Musicweb International
Simon Thompson
Jonas Kaufmann – Verismo Arias

Superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann is riding the crest of a wave at the moment. Tickets to see him on stage change hands for a premium and his previous recital discs, together with his DVDs of Carmen and Lohengrin, have won critical accolades from every corner. This latest album of Verismo Arias showcasing all that he is good at will prove every bit as popular.

The ace up Kaufmann’s sleeve is his utterly distinctive tenor voice: dark and smoky so as to be almost baritonal, it seems tailor-made to express uncontrollable passion. It is perfect for an album of verismo material. Famously full-blooded and reckless, the Italian verismo genre is full of heroes who stare into the abyss and this Kaufmann does most convincingly. The first track on the disc, Romeo finding Juliet’s body in Zandonai’s opera, is his own desert-island track. He brilliantly taps into the level of scarcely contained sorrow in the music. Throughout Kaufmann conveys suffering through his inflection of each phrase as well as through the musicality of his voice: Andrea Chenier awaiting execution, for example, sings with extraordinary beauty, but the portrayal gains its power from the sense of regret for the good times lost. Likewise, Federico’s lament from L’Arlesiana is powerful and controlled but it gains its power from the wistful feeling of loss that comes through the pastoral simplicity of the music.

Kaufmann is not above hell-for-leather passion, however: Canio’s suffering feels titanic in Vesti la Giubba and we are in no doubt that, in the final scene of Cavalleria Rusticana, Turridu has never been more in love with the life he knows he is about to lose. Likewise, Marcello’s aria from Leoncavallo’s Bohème explodes off the page, throbbing with passion. In an interpretation like this it would give anything by Puccini a run for its money.

Happily, though, the more positive side of life is represented here too, most successfully in the numbers from Boito’s Mefistofele as Faust’s lovely reflections on life and nature bring out the most tender aspects of Kaufmann’s voice. Amor ti vieta burns with Italianate passion and Turridu’s drinking song crackles with cheeky joie de vivre. Enzo’s Cielo e Mar is also very beautiful, dark and searching where others find only the lover’s passion.

There are rarities here too, most especially Corrado’s farewell from Ponchielli’s Lituani and a song from Licinio Refice which is wonderfully slushy and provides three minutes to wallow in. It was also a lovely indulgence to finish with the great Liebestod that ends Andrea Chenier. For this Kaufmann is joined by Eva Maria Westbroek who takes a little longer to find form than he does. The soaring climaxes are wonderfully uplifting and make an exhilarating end to the disc.

Pappano and his orchestra make excellent collaborators, most notably in the Mascagni numbers, enhancing their claim to be the finest Italian orchestra playing at the moment. If I am slightly less enthusiastic about this disc than Kaufmann’s previous recitals then it’s only because the music represented here isn’t on the same sustained level of greatness as, say, the German music on his Sehnsucht album and, for me, more than an hour of full-face verismo is rather a lot to take at one sitting. That’s a personal preference which not everyone will share and you have to take your hat off to the tenor for pushing himself beyond his traditional comfort zone. Kaufmann’s many fans need not hesitate, he is on excellent form throughout.


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