Opera, March 2015
Rodney Milnes
Jonas Kaufmann—You Mean the World to Me
[Simon Keenlyside—Something's Gotta Give]
If the words sledgehammer and nut spring to mind, they shouldn't: neither of these greatly gifted singers displays a whiff of condescension in the delivery of their chosen fare. They presumably agree with Weill's pronouncement (echoing Oscar Wilde) that there is no distinction between `serious' music and `light' music. `There is only good music and bad music,' he said. There is great deal of good music on both these discs. As if to emphasize that these are far more than mere potboilers, both are well, near-exhaustively annotated.
The repertory on the Kaufmann disc is taken from shows premiered between 1925 and '35, that is to say the Silver Age of European operetta, and Thomas Voigt's long essay examines such matters as the tensions between the Vienna and Berlin schools, the rise in Kálmán's successes and, arguably, decline in Lehár's; was the latter tending to get Ideen fiber seinen Bahnhof? Voigt also provides much useful information about the composers less familiar to the general reader—Spoliansky, Robert Stolz, Richard Heymann, Hans May. This is all serous stuff and, given the printed texts, there is something to be learned. The difference between Broadway and Europe lay in the texts to be sung. Broadway librettists were real, imaginative writers from P.G. Wodehouse onwards via Lorenz Hart to early Oscar Hammerstein—I can't, hand on heart, recognize any literary quality in The Sound of Music. But European texts too often sound like the purest hackwork with, as we now know, banal words tacked on to an already composed melody.

`Crossover' (dread word) is as old as the recording industry itself. What can artists of this stature with their experience of great music bring to lighter fare? Something as simple as the joining together of notes into phrases?
Kaufmann's approach to language is eccentrically random—we get `You are my heart's delight' in English and French but not in German, and there seems no logic in his other choices. What differentiates him from other singers in this rep is the fruitiness of his lower register, unmatched by, say, Tauber or Rudolf Schock. But Kaufmann's shining upper register is a great asset, and his use of head voice to caress the melodies is certainly in the Tauber-Schock tradition. Many of the Lehár numbers were of course composed for Tauber, and Tauber's own `Du bist die Welt für mich' gives the disc its title—it's very much school-of-Lehár. Kaufmann phrases these and the standard Kalman numbers to the manner born. His sprightly account of the number from Im weissen Rossi shows why Benatzky's operetta maintains its hold on the repertory in Europe. Surprises? Again, I didn't know Stolz's 'Frag nicht warum ich gehe', a smashing tune, most winningly sung. Kaufmann is joined by Julia Kleiter for the big duet from Die tote Stadt, not exactly an operetta, but nice to have it. I was only surprised by Kaufmann's choice of the hearty `Leben des Schrenk' solo to represent Künneke, a prolific and successful composer for the theatre. Why not something from Der Vetter cuts Dingsda? Or `Ich träume mit offenen Augen', which I've always thought of as Künneke's greatest hit (and one of Schock's as well). There is much pleasure to be had from these discs, and instruction as well. A perfect combination.

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