Telegraph, 1 December 2006
Rupert Christiansen
This sexy singer is sticking to opera
 Jonas Kaufmann tells Rupert Christiansen why he won't be jumping on the crossover wagon
Opera isn't short of fine young tenors, but by any standards, in any era, Jonas Kaufmann would rank as a remarkable specimen of the breed.

With his full, warm voice rich in russet and ebony colours, he sings Italian and French with as much aplomb as he does his native German; even more remarkably, he cuts a strikingly tall, slender and romantic figure on stage, his curly black hair and noble profile suggestive of a Pre-Raphaelite Jesus Christ.

But the best news is that Kaufmann is both a serious musician and an intelligent man who isn't out to make a quick buck by spring-boarding off his classical stardom on to the crossover wagon. "I really do love the music I sing," he says, and for all his evident ambition, you don't doubt his sincerity.

He's in London to play José in Francesca Zambello's production of Bizet's Carmen, which opens at the Royal Opera House on December 7.

It's the first time he's sung the role and he says it's "no piece of cake. The score asks you to do a lot of different things, in different areas of the voice, and the character's emotions become so powerful and involving that in the third and fourth acts, there's a danger of losing vocal control. That's why I've waited so long before trying it."

Kaufmann has sung at Covent Garden only once before, when he played the much less demanding role of Ruggero in Puccini's La Rondine, opposite the notorious prima donna Angela Gheorghiu (about whom he is firmly polite).

He's better known in Britain for his appearances at the Edinburgh Festival, where he's been a regular visitor since 1998, appearing in opera, concerts and recitals.

He adores the city and is grateful to the festival's recently retired director Sir Brian McMaster, not only for his loyalty but for the chances he's been given to try out new repertory. "Brian knew just how to tempt me: he had the gift of guessing what might be on my mind, and then making proposals in a rather casual way that was impossible to resist."

Last summer, McMaster scored a final coup in persuading Kaufmann to sing his first Walther in Wagner's Meistersinger, for a memorable concert performance marking the director's farewell. "It really wasn't on my agenda, but how could I turn him down? And it turned out marvellously, and gave me confidence that I can sing this music." He is plainly somewhat miffed that McMaster's successor, Jonathan Mills, has yet to contact him for another booking.

Where he goes next, at 37 and approaching his prime, is a tricky question. He's talking to big record labels about a deal that would jack up his star status, but he's anxious that a contract might push him in directions he doesn't wish to follow.

"I don't want to be identified as the classical guy who did a crossover album, which I'm sure is what they'll want. I'd be happy one day to record operetta and songs like Granada that Fritz Wunderlich sang beautifully, but not now. Lloyd Webber? Pop ballads? Probably not."

He's more interested in the Britten song cycles. "Maybe it's asking for trouble, but so many English tenors sing German lieder – why shouldn't I return the compliment?"

His family is also a priority. He lives with his wife, also a singer, and three young children in Zurich, where he sings regularly, and he's concerned to maintain the stability that this home base allows him.

Earlier this year he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and on the crest of his huge success, he's been offered "so much work in the US that I could sing all year there if I wanted to. But I don't want to. Ten weeks' absence is my maximum – and that's a lot as it is, because I can't hop home for a few days between performances, in the way I can if I'm singing in London or Paris."

The machine threatens to overwhelm him in other respects. Over the next year or so, he finds himself singing Alfredo in La traviata in "Zurich, Paris, London, Milan, Verona, the Met and somewhere else I can't remember". It's not even a role he particularly relishes, but his bella figura makes him the first choice of every diva singing Violetta, so he knows he'll have to make the most of it.

In the Verdian line, he's more excited at the thought of his first Don Carlos in Zurich next February, and further ahead, Otello – "my voice is the right colour, and I'm very drawn to the character's emotional journey".

It all comes down to the gentle art of saying no. "I began to learn how important this is when I started off as a young singer on contract to the opera company in Saarbrücken. Everything I offered, they took, and it ended up harming me. So now I have to play it differently."

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