The Gazette, January 31, 2014
By Arthur Kaptainis
Tenor Jonas Kaufmann has range
Opera singer enjoys both dramatic and lyrical roles

MONTREAL — “I’m afraid that Regietheater is too wide a field to discuss in interviews properly,” Jonas Kaufmann was saying — or writing, this being an email exchange — from somewhere over the pond. The subject I had proposed was the way-out-there opera productions common in Europe and, increasingly, elsewhere.

“We all know those productions that seem to be the operatic version of ADD or ADHD: attracting the attention of public and press at all costs. On the other end there are, if seldom, those productions that really deserve to be called innovative: everything is different, but seems quite logical and convincing to a degree that you wonder why nobody has put it this way before.

“Between those poles there is a big range of every sort of quality. If you are lucky, you have a director who respects the music and does justice to the work.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I do not vote for ‘traditional’ productions. In fact, I prefer the unconventional ones, but on the basis of RESPECTING (Kaufmann’s capitals) the music and using its energy instead of wasting it on creating a ‘scandal.’ ”

Probably the top German-speaking tenor in the world — not that he confines himself to his mother tongue — Kaufmann will be heard in a program of opera arias Sunday at 2 in Salle Wilfrid Pelletier with the Orchestre Métropolitain under conductor Jochen Rieder.

There will selections by Bizet, Mascagni, Massenet, Ponchielli, Puccini and Wagner. But no laboratory rats committing suicide en masse — as there were in a Bayreuth production of Wagner’s Lohengrin starring Kaufmann in 2010 — or photos from the Baghdad prison known as Abu Ghraib, which loom large in a production of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino (with Kaufmann as Alvaro) that closed three weeks ago in the tenor’s hometown of Munich.

Kaufmann cordially declined an invitation to criticize either production.

“I don’t think that the Abu Ghraib pictures (the Austrian director) Martin Kusej showed in his Forza production are anti-American (this being the interpretation of many observers),” he commented. “They are a symbol for the horrors of the abuse of power, and that’s part of the story in Verdi’s opera.”

If the tenor’s position on the subject seems nuanced, it might be characteristic of a singer who works not in black and white but with light and shade. Montrealers will recall Kaufmann’s moving treatment of Schubert’s song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin last January in the Maison symphonique. He makes Lieder part of every season and refers to art song as “the royal class of singing.”

Yet he reaches his greatest public with opera. Kaufmann takes the title role in a run of Massenet’s Werther at the Metropolitan Opera in March. The Verdi Album was a major release on Sony last year. It included two selections from Otello, an opera whose title role is usually classed in the heavyweight heroic category rather than the light-heavyweight division that Kaufmann dominates.

“I consider myself as a tenor who is capable to sing lyrical roles as well as dramatic ones,” he says, I mean writes, with finality. “I feel at home at those roles which require both qualities, like Don José and Werther, Siegmund and Parsifal, Don Carlo and Alvaro. Otello will come in about two years. I can’t wait.

“Siegfried? Well, we’ll see.”

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