprano Eva-Marie Westbroek cannot rival Corelli and Stella, or Gigli and Caniglia for that matter, for sheer animal abandon, but it's still a thrilling ride.
Pappano's accompaniments are simply superb: great, throbbing waves of sound from the reinvigorated Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
There are still, perhaps, individual performances of certain arias which I favour over Kaufmann's interpretations here but as a recital disc taken as a whole, it is hard to think of another superior in vocal brilliance, interpretative depth and mature artistry. Kaufmann's voice is virtually - and uncannily at times - indistinguishable from Vickers', who was also criticised for lacking Italianità but still carried the day by dint of conviction and sheer force of personality. But I also think that stylistically Kaufmann is just right for this music even if the vocal make-up lacks that Italianate squillo. He just gets better and better.
P.S. Contrary to the official Amazon product description, there is no excerpt from "Le Villi" here - in fact there is no Puccini at all.
on 9 February 2011
Having seen Jonas in Bizet's Carmen [stunning!] I purchased this CD. I haven't stopped playing it since I got it. If you want reviews that talk about the technicality of his voice and his ability to sing various composers, my review won't tell you that but if you want to listen to an amazing voice that truly shows the emotion of the words he is singing and that give you goosebumps, buy this album. Can't wait until he brings out some more!
on 12 December 2011
Every once in a while the recording career of a singer of classical music attains the status of a superstar. At this point `overnight stardom' is usually proclaimed, belying the long years of slog and grind that lie behind the public glare of mass adulation. Some years ago, the popularity stakes of American soprano Renée Fleming, then in her mid `40s, seemed to be reaching their zenith, as the world embraced its quintessential diva, whose glamorous looks and marvellous vocal estate left little to be desired. Inevitably today, while Fleming's flame continues to illuminate her unique artistry, the pace of her international recording commitments seems to be easing in favour of a clutch of singers a decade or so younger, among them the Russian diva Anna Netrebko and Deutschland's Divo Tenor, Jonas Kaufmann. In a parallel situation to the Decca album of Verismo items Fleming launched two years ago, Kaufmann's latest recital for the same label is devoted to late 19th and early 20th century Italian Verismo arias. This has recently been accorded the prestigious Gramophone Prize for best recital of the year.
As did Fleming, Kaufmann artfully mixes lesser known arias and scenes with well-tried war horses. Following the current bent of putting together tributes to icons of previous generations, Kaufmann's programme, conducted by Antonio Pappano, might legitimately have been subtitled `A Homage to Caruso'. Its roster draws on pieces that were among the famed Italian tenor's 290 commercially released recordings issued between 1902 and 1920. Alongside chestnuts such as `Cielo e mar!' from Ponchielli's La Gioconda, `Mamma! Mamma, quel vino e generoso' from Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, `Vesti la giuba' from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, `Amor di vieta' from Giordano's Fedora, `Dai campi, dai prati' from Boito's Mefistofele, and the ubiquitous but ever haunting `E la storia del pastore' (otherwise known as `Federico's Lament') from Cilea's L'Arlesiana, there are extracts, among others, from Leoncavallo's (not Puccini's) la Boheme (a Caruso speciality), and the once famous aria `Ombra di nube' by Rifice. Interesting programming aside, what puts Kaufmann's singing way above the norm, is the fact that he is not afraid to sing softly with exquisite effect, while there is always plenty of power on tap if needed.
The latter phenomenon thrilled cinema audiences during last season's Met HD broadcast of Die Walküre when the tenor, as Siegmund, unleashed the full frontal force of his huge instrument, overriding Wagner's superhuman sonic tidalwaves with apparent ease. Another aspect of Kaufmann's arsenal of strengths that sets him aside from other tenors of this or virtually any other age (besides the indefatigable Domingo, perhaps) is his astonishing versatility. This enables the singer to morph convincingly into any vocal fach he chooses to embrace. Kaufmann's burgeoning discography of CD's and DVD's over the past decade defies pigeon-holing. Alongside his bench-mark renderings of Wagner's Lohengrin, Beethoven's Florestan in Fidelio, Puccini's Cavaradossi in Tosca and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, and Massenet's Werther, for instance, are a gloriously sung Huon in Sir John Eliot Gardiner's recording of Weber's Oberon, and a fearlessly realised title role in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. The latter two parts' formidable coloratura passages are despatched with all the bravura of a true virtuoso. To sample the magic of this unrivalled star and marvel at the sheer beauty of his burnished tenor, tinged with a dark-hued baritonal timbre, invest in some of his recordings, starting with the disc touched here, as well as his two earlier Decca recitals, the one a cross section of famous tenor highlights entitled Romantic Arias, the other simply called Jonas Kaufmann, essaying German arias by Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and Wagner.
- William Charlton-Perkins, Durban, South Africa, December 2011
on 14 February 2015
I have come to this CD a long time after it was issued and I regret this. It is a concentration of emotion, power, anguish, anger..and is one of the finest recordings that Jonas Kaufmann has made. Ombra di nube was new to me. It's one of those few pieces of music that hits you right in the heart and stuns you on first hearing, which is not diminished by repeat hearing. He sings this with a gentleness and sadness, until he attempts to disperse the darkness 'non mi offuscare....'
I didn't know the I Lituani, but oh what an aria! The sob and anguish in the closing lines have made me want to know more about this opera.
I don't know if I am imagining this, but in Romeo's discovery of Giulietta there seems to be a slight echo as if being sung in a tomb. (Try listening to this on headphones). This gives the aria an ethereal quality which is powerful. Hearing the anguished calling of Giulietta is soul piercing making one feel as if intruding on private grief.
Oh the anger and despair of Canio's aria, and the anguish of 'Mamma, quell vino'..
At the end of this CD I was shredded so goodness knows how the artists must have felt. And throughout this CD I am aware of the pure musicianship of Antonio Pappano and how he wraps the music lovingly around his singer. There is not a single track not to love.
This is a fabulous CD.
on 11 December 2011
More Italian than the Italians, intelligent, sturdy and brillisnt singing, even in obscure arias! A treat!
A briliant linguist too. We saw him last night in a relay of Gounod's FAUST from the MET, he sings French just as well! In the furure what an Otello, Tristan, Siegfried he will make! Tye present achievement is a proof of that!
on 2 April 2013
What can I say that hasn't already been said about this wonderful voice ?I think that a good tenor is my favourite sound and there is that in abundance here .A magnificent change from some of the strangled tenors who come upon the scene from time to time .
on 19 February 2012
Jonas Kaufmann's voice is both beautiful and refined, and I regard him as a top-ranking tenor of today. Another attraction of the recording is the inclusion of so many little-heard arias, a refreshing change from 'the usual'.
on 7 November 2014
Who wouldn't love any new recording with wonderful Jonas Kaufmann. However, the choice of some of the songs is a bit "boring" .. but only a bit, listening to his beautiful voice is what is most important here.