BBC, 24 September 2009
Charlotte Gardner
The orchestra and choir colour well the moods and tones set by Kaufmann
The German national newspaper, Der Spiegel, has said of Jonas Kaufmann: “not only does he sing with a wonderfully smooth, warm, and masculine voice, [but] he also looks dammed good”. And Kaufmann is indeed a record company’s dream: his darkly smouldering pin-up looks ensure mass market appeal, but they come attached to a voice that is desired by opera houses of the stature of Covent Garden and La Scala. His second solo album for Decca is of German operatic operas and is conducted by Claudio Abbado. This is not only Abbado’s first vocal recording for Decca, but also his first Decca recording for over 40 years, and Kaufman has certainly made it worth his while.

Arias from Wagner’s Lohengrin, Die Walkure and Parsifal make up half of Kaufmann’s programme, after which Mozart is represented by Die Zauberflöte ("The Magic Flute”), and Beethoven by Fidelio. So far, so recognisable. However, Kaufmann also throws in two operas by Schubert. Whilst Fierrabras is still occasionally staged, Alfonso und Estrella isn’t, having always been considered to be dramatically weak despite featuring some great music. Kaufmann’s tender performance of “Schoen, wenn es beginnt zu tagen” would quite possibly be enough to persuade a brave opera house to take it on, though. In fact, the promise of his voice could probably persuade opera houses to do a great many things they hadn’t previously intended to do.

Aside from the smooth, warm masculinity described by Der Spiegel, he has enormous versatility, helped by a voice that, whilst tenor, has the deep tone and resonance of a baritone. In Die Zauberflöte, the fact that flute-playing Tamino is desperate for a little wife and larks around a bit means he’s often cast as the puppy-like light relief. Kaufmann’s performance here, partly through his dramatic reading and partly through his deep tone, lends Tamino unusual nobility. These qualities also make Kaufmann the perfect Wagnerian tenor, his voice soaring above Wagner’s lush orchestral textures, and dramatically upping the ante for the many heart-on-sleeve climaxes.

Meanwhile, the orchestra and choir under Abbado provide a perfectly matched accompaniment, picking up and colouring the moods and tones set by Kaufmann.

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