Harper's Bazaar, 9 January 2015
By George Smart
The One True Tenor: Jonas Kaufmann
Bazaar catches up with the superstar singer Jonas Kaufmann before he joins the Royal Opera House for a new production
Jonas Kaufmann has a voice of winning grandeur; a tenor with a dark timbre that makes him the essential dramatic lead for the handful of houses in the world that can match his artistic
standards. Now able to do practically anything he wants, Kaufmann has – unusually for an opera star – also built a reputation as a leading performer of the German art song (lieder). After the expected but extremely welcome recital discs of the standard opera repertoire, that nowadays serve as the only studio outlet available to modern opera singers given the near-
death experience of the classical recording industry, Kaufmann is offering lighter fare with a disc of hits from Twenties and Thirties German operetta. The star singer returns to Covent Garden this January for David McVicar’s new production of Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. We caught up with him in rehearsal before Christmas.

Tell us about the new production of Andrea Chénier

It’s a period piece with a specific historic background, so it couldn’t really be set anywhere but during the French Revolution. Although in that setting you’ve got plenty of opportunity to tell the story and bring the characters to life. And I am sure that David McVicar will use the emotional impact of the music to get the best out of this piece. I love working with him as he always makes things more interesting.

Do you have any choice on the productions you sing in?

Yes, someone in my position does have an influence over new productions. You can ask for people you’d like to work with, you can make suggestions. Of course, the artistic director will have the final say on the cast, and quite often you have to live with changes and compromises – not least due to the fact that new productions are planned five or six years in advance. This is one of the things in the opera business that really bothers me: who can predict today the ideal cast for a Tannhäuser or Hoffmann in 2020? Even if you could, nobody can make sure that it will really work. You always have to take risks; you can’t plan everything to the very last detail. An opera production isn’t a painting that you can just throw away if you’re not happy with it.

Why do you enjoy singing German art song?

Not only German art song, I enjoy singing lieder in general. For me, it’s the ‘royal class’ of singing. Vocally, it needs many more skills than opera. In a lied recital, it’s just you and your partner at the piano. You can’t hide behind a mask, a costume, a colleague or a big orchestral sound – you are totally exposed. For those singers who are ‘stage animals’, this might be a problem. They feel naked, vulnerable and unprotected. There are no excuses at all: no conductor or stage director who have influenced them, for better or worse. For me, it’s a big challenge. You have to keep the whole thing together and maintain high standards from beginning to end. And it is very satisfying when you are successful.

How do you kill time when not singing?

I love reading, watching movies, going to museums, attending performances, cooking and going shopping. And if someone I’m working with in the future has something on, I’ll try to catch it.

What does 2015 hold for you?

2015 is a year of new repertoire for me. I have a new lieder programme. Chenier is a new role. I’m doing a concert performance of Aida with Tony Pappano [Music Director of the Royal Opera], singing my first Radamés. And I’m singing both tenor roles in Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci at the Salzburg Easter Festival.

Tell us about the new disc.

It’s a collection of songs from the late Twenties and the early Thirties, titled Du bist die Welt für mich, after the famous tenor tune composed by Richard Tauber. The album offers many evergreens from the ‘silver epoch’ of operetta as well as some great hits from the beginning of the sound film era. It’s gorgeous, happy music; very popular among the older generation,
but unfortunately almost unknown to a younger audience. But I’m sure it will make a comeback. There’s a growing interest in the music – its historical background and in the genre as well.

Do you listen to opera?

As the years go by I find myself getting more passionate about opera and singers. Therefore, I can’t listen to it as background music; I need something else to relax to. The kids introduce me to the latest pop music and I have always loved jazz, so that’s what I tend to listen to.

You have had some time to relax over the Christmas period. What’s the best thing about your break?

Being with my family – and having a drink! The thing about singing is that you always have that red light flashing a few days before a performance. You can’t do anything much before:
you have to take such care over the voice and sometimes it’s nice to have that extra glass of wine when you don’t have to perform.

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