Limelight, August 8, 2014
by Clive Paget
Kaufmann to Sydney, luggage to London
Star tenor arrives for Oz concerts with bags of charisma but sans suitcases.
Jonas Kaufmann, the biggest operatic draw of the musical year, has arrived safely in Sydney despite his luggage winding up in London. The star tenor left Spain following a concert in Barcelona to spend two days acclimatising in Cairns before heading south.

"Fortunately I had my tails in hand-luggage just in case," he told a packed press conference at the Sydney Opera House where he is due to perform the first of three concerts on Sunday. The German opera sensation chatted informally to Opera Australia's Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini, joking that perhaps he should keep his (enforced) jeans, shirt and jacket look if opera is to attract a younger crowd.

In a wide-ranging discussion Kaufmann reflected on the profession, choice of program for his Australian debut and the pressures of being the most sought after singer on the planet. In a carefully husbanded career, Kaufmann is remarkable among modern singers for being a German singer equally at home in the Italian repertoire. "My parents went to Italy on holiday and I picked up the language early", he said, referring to his discovery that he could sing in Verdi and Puccini. "But it took me a long, long time to convince people to accept that. People often think inside the box."

It apparently took him a while to persuade opera managements. "They'd say, 'you just can’t sing Italian and French and German'. And I'd say, 'but there's Plácido' – and they'd say 'that doesn’t count – he’s the exception'. But here we are many years later – and I think we're almost there".

Among his life lessons were "you can never imitate some one else – that was one of the first things I learned. You can never be the second Pavarotti or the second Domingo or Caruso or Corelli." Discussing how he copes with the demands of singing Siegmund in Die Walküre one night and Manrico inTrovatore the next he was candid. "You need a technique that makes your instrument reliable and relaxed so that you don't consume or abuse it. Let it do its thing. And if this works, it should actually work for every repertoire."

His programs in Sydney and Melbourne centre on Italian and French operas – Pagliacci, Tosca, La Forza del Destino, Carmen and Werther – which might disappoint the Wagner fans, but Kaufmann was keen to explain his choices. "When you do a concert in a country for the first time it's not a good idea to do a very specialised program", he said. "I’ve just done a concert in Barcelona. Two years ago I went there and the Spanish said 'where's all the Wagner, where's all the Wagner!' and I thought: 'Spanish audience – why would I come and sing Wagner?' But it turns out they love Wagner. So I came back and did some Spanish themed music and also some Wagner and immediately people say 'Where's the Werther? Where's the Carmen?' So you can't please everybody…"

Jonas Kaufmann sings for Opera Australia in Sydney on August 10 and 17 and in Melbourne on August 14.

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