The Times, September 11 2015
Neil Fisher
Jonas Kaufmann, Nessun dorma, The Puccini Album
The German tenor Jonas Kaufmann has so commanding a lead in the battle for top global operatic personality that it turns out that the only singer alive who could challenge the incoming juggernaut of Kaufman’s Nessun Dorma: The Puccini Album is . . . Jonas Kaufmann.

A few weeks ago his former record label Decca cheekily put out The Age of Puccini under his name, a rehashed compilation of previously recorded titbits. Kaufmann reacted on Facebook, badly. “Please don’t let yourselves be deceived by this release,” he wrote (in three languages, for good measure). “I was not consulted . . . This was done without my knowledge and approval.”

To look at the deluxe CD edition of Nessun Dorma is to realise just what is being invested by Sony, Kaufmann’s new label, in its star signing. Calling the album after the unofficial anthem of the 1990 World Cup final — a holy moment for those tasked with selling classical to the masses — is a hint. The bonus DVD doesn’t have opera clips on it, but “music videos”. Pictures of Kaufmann show him not in his traditional concert attire but what looks like Banana Republic’s entire autumn selection of knitwear.

I’m still sceptical. Kaufmann isn’t interested in selling his personality for the masses — in a sense, he’s too good an opera singer to do that. On stage he is remarkably invested in character and text, in other words in being somebody else rather than himself. The best of Nessun Dorma — and Kaufmann’s best is peerless — shows how well he can do that even on record, assisted by the vivid playing of the Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Rome under Antonio Pappano.

The two rarities from Edgar and Le Villi, probably chosen because they fit his dark-tinged voice better than some of the plum Puccini numbers, are particularly superb: both depict men in the grip of obsessions, and Kaufmann is always great as an obsessive lover. The desperation and regret of his Dick Johnson from Fanciulla del West is also thrillingly evoked and Pappano should make a Kaufmann-led revival of the piece at Covent Garden a priority.

Yet just when you think the album is going a little one-note, Kaufmann dials it down again, in the wide-eyed optimism of Ruggero from La rondine, and even Rinuccio’s passionate credo from Gianni Schicchi — normally given to a young lyric tenor — has an impetuous swagger.
The only disappointment comes with the opening chunks from Manon Lescaut, which reunite Pappano, Kaufmann and the soprano Kristine Opolais from their London performances. As the poet Des Grieux, Kaufmann is still as charismatic as he was on stage, but the extracts don’t hang together and Opolais sounds strangely wan against Pappano’s over-dominant orchestra. Sony should have cut back on photoshoots and saved its pennies for a full and better-balanced studio recording of the complete work. (Sony Classical)

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