Opera News, December 2014
Jonas Kaufmann: “You Mean the World to Me”
Germany was a great mine for musicals during the early-talkie era, when a spirit of insouciance and experimentation dominated. An army of fine songwriters — many of them Jewish — was recruited from theaters, cabarets and operetta stages to provide scores for newly-minted film-musical stars such as Lillian Harvey, Willy Fritsch, Joseph Schmidt, Jan Kiepura and Marta Eggerth.

Jonas Kaufmann pays loving tribute to those days, as well as to the heady twilight of the operetta era, in this delightful CD of songs written between the wars for stage and screen by Franz Lehár, Mischa Spoliansky, Robert Stoltz, Ralph Benatzky and others. A labor of love on all fronts, it features some numbers in their original orchestrations and, when none could be found, new ones created in relatively faithful period style by Andreas N. Tarkmann. The Rundfunk-Sinfonie­orchester Berlin was brought in to back up Kaufmann, stretching or reducing the number of its players according to the specifics of each song. Their love of performing this music shows in their spirited playing and the idiomatic conducting of Jochen Rieder. After all, what’s notto love? These are irresistible tunes, delivered by Kaufmann with warmth and panache.

Most selections are sung in the original German, although a few of the most popular are in English; Lehár’s “Girls Were Made to Love and Kiss”and “You Are My Heart’s Delight”and Benatzky’s tango “It Would Be Wonderful Indeed” are among them. At the end of the disc, as an encore, Kaufmann sings “You Are My Heart’s Delight” in French, as “Je t’ai donné mon coeur.”

It’s a pleasure hearing Kaufmann render many of these love songs in a gentle croon, crescendoing to a fuller sound only for emphasis. He shows this to full advantage in Lehár’s sweet “My Little Nest of Heavenly Blue,” from Frasquita,here sung in an English translation by 1930s radio musicologist Sigmund Spaeth.

The title song of this CD was written by the great tenor operetta star Richard Tauber. It came from Tauber’s operetta Der Singende Traum, and it is a gem, with a lovely, gentle melody that is enhanced by the sweetness of Kaufmann’s delivery. “Das Lied vom Leben des Schrenk,” from Eduard Künneke’s Die Grosse Sünderin,allows Kaufmann to pull out all the operatic stops in a swashbuckling aria originally written for Helge Rosvaenge.

Kaufmann is joined by soprano Julia Kleiter for three duets, the most charming of which is “Diwanpuppchen,” from Paul Abraham’s Blume von Hawaii. He is clearly enjoying himself here, cutting loose with “Doo doo doo” nonsense syllables in this sprightly syncopated foxtrot.

The best track on the album is Emmerich Kálmán’s haunting “Grüss mir mein Wien,” from Gräfin Mariza, a nostalgic, waltz-time love song to Vienna and its charms. Written in 1924, it expressed a longing for a Vienna that had simply ceased to exist after World War I. Kálmán, of course, was unaware of the devastation that was still to come. Today, the song stands as the farewell to an entire era, and Kaufmann sings it with great affection and real tenderness. Kaufmann has said he wants to record more of this kind of music. Let’s hope he does, and soon.

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