Bay Area Reporter
Brian Wilson
Stage magic
Kaufmann's stage magic is on clear display in a new DVD of Schubert's Fierrabras (EMI Classics). The composer's 11th, last and best opera has always had a hard time of it (it wasn't performed in Schubert's lifetime, and, despite a commission, the penurious composer was never paid for it), but this live performance from the Zurich Opera House (culled from performances in 2005 and 06), conducted by Franz Welser-Moest and featuring a generally strong cast, makes an exceptionally strong case for it musically.

Claus Guth's consummately silly production, on the other hand — which puts a pudgy Schubert look-alike on the stage throughout, and Schubert-like, wire-rimmed specs on almost all the male characters — seems set on keeping the piece in the land of trivia. You'll be happier treating it like an audio CD.

Kaufmann, in the title role, takes Guth's pulverizingly banal direction dutifully. But from his first entrance, intelligence blazing, voice pouring out in firm, luscious torrents, he's a galvanizing presence. The performance as a whole gathers energy and gains focus around him.

There isn't another tenor working today I'd rather hear sing whatever he chooses. His rise to the ranks of the truly great depends only on only one thing, over which he has no control: whether the sound of his voice lingers after the disc stops spinning or the curtain drops.

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