The Guardian, 11 August 2014
Jermaine Chau
Konzert, Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, 10. August 2014
Jonas Kaufmann review – a technical master with devilish charm
German tenor delights on his first Australian tour with masterful technical control coupled with an endearingly playful side
Superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann is the type of man your mother warned you about. His rock star looks are equal parts Antonio Banderas, George Clooney and Eric Bana – he has the Spaniard’s gaze, Clooney’s statesman-like poise and is an incredible Hulk in the high notes department.

With a face that has graced Vogue, this tenor is the opera world’s closest thing to a Hollywood heartthrob. But does he have more style than substance? After an evening with Kaufmann and 2500 other people at Sydney Opera House that hypothesis is challenged.

Having played the tortured poet in Massenet’s Werther at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in March, Kaufmann makes a consummate Sydney concert debut. The hall is dressed for royalty with garlands of flowers frosting the edge of the stage. It’s the only embellishment of the evening – Kaufmann reinstates the power of the voice ungilded by costumes and stage pyrotechnics. Little context is given for the arias delivered; he lets Verdi, Leoncavallo and Mascagni do the talking.

For much of his Australian audience, who have never heard him live, the collective question hangs in the air: will Kaufmann be as good as he is on YouTube? Puccini’s Recondita Armonia from Tosca breaks the ice and after its final note the audience applaud in rapture, realising he is everything we have heard about and more. The response seems genuinely to move Kaufmann – the shared delight of discovery between an international artist and his antipodean audience.

The highlight of the evening’s tenor repertoire is the aria from La Forza del Destino. Verdi’s music is physically overwhelming for the listener, yet the range of colours Kaufmann extracts proves him to be a pure technician. The tenor voice is acknowledged as one of the hardest voice types to train and Kaufmann has gone through his fair share of difficulty to rebuild his own. Now he has such technical control that for every pianissimi he can evoke either warm plumes of cloud or finely spun threads of gossamer. Here we are witnessing an athlete at his prime. The sheer physical investment in the Verdi arias reminds us that opera is more blood sport than romantic drama.

Beyond all the superlatives, what makes Kaufmann a megastar is his ability to bring other performers to his level. It is wonderful to hear an unshackled Australian Opera & Ballet Orchestra out of the pit and in the limelight. Accompanying the voice, they are beautifully guided by Jochen Rieder and visibly enjoying themselves, particularly in the Saint-Saens Bacchanale. The repertoire of orchestral overtures interlaced between the arias is also expertly selected, including a beautiful rendition of Thais Meditation featuring the concertmaster Laura Hamilton.

Kaufmann completes the night with the French romanticism of Massenet and Bizet, wielding his devilish charm by plucking a rose from the flower garlands and offering it to Hamilton, reigniting the schoolgirl is every women in the hall. Tonight we have experienced two Jonas Kaufmanns: one, an incredible technical beast and consummate professional; the other playful, spontaneous and endearing. He is that dangerous combination: a leading man with substance and style.

 back top