Le City deluxe, 2/2012
Interview Toni Delgado
Jonas Kaufmann - German tenor reflects on career
In roles of spectacular diversity, Jonas Kaufmann has triumphed internationally as a German tenor.
We heard , that in your youth, you used to spend Sunday mornings listening to music with your sister...is this something that has continued over the years or has your busy schedule "forced" you to dispense with these "little family pleasures"?

Fortunately, we could reestablish this tradition of listening in the family circle. Of course, it's not with my sister anymore, who has lived in Northern Germany for many years, but with my wife, who is also a singer and our three kids. And instead of "Sunday morning on the sofa" it's whenever we've got some time, mostly in the evening or during longer routes with the car or live in the opera house.

Your first major role was in Johann Strauss' comic operetta "Eine Nacht in Venedig" we suppose you have special memories of the time, but was it that performance that marked a turning point in your career?

This was Caramello, the Duke's personal court barber, in "Eine Nacht in Venedig", a new production at the Regensburg Opera, which is about an hour and a half by train from Munich. I was still a student then, and I had to get special permission to do it, because I would have to be available for a grand total of 36 performances. I won't call it a "turning point" in my career, but for the first time I could taste the joy of singing and acting a real major role.

In the summer of 1996, the State Theatre in Saarbrücken offered you to renew your permanent contract but you declined the invitation to choose your own roles. In line with the development of your voice...was it a risky decision? Or was it always clear for you, that it was the right way?

At that time, going to freelance was a risky decision for sure, and I knew the risk I was taking. Of course I was more than a little uneasy over not being on a permanent roster anywhere, but I didn't want other people making decisions for me anymore. I wanted to choose my own roles in keeping with the development of my voice, making sure I would be neither overtaxed nor under challenged. Thank God, it all worked out. I was especially happy to get an offer from the theatre in Trier, also on the French border, to appear in the world première of "The Glass Menagerie", Antonio Bibalo's operatic version of the great Tennessee Williams play. After that I got a chance to sing at the Stuttgart State Opera, which has just been singled out for the title "Opera House of the Year". In November of 1997, I made my début there as the Arabian scholar Edrisi in the opera "King Roger" by Karol Szymanowski. They also gave me the chance to sing my first Alfredo in "La Traviata" and other major tenor roles. Between the last performances of "King Roger", rehearsals for my first international production began: Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" at the Piccolo Teatro di Milano with the great stage director Giorgio Strehler. The work with this genius was an absolute privilege for me - and all the more was the sorrow of the entire company when Strehler passed away shortly before completing his work directing the production in December of 1997. But the production was an unforgettable success and I will never forget the first night, when the audience called Strehler's name at the end of the opera, when candles were the only illumination on stage. Very touching!

In 2001, William Mason, the Director General of entrepreneurs from the Lyric Opera of Chicago invited you to the United States for the first time- to sing Cassio in "Otello"... what differences did you find between American and European audience?

During my first production in Chicago, I'm sure that I sensed some differences between American and European audiences, but everything was overshadowed by the horrors of the terror attacks. September 11 was in the mid of our rehearsal time, the première of "Otello" was eleven days later. Between the last two performances I took a plane from Chicago to New York to audition for James Levine. In fact, this was already my second audition for him; the first had taken place at the Philharmonic Hall in Munich. But this was my first singing in the huge auditorium of the Metropolitan Opera, alone on the stage, singing the arias of Tamino and Alfredo, with James Levine sitting in the dark and listening. I loved to sing there and this was the beginning of our collaboration.

The giant step in your career came in February 2006 with your debut as Alfredo in "La Traviata" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York...if you had to choose a new role to debute at the Metropolitan...would you repeat as Alfredo?

No, I don't think so, though it was one the greatest moments of my life. But there are some roles which I consider even more suitable for me, both as a singer and as an actor, let's say Don José and Werther, Cavaradossi and Don Carlo.

Since the first "Romantic Arias" have followed others...and with great success! This year Adriana Lecouvreur has been published...would you give us a preview and what and when your next job will be?

You mean future projects on DVD or CD? There are plans to put the Zurich production of Humperdinck's "Königskinder" on DVD, and I'm looking forward to the DVD version of the London "Tosca" with Angela Gheorghiu and Bryn Terfel, conducted by Tony Pappano. The next CD will be Simon Rattle's production of "Carmen", which had its première at the Salzburg Easter Festival this year and had been recorded shortly after in the Berlin Philharmonic Hall by EMI. As you know it will come back to Salzburg in August, again with Magdalena Kozena and Genia Kühmeier singing the leading ladies.

Last December in New York you received the prize of the Gerda Lissner Charity Foundation which you donated entirely to the BSO's Children's and Young People's Program Campus for which you are an ambassador...congratulations on always supporting the young.

For me, supporting projects which bring classical music and opera to kids and youngsters is a duty, a must! After all, they are our audience in future. Furthermore, I'm convinced that without those "Sunday listenings" at home, without that Sunday afternoon family performance of "Madama Butterfly" in the National Theatre in Munich, I might have never discovered the magic world of opera, which became such an essential part of my life. So, I try to support those projects as much as I can. Of course you will never reach the masses, but I think that a good opera performance or concert can still have this magical effect on young listeners, despite of computer games and all those forms of modern entertainment.

This summer we will see you for the first time in Spain at the Peralada Festival...How will you be presented the next season...your upcoming appointments with the audience?

You mean in Spain? Hopefully I will come back to Spain many times, since I've got very nice memories to performances and concerts in Valencia, Sevilla, Barcelona and Madrid- and to the audiences as well.

Jonas Kaufmann will be at Festival Peralada on August 22th.

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