Opera News, November 2015
Judith Malafronte
Critics Choice - Jonas Kaufmann: Nessun Dorma: The Puccini Album

WHEN DECCA TRIED TO upstage Jonas Kaufmann’s Puccini recital on its rival Sony label by releasing Jonas Kaufmann—The Age of Puccini in August, the tenor urged fans to wait for the “real” album and forgo a hasty compilation of previously released material with only three tracks actually by Puccini. If the superstar tenor’s zillions of fans took his advice and waited for Sony’s disc, they will be ecstatic that they did.

So what if he avoided “Che gelida manina” and “E lucevan le stelle,” which appear on the other disc? After a dazzling start with excerpts from Manon Lescaut, we hear something from each of Puccini’s operas, arranged in order of composition, offering a superb look at the composer’s development as well as Kaufmann’s virtuoso vocal acting.

The recital opens with an exuberant “Donna non vidi mai,” its unhurried tempo showcasing the tenor’s dark and massive sound, yet with a soft edge that suggests des Grieux’s optimism and innocence. Maintaining a clean line, Kaufmann murmurs “Sussurro gentil” tenderly, before the final outburst “Deh! non cessar.” Manon and des Grieux’s Act II love duet finds soprano Kristine Opolais partnering Kaufmann (as she did in London performances last year) with sensitivity and voluptuous sound. “Ah, Manon, mi tradisce” brings bitterness and snarling outbursts from Kaufmann, as des Grieux sings of his shame and disgrace under Manon’s control, and the tenor’s full-voiced desperation in “Ah! Non v’avvicinate!” brings to mind Franco Corelli’s combination of heroic declamation and heartbreaking poignancy.

A lighter sound characterizes Le Villi’s Roberto, a young lad remorseful at the death of a girl he jilted, and the title role in Puccini’s flop Edgar, with the tender aria “Orgia, chimera dall’occhio vitreo.” La Bohème’s Act I finale, “O soave fanciulla,” again with Opolais, is seductive in its intensity and restraint, with invitingly caressed phrases. Tosca’s “Recondita armonia” showcases the tenor’s superb breath control and supple legato in another luxuriously unhurried tempo. La Fanciulla del West’s Dick Johnson recounts his life story in “Or son sei mesi,” explaining how he became a bandit. Here, as well as in his gallows plea, “Ch’ella mi creda,” Kaufmann endows the character with unusual depth.

Antonio Pappano, whose unerring ear and superb sense of musical drama guide the Orchestra di Santa Cecilia in luscious, perfectly paced readings, cast Kaufmann in La Rondine early on. The tenor pays the conductor homage with Ruggero’s hymn to Paris, and, for the sake of completeness, Kaufmann includes Rinuccio’s “Firenze è come un albero fiorito,” from Gianni Schicchi. He manages a crisp delivery at a brisk tempo, but it’s a role he was never suited for. The dark lament of Il Tabarro’s “Hai ben ragione” better fits Kaufmann’s somber, mournful timbre, but it’s Calàf’s two arias from Turandot that magnificently display the tenor’s tenderness, heroism, romantic temperament and stunning voice. When might we hear him in this role?

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