|Conflicting opinions among non-professionals are normal.
I listen to them with complete equanimity. Among professional critics they
should ideally be marginal. I happen to believe that there are rules for
musical/vocal standard that are universal and which have been codified in
the course of centuries by the best ears and the greatest musical
geniuses. Therefore very conflicting opinions from critics, paid for their
evaluations, disturb me.
Non–professionals often say that a performance goes “to the heart”. It
probably reflects a subjective truth. The person in question receives a
strong, maybe overwhelming emotion. But it says nothing of the quality of
the input, because “hearts” have very different types of receptors,
depending on the individual. For most people – and especially the young –
loudness of tone awakes strong sensations. It should, of course. When a
composer writes “f,” “ff”, or “fff”, there is a reason for it. But
most composers, also Wagner and Verdi, more frequently employ a “p”.
“pp”, even “ppppp” (as with Verdi), indications mostly completely
ignored by vocal interpreters. Sadly enough there are “hearts” with
receptors/antennas unable to catch the more refined signals or at least to
convert them into a strong, valuable impression. Such “hearts” should be
forbidden in the breast of professional critics.
I feel that it would be beneficial for Opera if there was a certificate of
aptness for opera critics, delivered upon a severe exam. One of the main
requisites should be a good knowledge of languages. Opera is Music set
to Words. I have noted from my own experience( I was not always as
good at languages as I am today, and what I know of Italian (now a lot) is
wholly a result of my early passion for Italian opera) that it is
perfectly possible to receive strong impressions of an opera performance
without knowing what the artists are singing. The language of music alone
is so expressive and so forceful that the communication works without the
help of words.
To my great dismay I find, when reading contemporary opera critics, that
many of them seem to ignore the words in vocal performances or maybe even
don’t understand them, and judge the performance only from impressions of
musical sound, mostly vocal timbre alone. It is a crime perpetuated
against both librettist and composer as well as against the musician and
the reader. The Danish critic in my translation is a case in point.
I have never been more aware of these problems than during my listening to
Jonas in the Munich concert. All the numbers performed are so well known
to me that they risk losing their intrinsic interest. But the fact that I
happen to know the words by heart – and when I don’t, that I manage to
recognize them in the course of singing – brought unwonted pleasure to the
listening. Pleasure is perhaps to weak a word. Emotion is more correct.
For it was so obvious that not one of these “classic pearls” were modelled
on previous interpretations, of which there exist more than enough. Every
sentence, every phrase is freshly thought and interpreted by the
intelligent and sensitive mind of this remarkable young man. The means are
the classical ones of the belcanto school. Attention to dynamic marks, a
marvellous legato line based on a magnificent breathing technique,
beautiful and varied colouring of sounds, intelligent “tempi rubati”
(I hate metronomic interpretations), small vocal embellishments for
expressive purposes applied with good taste. Add to this a vocal timbre of
great seduction (and warmth), impressive top notes and plenty of heroic
reserves and you have ….. Jonas Kaufmann.
The final words of Don José in the so called Flower Aria – “Carmen, je
t’aime” – as interpreted by Jonas, suffice in themselves to prove that
we have to do with an entirely original artist.