Euronews, 10/12/2015
Text by Nick Hammond
Center stage: Opéra National de Paris
The art of the tenor: Jonas Kaufmann
In Faust, a musically wide-ranging role
 Jonas Kaufmann is possibly the most sought-after tenor in the world at the moment, selling out opera houses and concert halls well in advance, and it is easy to see why. He possesses an impressive vocal range (from high tenor down to deeper baritone) and has the versatility to perform at the highest level in a wide variety of repertoires, encompassing lighter lyric tenor roles, the great roles of the Italian, French and German 19th-century operatic canon and, in recent years, even singing a number of the much heavier Wagner parts. Those who were lucky enough to see his Parsifal or Siegmund (in ‘‘Die Walküre’’) at the Metropolitan Opera in New York will not forget his performances in a hurry. It is therefore no surprise when he cites Plácido Domingo as one of his earliest influences, because the Spanish tenor/baritone is one of the very few singers to have similar versatility and flexibility.

Kaufmann is a familiar face in Paris. He has performed regularly at both the Opera Garnier and the Bastille Opera, where he is returning to sing the title role in Berlioz’s ‘‘La Damnation de Faust,’’ opposite Bryn Terfel as Méphistophélès and Sophie Koch as Marguerite (two singers that he knows well), during the month of December.

He loves especially the sharp contrast between the Bastille and the Garnier. ‘‘It is wonderful to have two very different opera houses for different repertoires,’’ he says. ‘‘The shape of the Bastille stage is strange to some because it is so wide, but the acoustics are very good and they help the singers to have the audience at much closer range than is the case in many more traditional theaters.’’

Although he has sung the part of Faust in a number of operatic and concert performances, it has been a decade since he last performed the role, and he is happy to revisit it. When asked whether his interpretation of Faust has changed since he first played the part in Brussels in 2002, he is emphatic that he adds to the character every time he rediscovers it.

Also, the fact that his voice has developed in the last few years with the new roles that he has sung means that some musical phrases that used to challenge his voice now come much more easily.

Vocally the part is, he says, similar to many French repertory roles: ‘‘They never want to stay in one direction. The music follows the emotions. For Faust, at one moment there is a high lyric side which then moves to a dramatic range, with strong emotions involved. Later, after he has encountered Méphistophélès, he is almost a Heldenbaritone, with some low notes. It’s a big mix but it makes sense, since it follows the whole gamut of feelings that Faust is going through.’’

Before the premiere of the Berlioz opera on Dec. 8, Jonas Kaufmann will be singing in the ‘‘pre-premiere’’ dress-rehearsal showing on Dec. 5, which is open to spectators who are under the age of 28 and who pay only 10 euros (or about $11) for their ticket, and he is excited by the prospect.

‘‘It is a great idea,’’ he says, ‘‘as it attracts a younger audience to the opera. The experience is very different, as sometimes the audience giggles where you wouldn’t expect it, but it is always interesting to see their reaction. ‘La Damnation de Faust’ is a fresh and young piece, and I think that a young audience will respond well to it.’’

Having recently sung in the Royal Albert Hall in London at the ‘‘Last Night of the Proms,’’ where the audience is always very vocal and raucous, Kaufmann jokes that he is now ready to face any reaction when
on stage.

Kaufmann is always preparing new parts, and, in addition to returning to the Bastille in a year’s time to sing the title role in Offenbach’s ‘‘Tales of Hoffmann,’’ he is about to sing in Wagner’s ‘‘Die Meistersinger’’ in Munich and in Verdi’s ‘‘Otello’’ in London, and is also learning some new Wagner roles.

As for the future of opera and classical music, Jonas Kaufmann is optimistic. Even if there are ups and downs in the music world, he says, many people, like him, cannot live without it: ‘‘Of course the financial cuts of the past few years have had an effect, but one of the best distractions from such crises is music. People forget their sorrows, are able to dream and travel into another world.’’


 back top