amNew York, 6 October 2006
Ted Phillips
Jonas Kaufmann: more than just eye candy
Jonas Kaufmann appreciates being called eye candy, but he really just wants to be heard. "The clock is ticking and you can't conserve that forever,' the 37-year-old tenor said of his looks with one of the deep laughs that punctuate his conversation.

Since his acclaimed debut at the Metropolitan Opera earlier this year, the Munich-born singer has found himself more in the spotlight in both Europe and in the U.S.

Sitting in an aluminum chair on the sidewalk near the Met last Friday, Kaufmann sipped a Diet Coke following a rehearsal for "The Magic Flute." When Kaufmann takes the stage Saturday night as the handsome prince Tamino, it won't be the first time he's played the role, but Julie Taymor's ("Lion King") elaborate production has been a new experience.

"This production is based on all this gorgeous show that is going on and the singers are just part of this," Kaufmann 37, said. "It's another idea than to start with the characters and then build the rest around."

Kaufmann, a father of three, is a fan of modern productions that help younger audiences relate to the opera. "If I see that this can actually happen right now and next to me, it can be more interesting, it can grab me way more, to touch me emotionally."

Kaufmann made his Met debut earlier this year playing the male lead in "La Traviata" opposite Angela Gheorghiu's Violetta. The diva was impressed when they were first paired together in Britain. "I thought he was absolutely perfect to sing Alfredo and I heard a voice, a little bit baritonal voice with a lot of temperament," Gheorghiu said in a call from her native Romania. "We all think Germans they are not so Latin in their way to sing and act on stage but I was surprised to find an important talent."

Gheorghiu tempered her praise with the suggestion that Kaufmann needs to sing more French and Italian to build his confidence in those tongues. "He needs still more and more courage on stage and in his singing," she said.

He was on the verge of quitting two years out of school because he found it painful to sing. But then a new teacher told him to sing much deeper than he had been taught, and he found his true voice. "As soon as I sang like I do now, I was able to sing eight hours a day," Kaufmann said. "It opened up the whole tenor repertory to me."

The road to success has been long but steady. The Kaufmann household was filled with the sounds of his grandfather singing along to a Wagner score and his whole family played piano. Subscriptions to the opera house introduced him to the lyrical voice. Although he sang in the school choir from the age of six, it wasn't until being thoroughly bored by a year of studying mathematics in college that he made a serious go with his voice by enrolling in a music school.

After graduating, he made his professional debut when he was 24 at an opera house in Saarsbrücken with 36 performances of the operetta "Eine Nacht in Venedig" (A Night in Venice). "It was very good training," he said. "At the beginning you're extremely excited and you're nervous and after 15 performances maybe you get bored and say 'all that crap again.' Then you discover that you're relaxed and you don't care much about it because you've done it so many times and you really can work on yourself and try out things and grow."

Following three performances in the "Magic Flute", he'll keep busy shuttling about Europe to sing in "Carmen," "Fidelio," "Don Carlo" and "Parsifa"l before returning to the Met to sing in "La Traviata" in March.

Being in demand is a good problem, but growing success brings new challenges. "The difficult part now is to stay there, now that everyone's watching," Kaufmann said.

Jonas Kaufmann performs as Tamino in "Die Zauberflöte" on October 7, 9, 13 at the Metropolitan Opera.

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