Sinfini Music, 21 September 2015
Norman Lebrecht
Album of the Week Jonas Kaufmann
The finest German lyric tenor of his generation struggles to find the vocal power to seduce, says Norman Lebrecht, who finds him just a bit too nice for Puccini's caddish heroes.

Reviewing Jonas Kaufmann is rather like presenting the weather forecast. Nothing you say will make a blind bit of difference. The Jonas devotees will go out anyway to buy it and the sceptics will stay home. All a reviewer can do is tell it how it is, and try to save a few innocents from getting soaked.

You may have already formed an opinion on the title track when watching the Last Night of the Proms. The Turandot aria is, by some margin, the least impressive on the album. 'Nessun Dorma' needs a tenor of limitless power. Italian singers, from Caruso to Pavarotti, carried an implicit threat to burst your eardrums. Kaufmann, even boosted on record, merely nibbles the earlobes. He is a wonderfully cultivated artist, pitch and syllable perfect and refined to a fault, but the force – when needed – is not with him. On record, as on stage, one can never believe he will inflict serious damage.

That deficiency haunts this recording. Puccini’s tenors are mostly rotters who walk out on their ladies and shed tears when they die. Nothing in Kaufmann’s voice, even with the trickery of a mixing deck, suggests he’s bad enough to do that. Just too nice, that’s his problem.

Of the tracks he sings from 11 different operas, two exchanges from Manon Lescaut with Kristine Opolais and Antonio Pirozzi are standouts for dramatic impact. But a gripping orchestra and chorus prelude from Le Villi dissipates the moment the tenor chimes in. The colour in ‘O soave fanciulla’ from La bohème is off, and Opolais struggles to find a matching shade of tone. Kaufmann, under pressure, delivers pale blue.

The opening Tosca aria, with its churchy echoes, is the most idiomatic of the pack, along with a vivacious monologue from Gianni Schicchi. The orchestra of Santa Cecilia contribute lovely solos and some smudgy ensembles; Antonio Pappano conducts. The balance of voice and orchestra shifts unnervingly from one track to the next.

Kaufmann contributes a booklet article whose title, ‘My Puccini’, conveys all that is wrong with this project. He is not a natural Puccini tenor, any more than he is the next Peter Grimes. Jonas Kaufmann is the finest German lyric tenor of his generation, as immaculate in Verdi as the irreplaceable Fritz Wunderlich (with whom he shares little else) and quite overwhelming in Wagner. It will be fascinating to see where he goes next. Meanwhile, I’d take an umbrella.

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