Opera News, August 2011
Editor's Choice: Jonas Kaufmann: "Verismo Arias"
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Jonas Kaufmann's glamorous voice, smooth technique and dramatic intensity make his program of verismo arias an outstanding achievement.

In his latest recital album, tenor Jonas Kaufmann has temporarily eschewed his Germanic roots to focus on Italian verismo, with stunning results. Having successfully made the transition from the lyric tenor roles — his first two assignments at the Met, both in 2006, were Alfredo in La Traviata and Tamino in Die Zauberflöte — to the full-voiced rigors of the dramatic/spinto tenor works associated with the likes of Bergonzi and Corelli, Kaufmann has ample competition in the discography but very little on the actual opera stages of today. It is reassuring to know that there are still singers capable of doing justice to this larger-than-life repertoire, as witness Kaufmann's successes onstage as Adriana Lecouv­reur's Maurizio at Covent Garden and Cavaradossi in the Met's 2010 revival of Tosca. Many have commented about the dark, baritonal quality of Kaufmann's timbre, and it is true that his voice lacks some of the intrinsic tonal brilliance of the aforementioned Italian greats. However, Kaufmann possesses a glamorously robust voice operated with a smooth technique, as well as the dramatic intensity and musicality necessary to convey the emotions generated in these pieces. Very occasionally his sound becomes a bit covered and/or constricted in quiet passages. At the big climactic moments, however, he always delivers the goods with rich, heroic tone that thrills the ear. The fact that he executes these arias with such a natural sense of style — shaping the vocal line superbly through use of dynamics, legato, rubato and portamento — is still more impressive. In fact, it is difficult to identify anything about Kaufmann's singing that is not pleasing; his achievement is outstanding. 

Most of the non-Puccini/Verdi standards are to be found on the disc, including arias from Andrea Chénier, Cavalleria Rusticana, La Gioconda, Mefistofele, Pagliacci and Adriana Lecouvreur. In addition, there are some splendid arias from lesser-known operas, including Cilèa's L'Arlesiana, Leoncavallo's La Bohème,Giordano's Fedora, Zandonai's Giu­lietta e Romeo and Ponchielli's I Lituani. The climactic duet from Andrea Chénier, "Vicino a te," provides the disc's fireworks finish, with Kaufmann partnered skillfully by powerful spinto soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek (who recently made her Met debut as Sieglinde in Die Walküre opposite Kaufmann's Siegmund). Although the relentless intensity of the music renders it rather overwhelming to listen to the entire album in one sitting, two reprieves from highly-charged emotion come in the form of the lighthearted brindisi from Cavalleria Rusticana and Licinio Refice's gorgeous song "Ombra di nube."

The Orchestra e Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, under the direction of conductor Antonio Pappano (and in partnership with Alitalia airlines!), plays with superb élan, and Decca's engineers have captured the gloriously lush orchestral sound in splendid detail while maintaining an ideal balance between the singer(s) and instrumentalists. 

A booklet containing full texts and translations, as well as an essay that highlights some of Kaufmann's thoughts on the performed repertoire, rounds out what is an exceptional package by any standard. 


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