Wall Street Journal, 22 April 2011
'The Wagner Guy' Paces Himself
German tenor Jonas Kaufmann has established himself as one of the world's pre-eminent performers of Wagner in recent years, but when he takes the stage Friday as the doomed hero Siegmund in the Metropolitan Opera's new production of "Die Walküre," it will be the 41-year-old's first time in the role. He says he won't consider doing Siegfried, another great tenor role in Wagner's Ring Cycle, for at least another five years. Despite the big demand and short supply of capable Wagnerian tenors, Mr. Kaufmann is strictly rationing himself in such roles.

In an interview backstage at the Met, Mr. Kaufmann, who has been particularly acclaimed for his performance in the title role of Wagner's "Lohengrin," said he turns down many offers to perform Wagner operas. The vocal demands that Wagner imposes on singers can cut a career short, and he, like many strong Wagnerian tenors, takes pains to preserve his voice by pacing himself. "If you have a car and only use one gear," he said, "the other gears will rot and the one you're using will eventually break."

Plus, he loves Italian opera. "There's so much in the Italian repertoire I have to discover," he said. "It's better to keep a foot in all the doors. Otherwise they'll say, 'Oh, it's the Wagner guy. We can't let him do Italian repertoire.'"

There's also the issue of opera's long-range scheduling. Mr. Kaufmann, who will perform in "Die Walküre" with soprano Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde and Bryn Terfel as Wotan, signed up for the role of Siegmund five years ago.

"There's no spontaneity, that's the problem," he said. "When you have a painter, would you ask him to buy the colors for a painting five years ahead of time?"

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