Opera News, February 2006
Sound Bites: Jonas Kaufmann
Jonas Kaufmann’s name didn’t mean much in Chicago when Lyric Opera gave a 2001 concert to preview its upcoming season. Most of the 30,000-plus opera fans who filled the vast lawn in front of the Petrillo Music Shell in downtown Grant Park probably showed up for the evening’s stars: Ben Heppner, Renée Fleming and Susan Graham. But listeners started diving for their programs the minute Kaufmann strode onstage and unfurled a searing performance of Federico’s lament from Cilèa’s L’Arlesiana. His singing was supple and resonant, his tone velvety on the edges but steely at its core.

“It was really so thrilling,” the Munich-born Kaufmann recalls. “It was a perfect late-summer evening. The skyline of Chicago was behind the crowd, and the sea — I’m sorry, I should say the lake — was right there. I had never sung for so many people before. It was incredible.” Two weeks later, he made a successful U.S. opera debut as Cassio in Lyric’s Otello.

Now thirty-six and comfortably based at Zurich Opera, Kaufmann makes his Metropolitan Opera debut on February 4 in La Traviata opposite Angela Gheorghiu. He has a repertoire that defies conventional boundaries. Last season he bounced from Cassio in Paris to Flamand in a concert performance of Strauss’s Capriccio in Edinburgh; Nerone in Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea and Tito in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, both at the Zurich Opera, to the king’s son in a concert version of Humperdinck’s Die Königskinder at the Montpellier Festival.

“I don’t have any special repertoire,” said Kaufmann. “I’m very happy that I’m able to do such wide repertoire with this voice. I’m only following my voice. If I specialized in anything, it would annoy me a lot.” Married with three children, Kaufmann fights very hard to balance his professional and private lives. “The professional life can benefit a lot from a sane private life,” he says. “You maybe don’t like your colleagues in a production. You’re not happy with the musical part of your life. But I can go home and play with the children and forget all that. At the point where you go home and change the nappies, it forces you not to be a diva.”
Photographed by Johannes Ifkovits in Hallein, Austria
Grooming by Evelyn Rillé
© Johannes Ifkovits 2006

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