Australian Book Review, 18 August 2014
Peter Rose
Konzert, Hamer Hall, Melbourne, 14. August 2014
Jonas Kaufmann in Concert
Six words would suffice to describe Jonas Kaufmann’s Melbourne début. He came, he sang, he conquered
This was Kaufmann’s second appearance in Australia, after a gala in Sydney (repeated on August 17). It’s not often that an impresario or Opera Australia manages to lure a great tenor to this country. The inimitable Carlo Bergonzi visited in 1979 and gave a masterclass in tenor singing to about 300 noisy adorers at the Palais. Luciano Pavarotti followed in 1983; he brought a pianist, his Mimi of the moment, and a light program consisting mostly of songs.

Kaufmann’s concert was very different, with a full orchestra and a packed house. Before the concert we were in the dark about the program. Those who like to swot might have appreciated a promotional hint. But no one could have complained about the choice of music: seven major arias, including several closely associated with Kaufmann; and seven overtures and intermezzi from the band, capably led by conductor Jochen Rieder.

Much excited journalism has attended Kaufmann’s brief visit to Australia. I will not comment on the profusion of languages at his command, the liberality of his dark curls, nor the compulsions of his good looks. The voice is quite enough. I first heard him fourteen years ago in Dresden, four years before international stardom descended on him at the Met. Most people were there to hear Susan Graham’s Marguerite, but the young Kaufmann – as Berlioz’s Faust – was magnetic.

The voice, inevitably, has darkened since then, with a transfiguring baritonal depth that gives him such stamina and flexibility. (Who knows what he will be singing in twenty-five years’ time. Perhaps he will follow Domingo into the baritone repertoire.) The mezza voce singing – audacious for a bona-fide star singing in a huge concert hall – was superbly done, always in fine taste and at the service of the music. The high notes were powerful and secure, with a Callas-like emotional heft at the climaxes. Kaufmann has done much singing in recent years – in some of the hardest repertoire (Lohengrin, Parsifal, Cavaradossi, Werther, Des Grieux) – but the voice is in exceptional shape. After a huge and unMelbourne-like ovation, Kaufmann gave us four encores, including Cavaradossi’s second aria (‘Recondita armonia’ had opened the program), and he sounded even better at the end. It was an unforgettable concert.

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