Original Interview from "Welt am Sonntag", 25 March 2012
translation by Ivis
The Most Important Word Is "No"
Jonas Kaufmann is the most sought-after tenor in the world and opens next Saturday in Carmen at the Salzburg Easter Festival. A conversation about dealing with criticism and the risk of infection from meeting fans.
He looks good, he acts good, and he sings even better. But since he signed an exclusive contract with Decca six years ago, the career of Jonas Kaufmann (42) has been unstoppable. Today he is the most sought-after tenor in the world, and thrills as a stylist in the German, French, and Italian repertoire. On March 31, he opens in Carmen at the Salzburg Festival as Don José.

Welt am Sonntag: Herr Kaufmann, you allowed yourself plenty of time to develop your career. After your first big roles you also sang smaller parts.

JK: Yes, I said "no" quite often. First, because that's the most important word for a career, and second, because I wanted to have a fully developed foundation. Somehow I knew that I could wait, and now it has paid off. I still have many great roles ahead of me and hope to sing for perhaps twenty more years.

WaS: How has fame affected the pressure on you?

JK: We singers aren't 'virtual' artists. We can't work alone in a quiet room. We stand live and alone in front of 2000 or 3000 people who are concentrating only on us, and who not infrequently have heard this aria sung by others with whom they can compare. We stand in a long line of performance tradition. The more famous we are, the harder the judgments and comparisons are. That, and also one can't be as spontaneous any more.

WaS: In what way?

JK: Over time, I've gotten used to the fact that I'll be recognized on the street in cities like Munich, Vienna, or Milan. But I find it ridiculous when, as happened to me two years ago in Lucerne, someone gave me a packet of photos at the stage door, pictures of me with my easily recognizable children taken when we'd been rambling two days before. They meant well, but it upset me.

I also decided this past winter, not always to sign autographs at the stage door. One shakes so many hands and has contact with so many people. Then before you know it one is ill again with one virus or another. I simply have to protect myself, however sorry I am about it. If I get sick and have to cancel, then even more people are disappointed.

WaS: You regularly sing new opera roles with success, but not all the critics are happy with "Kaufmann the lieder singer".

JK: Ach, you know, I've long since given up trying to please everyone. Although I certainly pay attention to criticism. I've been singing lieder since almost the beginning of my career, so it's not just a little sideline of a star tenor. I try hard to preserve the intimate nature of my voice, which is why I would love to sing more Mozart, even though those roles at the moment rarely turn up in my calendar.

WaS: The role of Don José, which you're currently singing in Salzburg, has become routine for you. You've often played the good sergeant who falls for the wild gypsy. Sometimes as a strait-laced accounting type, sometimes as a testosterone-macho type. Who is Don José this time?

JK: Let yourself be surprised! But one thing is clear: I have a pretty good picture of the part in my mind from the original novel by Prosper Mérimée. Even so, I don't always play the same Don José. I'm very flexible in my interpretation and can also be an ugly duckling. Much of the characterization is defined by how the Carmen is developed. If there is a rich mezzo as a very womanly Carmen, then I can also increase my eroticism; if there is a more emancipated 'anti-Carmen', who won't necessarily tempt me with the heat of the south, then we have to think of something else. And that is exactly what makes it interesting to be a singer: working together, one can find new aspects of an often-sung role.

WaS: So no routine?

JK: Well, yes, routine is healthy. For example, I've come to realize that I've completely mastered my voice. I know its strengths and weaknesses, and can cope with whatever my condition is on the day. And I always sing so as not to tire out. At the end of each performance I want to feel as though I had enough reserve to sing it through again. That's the only way to be healthy. Then I'm singing with the interest on my voice and not the capital.

WaS: That sounds so cautious. How do you challenge yourself?

JK: Again and again in the magic of the moment. And that's why no technical advance can ever replace a live performance. Anja Harteros is a special partner for me. When we recently sang together in Verdi's Don Carlo in Munich, she asked me how far I trusted myself to sing piano in our final duet. I said, let's try something with that. We'd already sung it very quietly in rehearsals. On stage, she remembered my words, and we sang even more softly, while the audience was hanging on every note. Those were really incredible moments, complete trust in one's own possibilities and in one's partner--then the adrenaline is flowing.

WaS: Such moments are also very unprotected. The singer is completely exposed. You risk 'swallowing' your pianissimi, for which you're not infrequently criticized.

JK: That's not something mannered, it's technique. Pavarotti did it like that. Today, far too few are willing to show the vulnerability of a quiet tone in a large opera house. I do play close attention to what trusted friends or my wife, who is also a singer, have to say after a performance. I'm still learning, still want to develop further.

WaS: Is it true that you're going to change record labels, from Decca to Sony?

JK: "Nie sollst du mich befragen!" At the moment, this is all I can say: the next solo album for Decca is in the planning stage and after that, we'll see...

WaS: How do you choose your engagements?

JK: For many different reasons, and also inclination. I've moved back to my hometown Munich. Although the opera there ignored me for years, I have a very good relationship with the new Intendant. Six premieres are planned there, almost all with Anja Harteros. That is a wonderful feeling of stability and anticipation. I'm a big Berlioz fan. Therefore, in June I'll be tackling Aeneas in Les Troyens in London with Tony Pappano, even though it's not produced very often. Aeneas is a good step in the direction of heavier Wagner roles. A recording of Aida is planned with Pappano, with whom I have a great deal of trust, and I am also doing Verdi live--Il Trovatore, Un Ballo in Maschera, and La Forza del Destino are already contracted.

WaS: Are there any future plans for Bayreuth? You only sang Lohengrin there in 2010.

JK: My Bayreuth chapter isn't finished, I'd like to sing there again. But the Salzburg Festival would also like to have me every summer. I can't dance at both weddings.

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