The Bay Area Reporter, 8 October 2015
by Tim Pfaff
Spectacular operatic voices on disc (The Puccini Album)

Opera season on disc rarely gets off to the spectacular start this one has. Of today's most bankable stars in opera – the ones who sell out a performance no matter what they sing – one, who records plenty and indiscriminately, recently opened her house-diva-at-the-Met season there with the latest bulletin on the perilous state of her money-in-the-box voice. The other two, mezzo Joyce DiDonato and tenor Jonas Kaufmann, have rung the opera stock-market's opening bell with revealing new recordings that entail the partnership of Antonio Pappano, whose day job is music director at London's Royal Opera, Covent Garden.......

..........If Jonas Kaufmann has sung anything more off the beaten track (for a German tenor) than Engelbert Humperdinck's Koenigskinder and Brahms' Rinaldo , I'm unaware of it. But no other singer working today has shown greater wisdom in taking on and leaving repertoire. There's a Verdi Otello (with Pappano) announced for 2017, and credible promises of a Tristan in the imaginable future. But Kaufmann knows that once he's sung either, opera companies won't want him for anything else. So while the rest of the world leans on him for the things they'd like him to do (my list includes Peter Grimes and Pelleas) he keeps the patient comfortable with singing of the most glorious kind.

I've been dragged kicking and screaming into Puccini ever since I wore out my LPs of Madama Butterfly (Leinsdorf, with Price and Tucker) as a teenager. I made an almost complete surrender with Callas' incomparable work on the newly re-mastered studio-recordings set, but with Kaufmann's new Puccini arias disc, Nessun Dorma (Sony), I'm all in. Sold. Finito. It's the kind of let-it-rip singing every singer wants to do, and Kaufmann does it with such taste, refinement and consummate technique, say nothing of idiomatic Italian, that you revel in the sheer transport. It pushes into the corners of the repertoire without putting on airs. The bits from Edgar , Le Villi, La Rondine and Il Tabarro don't make you wish impresarios built productions of them around him. But their case cannot have been better argued.

The singing throughout is faultless, and his sure-footedness as Pinkerton, Cavaradossi, and Rodolfo as previously demonstrated is confirmed, with interest. But the make-your-hair-stand-up stuff is in the more substantial excerpts from Manon Lescaut and La Fanciulla del West. (DVDs of complete productions of both, with Kaufmann, are due out from Sony this year.)

Domingo called the role of Des Grieux, in Lescaut , as difficult as Otello, and the sheer commitment it requires is audible in Kaufmann's no-holds-barred rendering of this music of lacerating passion. The Dick Johnson of Fanciulla emerges as a complex, torn-to-the-point-of-madness character previous recordings have only hinted at. And while no one tenor will ever own "Nessun Dorma," while you're listening to Kaufmann's immaculately crafted yet shudderingly masculine take on it, you won't be thinking of anyone else's.

If there's a tinge of regret about this disc, its that his partner, soprano Kristine Opolais, a regular colleague onstage and a singer of comparable artistry, spontaneity and abandon, sounds a tad recessive, "flown in" for the takes. Catch her as his Manon on YouTube, and watch them catch fire.

His partner in crime on the disc is Pappano conducting his Orchestra and Chorus of the Accademia Nazionale de Santa Cecilia in Rome.

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