Kaufmann has the voice. He's also got the onstage charisma, the
movie-star good looks, the ambition, even a little controversy —
and a brand new album.
But actually, it's not that easy
being the top tenor. Kaufmann, like all opera singers, is a
vocal athlete, singing night after night, year after year —
without a microphone. He's 48 now, riding the crest of a
celebrated career. But there have been bumps along the way: like
a total reboot of his approach to singing, a divorce and last
fall, a four-month-long string of cancellations to rest the
voice. But this spring Kaufmann returned to the recording studio
sounding fresh as ever.
His new album, L'Opéra, is a
tribute to French opera. He includes a few hits but also a few
rarities, like an aria from Le roi d'Ys, a long neglected work
by Édouard Lalo. It's the first French piece Kaufmann ever sang,
years ago as a student in his early 20s in his native Germany.
That's after he made the switch from accounting to music. His
voice has deepened and darkened since then, taking on a
baritone-like burnished bronze, as in the "Flower Song" from
Kaufmann has all kinds of heft, which
allows him to sing heavier Wagner and Verdi roles. It's a voice
with a handsome balance of muscle and mellow. He doesn't just
"park and bark," to borrow a phrase from opera geeks. Just
listen to what he does at the very end of Bizet's aria. Very few
tenors are able to float the final B-flat in a soft pianissimo.
And you can bet that golden thread of tone, perfectly supported
by the diaphragm, makes it all the way to the upper balcony.
Along with the voice, Kaufmann is a charismatic actor, which
is what you need to play the lovelorn and suicidal Werther, the
title role in Jules Massenet's 1892 masterwork. In the single
line, "Pourquoi me réveiller, ô soufflé du printemps?" ("Why
awaken me, oh breath of spring?") one hears Kaufmann's brawn and
his tender caress – the colors of pent-up rage and regret for
The popular tenor is at a point in his career
when his voice is growing larger, duskier and heavier. This
summer in London, he sang his first Otello, the punishing lead
role in Verdi's opera.
Why then would he make a generally
lighter-weight album that frequently spotlights his soft,
mezza-voce singing? Perhaps Jonas Kaufmann still has something
to prove: that the world's top tenor can sing just about
anything, any way he wants to.