Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Antonio Pappano (conductor)
Orchestra and chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa
1. Riccardo Zandonai. Giulietta, son io
(Giulietta e Romeo, libretto by Arturo Rossato)
Giordano. Un dì all’ azzurro spazio (Andrea Chénier, libretto by
3. Umberto Giordano. Come un bel dì di Maggio
(Andrea Chénier, libretto by Luigi Illica)
Cilea. È la solita storia (L’Arlesiana, libretto by Leopoldo
5. Ruggiero Leoncavallo. Testa adorata (La Bohême,
libretto by Ruggiero Leoncavallo)
6. Ruggiero Leoncavallo.
Recitar!... Vesti la giubba (Pagliacci, libretto by Ruggiero
7. Pietro Mascagni. Viva il vino spumeggiante!
(Cavalleria rusticana, libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti,
8. Pietro Mascagni. Mamma! …quel vino è
generoso… (Cavalleria rusticana, libretto by Giovanni
Targioni-Tozzetti, Guido Menasci)
9. Arrigo Boito. Dai campi,
dai prati (Mefistofele, libretto by Arrigo Boito)
Boito. Giunto sul passo estremo (Mefistofele, libretto by Arrigo
11. Umberto Giordano. Amor ti vieta (Fedora, libretto
by Arturo Colautti)
12. Francesco Cilea. L’anima ho stanca
(Adriana Lecouvreur, libretto by Arturo Colautti)
Francesco Cilea. La dolcissima effigie (Adriana Lecouvreur,
libretto by Arturo Colautti)
14. Amilcare Ponchielli. Sì,
quest’ estrema grazia (I Lituani, libretto by Antonio
15. Amilcare Ponchielli. Cielo e mar! (La
Gioconda, libretto by Arrigo Boito)
16. Licinio Refice. Ombra
di nube (text di Emidio Mucci)
17. Umberto Giordano. Vicino a
te (Andrea Chénier, libretto by Luigi Illica)
of Jonas Kaufmann’s solo disc, “Verismo Arias”, is deliberately
unpretentious. The disc is meant to be a kind of anthology of
the pure passion and emotion in which the music of Mascagni and
Leoncavallo, Cilea and Giordano – verismo composers, in a word –
is so rich. The arrival of the new disc has not gone unnoticed
by critics, who have dutifully listed all 17 tracks, considered
the sound quality of each of them in detail and argued over
whether the German Kaufmann has enough “authentic Italian
sensibility” in his dark, baritonal timbre. Yet behind the
deceptively simple title, which pushes the listener into picking
one track at a time and absorbing the sound at a leisurely pace,
hides a unified work of art whose genesis has gone unnoticed by
In assembling material for the disc, Kaufmann and
Pappano tried, as they put it in the accompanying notes, to
“avoid similarity in mood, structure and key” of verismo music.
In fact, they have achieved quite the opposite: this very
uniformity of style, multiplied by the textual unity of the
chosen arias, makes it possible to interpret “Verismo Arias” as
a lyric cycle akin to the poetic cycles of Blok or Rilke.
Unlike a simple thematic selection, a lyric cycle is an integral
work with an internal dynamic, a single imagined space (albeit
each part of the cycle has some independence and
self-sufficiency) and clear connections between its component
parts. “Verismo Arias” has all of these traits in spades. It
also has another characteristic – not formulated by Kaufmann and
Pappano in any interview, but obvious enough to the attentive
listener – namely, the authorial intention essential to any
poetic cycle. In this case, the intention is not that of the
composers and their lyricists, but of the compilers who
deliberately placed the recorded arias into a specific order.
Given the three main themes running through all the arias,
“A Poet’s Love and Death” would be a suitable name for this
cycle. In today’s world, probably only Kaufmann could take the
banalities of the Italian librettos – the obligatory “disperato
amore”, “palpitar dell’anima” and “fatale vision” – and turn
them into formulae of significance, interpreting them in all
their freshness and authenticity of meaning, bringing out the
extreme emotional tension of verismo music and the superlative
realms of almost religious ecstasy, enlightenment and
We should try to forget that the disc brings
together arias by different composers, that the texts were
written by different librettists, and that each aria conceals a
dramatic situation specific to the context of the opera from
which it is taken. Let us listen instead to the story spun by
Kaufmann – a tale of poetic inspiration, all-consuming love,
loss and discovery; of love and death.
Loss is, of
course, the very beginning, in the shape of Zandonai’s affecting
Giulietta, son io, a rarity worth reproducing in full here:
Giulietta, son io, io, non mi vedi?
Io che non
piango più, io che t’imploro,
io che vengo a cader morto ai
perchè beato e disperato moro
senza di te,
anima mia. Così, Giulietta.
Ma le fredde mani or sui capelli
tuoi voglio posare,
voglio posare un cor sopra il tuo core
e la bocca che il pianto ha lacerato,
vuol la tua bocca, la
tua bocca, amore.
Ah! Come, dimmi, ti potrò invocare,
quale nome più soave santo?
Ah! Come, dimmi, ti saprò
con qual grido, con qual dolce pianto,
ardente bacio, anima mia?
Giulietta mia, Giulietta mia,
Oh! morta! morta! Dannato me!
Son io, son io,
Giulietta, it’s I, I, can’t you see me?
I who weep no more, I who implore you,
I who come to fall
dead at your feet
because without you, my beloved,
blessed and despairing. Like this, Giulietta.
But I want to
place my chilled hands on your hair,
I want to place my heart
on your heart
and those lips, that have been rent by tears,
want your lips, your lips, my love.
Ah! Tell me, how shall I
with what more sweet and blessed name?
me, how shall I wake you,
with what cry, with what gentle
what ardent kiss, my beloved?
My Giulietta, my
Oh! dead! dead! I am wretched!
I, it is I, Romeo… alas!
Juliet and Romeo are, of
course, characters cruelly bound up in their own story. Yet in
the course of the story Romeo emerges as an abstract image, and
the two subsequent arias – Giordano’s Un dì all’azzurro spazio
and Come un bel dì di Maggio – describe a lyrical hero lamenting
his beloved like the Poet. And moreover a poet for whom Love is
an existential concept, not confined merely to being attracted
to a woman, but encompassing the whole world, establishing the
rules of life and giving birth to poetry itself.
lamentation from Cilea’s L'Arlesiana, with its famous Sempre lei
d’innanzi a me! and Fatale vision, mi lascia!, returns the Poet
again to remembrances of his lost beloved, as does the following
aria of reminiscence, Testa adorata from Leoncavallo’s largely
now forgotten La Boheme. The aria is full of the same really
tangible lips, hands, and head as the appeal to Juliet; the
single lyrical space is undeniable:
adorata, più non tornerai
lieta sul mio guanciale a riposar!
Bianche manine ch’io sul cor scaldai,
più il labbro mio non
vi potrà baciar!
Gaie canzoni de’giorni d’amore,
eco lontana già fuggì.
La stanza è muta e il vedovo mio core
piange nel tedio quei perduti dì!..
Beloved head, you’ll
never come back
to rest happily on my pillow!
hands that I warmed on my heart,
my lips will never be able
to kiss you again!
Cheerful songs of the days of love,
your echo has already fled far away.
My room is silent, and
in this tedium
my widowed heart mourns those lost days!...
In a vain attempt to recoup his loss – or at least to
hide it from a world that does not know genuine love (non
conoscete amore! from the second track) – the Poet puts on a
mask. And here comes the turn of Vesti la giubba, an unarguable
hit that, from having been a stand-alone single, becomes a
similar brick in the unified building erected by Kaufmann and
Pappano. In their reading, this cry of despair becomes so
outrageous because turning suffering into theatrical acting
(tramuta in lazzi un grido ed il pianto!) means profaning the
very idea of a great Love and authentic poetry, giving it up for
the amusement of the crowd. Laughing through the sorrow that
poisons his heart or finding oblivion and truth in wine, which
the Poet tries to do in the bravura Viva il vino spumeggiante!,
which naturally continues the story.
However, even the
cheerful chorus and Mascagni’s boisterous toasts are unable to
drive the secret pain out of the Poet's heart:
Viva vino ch’è sincero,
che ci allieta ogni pensiero,
che affoga l’umor nero
for honest wine
which lightens every thought
the blackest mood
in gentle merriment!
– in these
lines Kaufmann is singing not relief, but anguished attempts at
self-forgetting. His vino ch’è sincero recalls Alexander Blok’s
“in vino veritas”, with the same inescapable grief for a faraway
and unattainable beloved. And having not found oblivion in
drunken merrymaking and feeling death to be near, the Poet sets
off on a pilgrimage: troppi bicchier ne ho traccianti… vado fuor
The journey is two “landscape” arias by Boito
that again allow us to speak of poetry as the supreme
incarnation of Ministry (voglio che questo sogno sia la santa
poesia, e l’ultimo bisogno dell’esistenza mia), and the first
appearance of the theme of conjoined earthly and divine love:
Le torve passioni del cuore
mi ferve soltanto l’amore
l’amore di Dio!
The heart’s grim and turbulent passions
are soothed into tranquil oblivion;
my breast seethes with
one great emotion –
love of man and of God!
The Poet believes that the world must bow before this
masterfully subjugating love, and this unwavering confidence is
heard in Giordano’s Amor ti vieta:
Amor ti vieta
di non amar:
la man tua lieve che mi respinge
stretta della mia man;
la tua pupilla esprime: T’amo!
il labbro dice: Non t’amerò!
Love itself forbids your
your gentla hand that pushes me away
seeks the while the pressure of my hand;
your eyes are
saying: “I love you”,
though you’re your lips frame the
“I shall not love you”.
though, the soul of the Poet himself has not made a complete
recovery. Cilea’s L’anima ho stancа is another attempt to find
understanding, a momentary weakness in its willingness to reject
a love that brings only suffering.
stanca, e la meta è lontana:
non aggiungete la rampogna vana
all’ansia che m’accora.
Assai vi debbo; ah! ma se amor cadrà
memore affetto in cor mi fiorirà!
My heart is tired, and
my goal far away:
don’t add pointless rebukes
anguish that troubles me.
I am much in your debt, but if love
then an affectionate memory will grow
in my heart.
Yet the very next track – Cilea’s La dolcissima effigie
– is a pre-vision of an ideal beloved, a foretaste of a swiftly
La dolcissima effigie sorridente
in te rivedo della madre cara;
nel tuo cor della mia patria
l’aura ribevo, che m’aprì la mente.
Bella tu sei, come la mia bandiera,
delle pugne fiammante
entro il vapor;
tu sei gioconda come la chimera
Gloria promessa al vincitor.
Sì. Amor mi fa poeta.
see in you the sweet,
smiling image of my mother;
heart I find again
the wonderful air of my country,
has enlightened me.
You are beautiful, like my flag,
the smoke and flame of battle;
you are cheerful like the
of glory promised to the victor.
Yes, Love has made
me a poet.
This track is like a lens that
focuses in one powerful ray of meaning and emotion all of the
cycle’s key images: the image of the mother, which first
appeared in Mamma, qual vino è generoso; the patriotic fervour
of true love designated in Un dì all’azzurro spazio; and the
impossibility of the Poet’s very existence in the absence of
And the next track – Ponchielli’s Sì, quest’estrema
grazia – describes yet another theme, which comes to dominate
the finale of the cycle: the theme of imminent death and
Per te d’un cor morente
addio le suoni.
Dille che a me perdoni,
Let her hear the final farewell
dying heart through you.
Ask her to forgive me,
will absolve me.
The expectation of an Ideal Beloved
and the readiness to be joined with her – and clearly not just
for Earthly life, which simply does not have that pure
exultation, that brilliance and radiance immanent only to the
sphere of the ideal – this is Ponchielli’s Cielo e mar!, to
Boito’s verse. The perfect symbolism, written and performed in
sparkling colours, is devoid of any of the physicality that
occupied a substantial place in the first tracks of the cycle.
Cielo e mar! l’etereo velo
splende come un santo
L’angiol mio verrà dal cielo?
L’angiol mio verrà
Qui t’attendo; ardente spira
oggi il vento
Ah! quell’uom che vi sospira
vi conquide, o
Per l’aura fonda
non appar nè suol, nè monte.
L’orizzonte bacia l’onda!
L’onda bacia l’orizzonte!
nell’ombra, ov’io mi giacio
coll’anelito del cor,
donna, vieni al bacio
della vita e dell’amor!
sea! Heavens airy sail
shimmers like an altar.
angel descend from Heaven?
Will my angel ascend from the sea?
Here I wait; the winds of passion
warmly blow this day.
Ah, sweet dreams, the man who dreams them
will achieve his
Far and wide,
naught of shoreline or hill
The horizon kisses the water,
the water returns
Here in the dark I wait
with longing in my
come, beloved, here the kiss
of love and life
The intolerably bright lustre is
dimmed; the picture is the same, but in a minor key. To achieve
this effect, Kaufmann and Pappano include in their cycle Licinio
Refice’s Ombra di nube, to Emidio Mucci’s text:
Era in ciel un arco azzurro di fulgor;
chiara luce si versava
sul mio cuor.
Ombra di nube, non mi offuscare;
non velarmi la beltà.
Vola, o nube, vola da me lontan;
disperso questo mio tormento arcan.
Ancora luce, ancora
Il sereno io vegga per l’eternità!
was an arc of dazzling blue;
A brilliant light shone down on
Shadow of a cloud, do not bring me darkness;
not obscure the beauty of life for me.
Fly, cloud, fly far
away from me;
Let this strange torment of mine be swept away.
Bring back the light, bring back the blue!
Let me see the
clear sky for all eternity!
“The music shows a
sadness, also a certain insecurity. You understand how that wish
doesn’t come out of the blue – it’s because this person has a
lot of suffering behind him”: this commentary of Kaufmann’s is
quoted in the sleeve notes. Another secret is revealed in the
same place: it was the artist who convinced the studio to
include the final scene from “Andrea Chenier” in the cycle; a
scene without which the poetic cycle would have been incomplete;
a scene that crowns the entire work by exposing the genuine
essence and genuine goal of the Poet’s pilgrimage.
ecstatic duet Vicino a te is the long-awaited obtaining of the
Beloved, from whom the Poet will no longer be parted. Unity and
merging in death; death that does not bring grief and decay, but
rather the triumph of new life. La nostra morte è il trionfo
dell’amor! exclaims the Poet, and his beloved echoes him:
Nell’ora che si muor eterni diveniamo! The cycle is complete.
The road has been travelled from the earthly longing so
powerfully seen in Romeo’s lament to the ascension into eternity
– an eternity that celebrates love.
The make-up of the
cycle, as is usual for such works, is centripetal. The first
eight of the seventeen tracks make up the first section, which
is dominated by the theme of loss and despair and attempts to be
rid of it. The eight tracks from 10 to 17 form the second
section, finding and rising, in which melody and emotion rise to
vertiginous heights, and where “all those B flats,” in
Kaufmann’s words, “seem the most natural thing in the world”.
The switch clearly happens in the ninth track, Dai campi, dai
prati, the first to sound the theme of a Divine love.
Analysing the lexical unity of a poetic cycle on paper is
simple. A scholar of music would probably have no difficulty in
doing something similar with the score, finding common melodic
threads in the arias from La Gioconda (1876) and in Refice’s
aria (1835), which in theory at least do not fall within the
boundaries of verismo arias. But these numbers are welded into a
unified poetic cycle to a much greater degree, and more
strongly, by the tone and personality of the performer, who like
no one else is able to create secondary and tertiary layers of
meaning in each of his performances. The turn away from the
worldly crowd, the finding of peace and meaning in the dawning
eternity over the course of one’s final few years appear to be
Kaufmann’s signature themes – in Tosca, Don Carlo and Werther.
The tenore di bella morte, a term coined to describe the typical
Verdian hero, is fully applicable to Kaufmann’s lyrical hero,
with just one slight difference, that romantic tenors as a rule
die as a consequence of external circumstances, whereas
Kaufmann’s heroes carry their tragic predestination in their own
souls. For all that, his heroes’ thrusting “beyond the brink”,
with all the themes of decadence, is devoid of gloomy solemnity,
with Kaufmann painting them not in lunar but rather in sunny
tones. Ella vien con sole – ella vien col mattino – viene come
l’aurora! The solar images here are key to Kaufmann’s conception
of a “beautiful death”. Looking at his Werther, you begin to
understand, not in terms of rational knowledge but emotionally,
why Europe saw an explosion in the fashion for suicide after the
publication of Goethe’s novel. And while Cielo e mar! was
originally written into the opera as a “nocturnal” aria, on this
disc it is the sound of dawn – in the first rays of the sun, in
the form of a sinless world cleansed of earthly passions and
Kaufmann is one of the few artists whose
interpretation is able to reveal new dimensions in a work, and
to open up new meanings. In the case of these verismo arias, he
has managed to demonstrate not only the hyper-realism that we
all know, adjoined to a similarly hypertrophied emotion, but
also verismo’s close proximity to the poetics of symbolism and
decadence. His singing is considered cold by many, partially
mixing up emotion with a carefree negligence. His emotion,
though, is always expressed with sublime nobility. These
qualities are rarely associated in the popular consciousness
with “Italianness”. Yet they are fully immanent to Italian
operatic style, and this disc with the simple title “Verismo
Arias” is further proof of this.
Translated by Peter Morley