Trick or treat? Given the tendency of opera singers to deliver some
pretty gruesome surprises when they venture into the recital hall for an
occasional evening of song, it might have seemed all too prescient a choice
for Jonas Kaufmann to pick Halloween for his debut (Anmerkung: Jonas
Debüt in der Wigmore Hall war in 2003) at London’s Wigmore Hall
to sing some Schubert.
Admittedly, Kaufmann is no ordinary opera
singer. Having been virtually unknown on the international circuit five
years ago, he has risen to the top very fast and now ranks as the leading
German romantic tenor of his generation, if not of the past half century. As
a Wagnerian, he has the hopes of the entire opera world riding on his vocal
Happily, they seemed in good fettle at the Wigmore on
Sunday, though Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin is not the most comfortable
outing for them. Compared with the other tenor voices that sing Schubert
here, Kaufmann’s burnished sound is not only much bigger, it is also
extraordinarily deep and dark. A soft head voice comes into play when he
needs to lighten the tone, but in this performance it was overworked. The
effect was akin to an artist trying to paint in watercolour with the
broadest of brushes.
For all that, Kaufmann’s singing was always
alive. Provided with a firm foundation in Helmut Deutsch’s strong
accompaniments, he sang the words as though he felt every line keenly – the
miller’s wistful questions to the brook were so immediate that one half
wanted to answer – and registered each downward step in the tragic descent
towards suicide with an opera singer’s eye for character.
that is why the emotional journey seemed to take on heroic proportions. From
the high point of “Dein ist mein Herz”, ringing out with Heldentenor pride,
to the peace of the last song in the waters of the brook, wafted on a head
tone so soft it was barely audible and with Deutsch’s accompaniments lapping
gently underneath, everything worked on a big scale – of volume, of tone
colour, of feeling. On disc, compared with specialist Lieder singers, this
performance would lack the proper fineness of touch, but hearing Kaufmann’s
voice in the Wigmore is – well, a treat, on Halloween or any other night.