To opera fans, Jonas Kaufmann needs little or no introduction. The mere mention of his name sends critics to their dictionaries to look up superlatives and then some. So when Opera Australia announced that he would be giving a recital in Sydney, that automatically became one of the hottest tickets of 2014. And it would be somewhat trite to say that it was a huge success.
If you are not impressed by his voice, then chances are that you will be impressed by his movie star looks. Little wonder therefore that he has garnered so much attention both within opera circles and outside the classical music world.
Kaufmann’s voice has been described in various ways. What is undeniable is that it has an amazing range from the high true tenor register to the baritonal depths. And he sings powerfully, not forcefully, with clarity both musically and in his diction.
The fact that there was no Wagner on the programme may have been a small surprise but on closer inspection, there was a sensible logic to it.
After the overture from I vespri siciliani to start proceedings, Puccini’s Recondita Armonia from Tosca gave the audience the first chance to hear that amazing voice. Any acoustic flaws from the venue were simply forgotten as he showed both vocal quality and power in equal measure. No prizes for guessing that the applause and cheering was sustained.
Improvviso from Andrea Chenier gave Kaufmann to show his delicate side. It brought to mind a recent interview in which he noted that one critic said that he could only sing loudly. Had that critic hear that, he would likely have had to eat his words as Kaufmann more than sufficiently exhibited dynamic and dramatic control.
Don Alvaro’s La vita e inferno from Act III of La Forza del destino was keenly anticipated, more so as the overture was performed immediately beforehand. Was there drama ? Yes. Was there power ? Of course. We were utterly captivated ? Absolutely. Many in the audience thought that this was his finest piece of the evening and it was not difficult to agree.
To end the first half, appropriately, Kaufmann’s rendition of Vesti la giubba from the end of Act I of Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci conveyed all the emotion of the betrayed clown. It’s a piece that we’ve all heard sung well and sung badly but this was exceptional in its clarity
For the second half, primarily in French and this was started very well with the vigorous Bacchanale from Saint-Saens’ Sampson et Dalila.
La fleur que tu m’avai jetee from Bizet’s Carmen was a chance to see and hear the reflective and subdued side of an artist at the height of his powers. But no less passionate in contrast to the first half.
If, like me, you had read the reviews from his performances at the Met in New York, you would have been looking forward to Pourquoi me reveiller from Massenet’s Werther. Kaufmann did not disappoint again exhibiting emotional and dynamic control.
He finished the first half with Pag and to close the printed programme, how appropriate to have some Cav, specifically Mamma, quel vino e generoso. Again, an emotionally captivating performance which was greeted rapturously by the full house.
Of course, the audience would never be satisfied without an encore (or three) which included ‘E lucevan le stelle’ from Tosca and two songs in German, each sung with as much energy as every other aria on the programme and which were each met with standing ovations and thunderous applause. How could you not ?
The Opera Australia orchestra responded very well to their star guest throughout the evening under the clear direction of Jochen Rieder. If anything, the musical interludes in between arias served to heighten the anticipation of the next piece. A truly stunning evening. How lucky was I to have been there !