Limelight, January 12, 2016
by Steve Moffatt
Puccini - Editor's Choice, Opera – October 2015

★★★★★ Jonas singing Puccini? It’s strictly a “vincerò, vincerò” situation.

Jonas Kaufmann was 21 when the Three Tenors made Nessun Dorma into the most popular aria of them all by featuring it in their 1990 concert on the eve of the FIFA World Cup Final. It’s taken 25 years for the star German tenor to put it on record, saying that for a long time he hardly dared sing it because of Pavarotti and Co’s legacy. “Even today, when I hear and sing this aria, I still get goosebumps,” he says in the liner notes to his new all-Puccini album.

Well, the wait has been worth it as it makes the perfect finale to this five-star feast of the finest moments from “the people’s composer”. When Kaufmann hits the high B at the climax it’s as thrilling as anything produced by any of the other great tenors, and if you purchase the deluxe version with the bonus DVD you’ll see how happy he is when he nails it.

But the stellar aria is only three minutes of what is a 16-track, hour-long roller coaster of emotion, all majestically delivered in that special timbre with its baritone shading.

An example of how much expression he can call up is Manon and Des Grieux’s duet Oh, saro la piu bella! when Kaufmann as the love-struck Chevalier can turn on a coin from virile and ringing tones to the most vulnerable of sotto voces.

In this he has excellent support from the equally glamorous Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais. Their chemistry is spot on, not only in the Manon excerpts – they have appeared together in a stage production of the opera – but also in O soave fanciulla from La Bohème and Non piangere, Liù! from Turandot.

By recording it in Rome with Sir Antonio Pappano and the Santa Cecilia Academy, Sony have put right the failing of Kaufmann’s Verdi album – the indifferent performance of the Parma Opera Orchestra under Pier Giorgio Morandi. Kaufmann’s performances there were superb as you would expect, but you did have the impression that he was let down. On this latest release, however, you need have no such qualms. Pappano and the Roman outfit are on top form.

The collection takes in Puccini’s rare earlier works Le Villi and Edgar, as well La Rondine and most of the staple fare. Three excerpts from the 2013 Wiener Staatsoper production of La Fanciulla del West, with Swedish soprano Nina Stemme opposite Kaufmann, comes with the bonus DVD.

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