Presto Classical, 27.9.2010
Chris O'Reilly
Verismo Arias
Autumn is traditionally the time of year that we see a number of high profile releases from the current big stars of the opera and vocal world. This year is no different and the first of those - Jonas Kaufmann’s disc of Verismo Arias - is released today. It sets the bar very high indeed.

Verismo is a style which has come to represent a period of Italian opera which grew up in about 1890 with Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, and lasted into the twentieth century. Verismo operas typically depict realistic settings of modern everyday life, often violent or sordid, and as such the characters tend to be less complex and more directly emotional. The most famous Italian composer of this period is Puccini, but not all of his operas fit into this style and for his new album Kaufmann chooses to focus entirely on Puccini’s contemporaries - composers like Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Giordano and Cilea.

Some of the arias are reasonably well known (such as those from Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci) while others were new to me, but what they all have in common is a very direct emotional pull which is thrilling to hear. Technically, Kaufmann is so secure that he can concentrate entirely on the music and communicating the emotions. And what I find really impressive is that Kaufmann is able to get so inside the characters to such a degree that his breathing changes and his entire sound alters. I’m sure it is not a conscious thing and it really blows you away.

Kaufmann is already well known in the German and French repertoire but the quality which he now brings to this Italian music is quite astonishing. He speaks fluent Italian which undoubtedly helps him get deeper inside the music, understand double–meanings and spot secrets hidden between the lines.

Throughout this disc Kaufmann demonstrates that his voice is absolutely at its peak - warm and full-bodied in the middle, dark and rich at the bottom, and exciting and radiant at the top. And he receives splendid support from Orchestra dell'Accademia di Santa Cecilia under Antonio Pappano who clearly love and breathe this music every bit as much as Kaufmann.

The programme is varied in terms of mood, structure, and key, so they are not all about suffering and deaths and there is even the odd smattering of joy! I’ve put a short video trailer on the website where you hear an extract from the disc as well as Kaufmann talking about this release.

In all, an incredible achievement and this comes thoroughly recommended.

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