OPERA.UK, March 2008
Richard Fairman
Disc of the Month, March 2008
Romantic Arias
It is fortunate for Jonas Kaufmann that the search for the ‘fourth tenor’ seems to have been abandoned since the precipitate fuss over Roberto Alagna, José Cura and Rolando Villazón. Kaufmann has been left to follow his path largely undisturbed, though singing opposite Anna Netrebko will probably have put an end to that. He is surely destined to be the leading German tenor of his generation—a successor to Siegfried Jerusalem in the Wagner stakes?—but at the moment is enjoying the freedom to sing a wider repertory while he can.

Just as this disc arrived for review, his first shot at Don José in the Royal Opera House’s recent new production of Carmen was being televised. He sings ‘La fleur que tu m’avais jetée’ in this recital, opening with a dreamy soft tone that sets the mood nicely and gradually building his warm, brooding tenor up to full throttle. These are the characteristics that distinguish him from the competition today. His Des Grieux, though not completely at ease in the high opening phrases of ‘Ah! fuyez, douce image’, is a big-house portrayal, rising powerfully to a passionate climax. As Faust—both Gounod’s (a soft, not quite perfectly controlled top C in ‘Salut! demeure chaste et pure’) and Berlioz’s—he is able to be at once tender and grand.

In Italian opera he could perhaps do with a brighter, more open sound. His Duke in Rigoletto sings with impressive ardour in ‘Parmi veder le lagrime’, though the voice loses its focus slightly at less than full volume and there is no cabaletta; and his unusually dark-toned Alfredo in La traviata misses something of the character’s youthful buoyancy, but the cabaletta is present this time, sung with muscle and the bare minimum of definition in the groups of semiquavers. He proves to be best suited here to Don Carlos and the two Puccini arias, in which the rich, Germanic warmth of his tenor is heard to fine effect and there is some gloriously burnished singing.

Despite all this, the big interest of this disc lies in the German operas. His ‘Durch die Wälder’ from Der Freischütz could hardly be bettered today, and the Prize Song gives us the first glimpse of Kaufmann on disc in Die Meistersinger, which he essayed in concert at the Edinburgh Festival in 2006. Here is surely a Walther set to win first prize, starting out dreamily as if in a trance of inspiration and ending with a ringing series of easy top notes that must be the envy of other aspiring tenors in this repertoire. The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra is not among the world’s best, but Marco Armiliato supports his soloist convincingly throughout. Kaufmann himself is no tenor of promise. This is the finished article.





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