The New York Times, MARCH 8, 2017
Jonas Kaufmann: A Tenor in Demand, Now in Short Supply
Big names make a big difference at the Metropolitan Opera’s struggling box office, where star singers can drive up attendance by 10 to 20 percentage points. This season, at a time when opera superstars are in short supply, the Met is promoting its most important artists, including Nina Stemme, Anna Netrebko, Renée Fleming and Plácido Domingo, with an advertising campaign proclaiming “The Voice Must Be Heard.”

The dusky-voiced German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, 47, has long been in their Olympian company. A box-office draw with a major recording career and few peers in a wide range of repertoire, he is the rare opera singer with the Byronic looks to inspire women to toss their lingerie at him, as they did at one concert in London.

He has also become one of today’s most elusive artists.

In 2015, he canceled a pair of sold-out performances of “Carmen” at the Metropolitan Opera, to which scalpers were selling tickets for nearly $1,000 apiece. Last season, he withdrew from a new Met production of “Manon Lescaut” mounted with him in mind, telling his fans on Facebook that “only illness would prevent me from coming to you.” This season, he canceled a series of high-profile appearances across Europe, citing a burst blood vessel on a vocal cord.

And on March 3, not long after his return to the stage, he stunned the opera world by announcing that he would not appear in the Met’s highly anticipated new production of “Tosca” next season, just weeks after the company had announced it.

Leaving behind a wake of disappointed fans, it is the kind of record that might have drawn the wrath of opera companies in the past. The Lyric Opera of Chicago fired Luciano Pavarotti in 1989 after he missed a spate of performances, and in 1958 Rudolf Bing, then general manager of the Met, parted ways with Maria Callas after a dispute over repertory. (She later returned.)

But with today’s operatic ecosystem fragile, even strong-willed impresarios are loath to antagonize the few remaining major stars. Peter Gelb, the Met’s current general manager, took pains in an interview not to criticize Mr. Kaufmann, going only so far as to say: “I respect his feelings. It just would have been nice if he had come to that decision a little bit earlier, before we announced the season.” (One of Mr. Kaufmann’s managers, Alan Green of Zemsky/Green Artists Management, declined to speak on the phone or to explain why Mr. Kaufmann had not withdrawn before the Met’s season announcement.)

Fans around the world can expect to see even less of him in the years to come. Mr. Kaufmann, who separated from his wife in 2014, has three children and lives in Germany, said in a brief written statement that he plans to limit his future engagements outside Europe to two weeks or less so he can spend more time with his family.

“Any operatic contract which I accept in Europe still allows me the possibility to be with my family at least for a day or two each week,” Mr. Kaufmann said. “This is unfortunately not the case once traveling further away from Europe.”

That will effectively keep him from appearing in any new opera productions, which require weeks of rehearsal, at the Met. (Mr. Kaufmann added that he looked forward to singing Act II of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” in concert next season with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Boston and at Carnegie Hall, a far less substantial time commitment.)

Rehearsal time can be a stumbling block for booking some stars. Many singers like long rehearsal periods, and directors can never get enough. But for opera’s biggest names, long rehearsal periods can take them away from their families and use up time they could spend more profitably by performing elsewhere. At the Met, the top singer’s fee is $17,000 a performance, but singers earn far less for rehearsals — only about $2,000 a week, depending on their seniority.

Mr. Kaufmann said that he told the Met that he was willing to sing four performances of “Tosca” next season — which would have meant skipping the rehearsal period and the New Year’s Eve gala premiere but would have allowed him to appear in a worldwide Live in HD cinema transmission. Mr. Gelb said that while he had tried to be accommodating, he had found Mr. Kaufmann’s proposal “beyond what I thought was reasonable, as much as I want him to sing here and still hope he will sing here in the future.” So Mr. Gelb engaged the Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo, who, with successes this season in “Roméo et Juliette” and “Werther,” is viewed at the company as a rising star.

Nikolaus Bachler, the general manager of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, said that he sees opera in a different light. “Opera is not about stars,” he said in an interview. “Opera is an artistic space, and not a service business and not an entertainment industry.”

He spoke by telephone shortly before a rehearsal of Giordano’s “Andrea Chénier” — with Mr. Kaufmann in the title role. Asked how it was going, he noted that the premiere would be on Sunday. “So ask me Monday,” he said.

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