Classics Today
Robert Levine

There seems to be a new and very welcome breed of tenor emerging. Even more-so than their grand-voiced predecessors (say, The Three Tenors), singers like Rolando Villazon and now, Jonas Kaufmann, pay great attention to text and character--they are more like singing actors than most tenors of previous generations. Listening to this first aria recital from Kaufmann (he's recorded a disc of Strauss songs --type Q10209 in Search Reviews), you are immediately impressed with his attention to the words and dynamic detail, and the manner in which, like Villazon, he creates a character and situation with each aria.

The voice itself is not Italianate, but it certainly has no German gruffness either; it is warm and inviting, with enough "ping" in the top notes to impress. His repertoire on stage is bizarrely wide--Tamino, Alfredo, Parsifal, Don José, Florestan, Nero (in the Monteverdi opera!)--and on this CD, although Mozart and Monteverdi are absent, almost no other major composer is.

The disappointed ardor of "Pourquoi me reveiller" is rarely as clear, the difference between hope and reality so sharply delineated. He sings sweet passages with genuine sweetness (and even takes Don José's high B-flat softly), but also can let it all out, with real heroic bite, for Max's aria from Der Freischütz. His Prize Song from Meistersinger is the finest I've ever heard, begun inwardly and blossoming like the character's confidence and talent.

His high Cs are secure (the Traviata cabaletta, "Salut demeure", "Che gelida manina") but are not show-stoppers à la Pavarotti, and he does not hold on to high notes just to show off. He also shades his voice with a darkness that is both expressive and appealing. My guess is that he will settle into the German repertoire--what a Lohengrin he would be!--but at the moment his diversity is as interesting as it is successful. He's tall, young, and matinee-idol handsome; he's probably going to be very famous, very soon. Give him a listen.




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