The Metropolitan Opera
Bringing vocal wizardry to Mozart's Tamino in Die Zauberflöte? "Easy", says big-voiced German tenor Jonas Kaufmann.
Magic Man
So how do you feel about your first Tamino at the Met? 

Yes, it’s my first Tamino here, which is really exciting. I was really looking forward to doing that role here, because it’s just so gorgeous to sing in this huge house, with such fantastic acoustics.

Is it true that at the beginning of your career in Germany, you fought against the size of your voice? 

When I was still studying and had started professional singing, people would say, “Well, you’re young, you’re German, so you should sound like Peter Schreier,” the symbol of this light German tenor timbre. [Schreier, a German lyric tenor, made his Met debut as Tamino in 1967.] And it took a while to figure out that my voice is not like his. So I shouldn’t try to imitate him, or try to fulfill all the expectations of a young German tenor, but just to do my thing.

You have such a wide repertoire. Do you approach different roles differently? 

Technically it’s all the same thing, and that’s one of the secrets to keep you in shape and healthy: to sing as many different things as possible but always with your voice. With good technique, even with a bigger voice you’re able to sing the lightest piano, and you can show every aspect of your vocal abilities. Especially in things like Zauberflöte, or a recital. Mozart is really close to recital singing, because it really gives you the possibility to do some magical things with your voice.

Is it difficult to sing in that very personalized way? 

It sounds so easy to say, “Just discover your own voice,” but actually it really takes a while until you realize “that is my sound.” And I shouldn’t try to manipulate that; I should just let it out as it is. That’s one of the main secrets: that singing in the end should be as natural as talking. You just open your mouth and without thinking of any technical difficulties, just sing as if you wanted to talk to somebody. Then it all makes sense, since it’s much more realistic than if you just hear somebody singing a beautiful line without any real meaning. It comes automatically once you don’t think of technical problems. You just sing and interpret the text.

It all comes easily to you, then? 

[Embarrassed laughter.] Well, surprisingly, I have to say… It frightens me a little bit, but so far, it’s very, very easy. And that’s what for me makes this job so much fun. Because I just say, “Oh, yes, okay, let’s go.” It’s like being in a candy shop and saying “Oh, yes, I want to try this, and I want to try this,” and there still is no dentist telling you should stop eating sweets!

How did you first get into opera? 

My family loves opera and classical music, so there were always the radio or recordings of classical things playing at home. We had many subscriptions to concert halls and to the opera, to everything, and my parents took me even as a very young child. Everybody was playing the piano—not performing—but just for fun. And I was always singing. In school and everywhere.

It’s seems like you’re constantly moving in this production. Is it hard to sing with all the set changes? 

No, it’s not overly difficult. I’ve done so many German productions, very crazy ones, where there’s much more going on, and you’re out of breath and can hardly go on singing. This is one of the very positive things here in the Met—that the musical quality has a very high position in the decisions they make. I have sometimes in other theaters the impression that it’s the other way around, that the show and all the effects is more important than the people who are singing in the production, and it’s such a pity. The most important point must be, “Does it work musically?” That’s why I generally don’t think a director should decide on the singers that he is working with. It’s the choice of the music department or of the general management, but not for the director to say I only work with her because she is able to climb up or jump down there.

Many reviews and other publications have addressed your sexy image. 

When people mention that, I have to tell them, “You know, I can’t build my career on that, because this image will be going away pretty soon. The time is ticking!” So if it’s something that is added to your ability to act and to sing, then I’m absolutely fine with that. But if it’s only that, then I’m starting to get in difficulties, because you can’t do that forever—just being good-looking!

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