Broadwayworld, Aug, 31, 2013
by Richard Sasanow
BWW Reviews Recordings: Trebs, Jonas and the Bicentennial Boys
The first time I heard Jonas Kaufmann was in the Metropolitan Opera's Zeffirelli production of LA TRAVIATA. I'd gone for Angela Gheorghiu and Kaufmann was the bonus, I'd thought--until he opened his mouth. I was immediately taken with the rich, baritonal quality of his tenor, which reminded me of Domingo. It's the tenor of his, well, tenor, that always catches me by surprise, whether in Verdi, Gounod or Wagner. For me, those colors in his voice--along with his secure high notes and dramatic ability, naturally--are what make Jonas Kauffman: Wagner (Decca 478 5189) so outstanding.

Tenor. Cap T. Period

This is not a simply a Verdi tenor, a French tenor or a heroic Wagner type, but a Tenor. Cap T. Period. You never have to worry: Will he hit the note? Will he sound like he means it? Will he be at home in this repertoire? The answer to all is YES. Kaufmann is one of the special singers--Joan Sutherland comes to mind--whose sound comes so naturally that it becomes an extension of the speaking voice rather than something that appears to be put across through technique.

Music from his gut

That said, he's one of those singers you can't get enough of in Wagner, whether in the high-def broadcast of LOHENGRIN from La Scala, live at the Met in PARSIFAL or on this disk. Kaufmann seems to know this music on a very basic level--from his gut. He sings as if he understands the characters Wagner has drawn all too well and becomes one with each of them, whether in the opening selection from SIEGFRIED ("Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater," the sword monologue) as he cries out, urgently, "Wälse!" or in Siegmund's gorgeous soliloquy from DIE WALKURE, singing of his love for Sieglinde. "In fernem land" from LOHENGRIN is filled with poignancy and heart.

An elegant prayer

His TANNHAUSER scene is wonderful, as is his elegant performance of the prayer from RIENZI ("Allmächt'ger Vater, blick herab"), though he probably isn't ready to tackle these roles on stage. But, give him time. He has a long career ahead of him. As for the Wesendonck-lieder, which close the recording, I can't say that I'm a devotee. But in these songs, usually sung by a soprano, I will admit that Kaufmann makes as strong a case for them as anyone I've heard. His baritonal sound and ability to modulate his high notes make a big impact here.

Conductor Donald Runnicles, an acclaimed Wagnerian, brings out an intensely dramatic performance from the Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Opera Berlin in this demanding music. They help make the Wagner outing by this fine, thoughtful singer worth listening to, again and again.

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