Posts Tagged ‘Jonas Kaufmann’

Cross-purposed Verdi

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Verdi on December 30, 2013 at 11:43 am

Review – La Forza del destino (Live Stream from Bayerische Staatsoper, Saturday 28 December 2013)

Il Marchese di Calatrava & Padre Guardiano – Vitalij Kowaljow
Donna Leonora – Anja Harteros
Don Carlo di Vargas – Ludovic Tézier
Don Alvaro – Jonas Kaufmann
Preziosilla – Nadia Krasteva
Fra Melitone – Renato Girolami
Curra – Heike Grötzinger
The Mayor – Christian Rieger
Trabuco – Francesco Petrozzi

Director – Martin Kušej
Set Design – Martin Zehetgruber
Costume – Heidi Hackl
Lighting – Reinhard Traub
Dramaturgy – Benedikt Stampfli & Olaf A. Schmitt

Conductor – Asher Fisch

As Verdi operas go, La Forza del destino doesn’t have a complicated plot so it’s a shame that the director Martin Kušej’s best intentions to create a simple narrative was at best patchy.

Fortunately, the quality of the singing on the stage was up to the usual high standard as was the technical achievement of the Bayerische Staatsoper as they continue their commitment to making their productions globally available. And it was elevated even higher by role debuts of Anja Harteros as Donna Leonora and Jonas Kaufmann as Don Alvaro. However there wasn’t a weak link in the principal roles with each singer delivering musically intelligent performance in spite of Kušej.

On this occasion the laurels must go to Anja Harteros. From her first entry she dominated the stage both vocally and dramatically. In both her solo numbers as well as her duets and ensemble numbers she displayed enviable musical discipline with well-placed vibrato, a masterful control of dynamics and a range of vocal colour. As expected Pace, Pace, mio Dio was the highlight of her performance but throughout her portrayal of Leonora – especially her often missed vulnerability – was musically intelligent. Take for instance her opening Romanza Me pellegrina ed orfana or more especially the way she spun out the vocal line of Madre, pietosa Vergina in the second scene of Act Two and La Vergine degli Angeli at the very end of that same act.

As Alvaro, Kaufmann was equally confident both musically and performance wise. However – and as I have said before – there are times when I would like to see more finesse and sensitivity in his singing although admittedly there isn’t that much scope afforded for this in the role of Alvaro. However I did wont for me little more vocal colour and flexibility in his first duet with Leonora. I cannot deny that his singing during the opening of the Third Act wasn’t poised rather than sensitive yet still thrilling but I can’t stop thinking that in terms of musical interpretation his approach is still rather black and white with very little shading. However he does seem to spark off his fellow performers as his scenes with Ludovic Tézier’s Don Carlo demonstrated. And as the vengeful son, Tézier with his bright and supple baritone, was excellent once he had gained musical momentum after a rather wooden Son Pereda, son ricco d’onore.

Nadia Krasteva – hamstrung by a ridiculous costume – is in possession of what I would describe a typically Eastern European voice. Big and bold, deep and dark-hued it has a heaviness to it that isn’t unappealing and well suited to Verdi roles if not this one completely. It’s worth checking out her YouTube channel.

The remaining male roles were well cast. As both Calatrava and Guardiano, Vitalij Kowaljow didn’t quite distinguish between the two. However this might have been at the bdding of Kušej but if it was, it wasn’t followed through by the director himself. Similarly both Christian Rieger and Renato Girolami acquitted themselves well.

It was quite difficult to make out any of the subtlety or nuances in the orchestral playing however the Fisch’s choice of tempi was smart and he gave the singers the space they needed to do full justice to Verdi’s vocal lines.

Sadly, Kušej’s vision of Forza didn’t pass muster as well as the performances on stage. The set – at times reminding me of Tcherniakov’s set for his ENO Boccanegra – aimed at simplicity. Perhaps over simplicity. In paring down this opera to his interpretation of its elemental themes ultimately led Kušej to strip too much away.I also wondered what the dramaturgists Stampfli and Schmitt had contributed.

Set somewhere that seemed a cross between Mafioso Sicily and a war-torn country somewhere in the Balkans, the Calatrava’s familial tensions were played out over dinner in the overture. Indeed the table and the crucifix upon it were evident throughout the entire opera as recurring visual motifs regardless of whether it was home, chapel, prison or battleground. But apart from acting as visual anchors – with the only arresting use of the cross coming at the end in a last gasp of creative desperation – the director didn’t seem interested in developing any true sense of narrative around either item.

Parts of each act played out in a prison or demolished house but with little dramatic intensity. Kušej’s idea of laying out the stage in different perspectives for example was clever in as much as it gave him the opportunity to have an imaginary Leonora walk up the back wall but ultimately it was just a visual vanity. The minute that any real action was required – the battle scene or the duet between Alvaro and Carlo, the set became a single one-perspective entity. For the battle scene itself Kušej resorted to simply having extras (or the chorus) run from right to left – choosing movement over any sense of dramatic intent.

And the chapel – almost Nordic with its emphasis on wood – opened up to reveal (to me at least) a set of ‘priests’ who would not have looked out of place in a production of Parsifal. This idea was strengthened further still when Harteros (well her body doubled) was baptized via full immersion.

The scenes with the chorus were similarly unfocused with Kušej again failing to deliver any sense of a coherent narrative. Whether acting as corpses or indulging in a most predictable scene of sex and drunkenness, it seems that Kušej was at some points ‘directing by numbers’.

And the over-sized crucifixes of the final scene seemed like a last ditch effort to develop one of the visual motifs and bring a semblance of continuity and vision to the production. But having the singers clamber through them was clumsy but fortunately for us all, their impassioned performances overcame the distractions of the stage as they played out the final tragedy.

Costumes were basic and in the case of Kaufmann’s over-long hair looked like a device simply to differentiate him on stage. Similarly the lighting was so simple as to be ineffective.

And while the idea of having Calatrava and Guardiano played by the same singer should have been an opportunity for some real characterization, in reality this duality – as well as the doubling of the waiter with the mayor, and Preziosilla dressed as Curra for her first appearance – underlined the fact that Kušej seemed to have forgotten to give any direction at all to any of the singers. While the singing was excellent it was clear that the singers – left to their own devices – were resorting to their own dramatic lexicon to portray their characters. Some better that others.

Indeed throughout it seemed that somewhere – lurking in the shadows of the stage – there was a single unifying idea. But sadly for Kušej, ultimately that idea remained just outside his grasp.

And yet the singing – particularly of Anja Harteros – made the entire production worth hearing.


Gergiev’s ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on June 24, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Review – Die Walküre (Act 1)

Siegmund – Jonas Kaufmann
Sieglinde – Anja Kampe
Hunding – Mikhail Petrenko

Mariinsky Orchestra

Valery Gergiev (Conductor)

Valery Gergiev. In all honesty I can say that he never disappoints in surprising me. When I listen to his recordings or attend a performance of his I am never quite sure what I am getting.

Take his Elektra for example with Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet in the title role alongside Angela Denoke, Dame Felicity Palmer, Matthias Goerne and the LSO. Say what you will about Charbonnet’s performance but personally I was completely taken by her total immersion in the character. And Gergiev marshalled his forces with absolute authority, extracting committed performances from each member of the cast and drawing playing from the orchestra that veered – exactly as Strauss wanted – from sheer brutality to wondrous luminosity under his baton.

On the other hand, his Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Edinburgh International Festival was, for me, a fiasco not only in terms of both the production and the quality and level of the musicianship across the board. Not only were the singers, drawn from the Mariinsky Opera, all ill suited to their roles, but Gergiev’s own sense of commitment was lacklustre and distracted.

So when I read that Gergiev was embarking on his first recording of the Ring cycle with Die Walküre, I was initially filled with trepidation.

But let’s face it, if there was an equivalent of a Fantasy Football League for opera – and especially Wagner – lovers, then this cast would the dream team. All credit to Gergiev or the people who work behind the scenes that the assembled cast includeS Jonas Kaufmann, Nina Stemme, Anja Kampe, Mikhail Petrenko and Ekaterina Gubanova.

I have been lucky enough to see both Kaufmann and Stemme perform their roles live either on stage or via live broadcast. Kaufmann in his debut as Siegmund at the Met, and Stemme live in San Francisco Opera’s Ring cycle and via broadcast in Krigenberg’s Götterdämmerung.

So to say that my expectations were high is an understatement and on this occasion Gergiev has not only surprised but also surpassed my expectations.

This review has been a long time coming because I have listened to the recording all the way through as well as act-by-act countless times. And – unusually for me – it is act by act that I plan to approach this review.

This is not a recording to be skimmed over and overall, repeated listening has convinced me that it not only stands comparison with some of the most memorable recordings but also in reality, surpasses some of them.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that Gergiev has delivered a traditional performance in the best sense. No gimmicks. No fanciful notions or radical re-interpretations. He conducts what’s on the page.

And it is music making of almost the highest standard.

It opens with some beautifully paced and articulate playing in the strings, with just the right hint of menace in brass and winds. And Gergiev handles the dynamics building into the first timpani roll and the subsequent decrescendo masterfully without once dropping the momentum.

And the detail and attention in the phrases leading to Kaufmann’s first entry – you can almost feel his exhaustion in the way Gergiev directs the orchestra – is telling of the whole recording. Each phrase is not only articulate but due care has been given to how they play in the overall fabric of the music.

I don’t intend to go through the recording phrase by phrase or indeed bar by bar but there are some telling moments when it is clear not only that a great deal of love and attention has been lavished on this performance but that Gergiev gives Wagner’s music time to breath.

For example, take the very first exchanges between Siegmund and Sieglinde – not only in the careful and very deliberate molding of Kaufmann and Kampe’s vocal lines but also the carefully judged and beautifully played cello solo.

Or when Siegmund relates his tale of woe to Hunding, Gergiev maintains the taut momentum and doesn’t allow the brass to become too intrusive but generates a real sense of menace through their clear and rhythmically articulated playing.

Siegfried’s subsequent monologue is beautifully delivered. More so that on Kaufmann’s recent recital disc in that Gergiev takes the vocal line beyond the cries of Wälse. They aren’t the more normal ‘final destination’ in the monologue but the momentum generated carries the music through to the next section where singer and conductor balance the lyricism of the vocal line without sacrificing the rhythmic muscularity in the orchestra.

Indeed Gergiev draws some finely attuned playing from the Mariinsky Orchestra, particularly from the reappearance of Sieglinde and into their subsequent ‘love’ scene.

Here there is a sensuality that can often be missing from both from recordings and performances. Sieglinde’s rapture is almost tangible and the singers work together seamlessly in terms of both dramatic impetus and emotional tension.

Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond is most tenderly sung without any loss of focus and as it literally melted into Du bist der Lenz it struck me at how slowly Gergiev seemed to be taking the entire section – giving the music and the words time to breath and fold out.

Kampe, Kaufmann and Gergiev continue to spin the music out, ratcheting up the tension in the both singers and the orchestra almost note by note as first Siegfried’s name is revealed and then Northung itself and then its an almost sexual rush to the closing bars.

Needless to say the three singers – Kampe, Kaufmann and the Hunding of Mikhail Petrenko are magnificent. Vocally there are all on top form and I would be incredibly surprised if this recording was literally a case of them turning up without some time having been spent on rehearsal and coaching. There is an attention to detail, not only in the delivery of the words but, as I have mentioned, also in nuancing of phrasing that makes this recording stand out.

There is a depth and maturity to Kaufmann’s performance as Siegmund that I did not hear at the Met. Of course a lot of this will be to do with this being a studio recording but it is also in no small part to the attention to detail and surely working with Gergiev himself. And there is no hint of strain that seemed to occasionally surface in his recent recital disc. Similarly Petrenko is no mere cipher. His dark, brooding base is full of menace without ever snatching at the notes being sung. And Kampe, who can admittedly sometimes be a little hit and miss, evolves from the downtrodden wife to exultant lover with such vocal and dramatic authority and her soprano is sonorous and even throughout its range.

Indeed so outstanding is this first act in fact, that it’s almost a shame to move on to the Act Two.

Parsing Parsifal

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on March 5, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Review – Parsifal (HD Broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera, Saturday 2 March 2013)

Gurnemanz – René Pape
Kundry – Katarina Dalayman
Amfortas – Peter Mattei
Parsifal – Jonas Kaufmann
Klingsor – Evgeny Nikitin

Production – François Girard
Set Designer – Michael Levine
Costume Designer – Thibault Vancraenenbroeck
Lighting Designer – David Finn
Video Designer – Peter Flaherty
Choreographer – Carolyn Choa
Dramaturg – Serge Lamothe

Orchestra & Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera

Conductor – Daniele Gatti

There is no denying the success of the Met’s HD Live broadcasts. While it might be bringing new people to the opera, I think that simply being able to make their productions available to the existing global opera audience is significant.

While it can’t replace being in the auditorium itself in terms of atmosphere – or for the simple fact that you only see what the director wants you to see through the lens of the camera and very rarely the stage in its entirety – it’s a decision that has played out successfully.

This weekend the Met’s new production of Parsifal was relayed across the world and Gelb and his team had assembled a starry-cast of eminent Wagnerians and chosen François Girard to direct.

Without a doubt – and despite some dodgy sound quality – the singers to a person, led by maestro Daniele Gatti, sang their roles with great authority and intelligent musicianship.

From the opening notes it was clear that Gatti had a real sense of the opera’s architecture, sweep and scale. He drove the music forward inexorably without letting any release from the tension fused to every note. And the Metropolitan Opera orchestra sounded magnificent throughout, the strings have rarely sounded so warm and sonorous (even through the speakers of the Picturehouse where I was sitting) with the brass and wind majestically riding above their colleagues cleanly and clearly.

Of course this was Kaufmann’s Parsifal and like his Siegmund in LePage’s Ring cycle, it was his Met debut. As I remarked while listening to his recent Wagner recital CD, he is an authoritative singer and clearly one of the – if not the – leading Wagnerian tenors on stage today. And there was no disputing his performance in this production. Well paced, musically it was an incredibly accomplished performance. While I would have perhaps preferred a greater breadth of vocal colour – and perhaps this was lost in transmission – there was no disputing the quality and emotion of his singing, especially in the second and third acts. However – and this is more likely due to the production than Kaufmann himself – I also wanted for stronger characterization of Parsifal as a character. In the interval Girard spoke of Parsifal’s spiritual journey, but that didn’t seem a consistent theme. While he was significantly short of simply being a cipher, his transition from naïve fool to world-weary knight seemed almost piecemeal. Hopefully in future when this production will undoubtedly return – with or without Kaufmann in the title role – more attention will be focused on Parsifal the character.

The Gurnemanz of René Pape seems to have elicited contrasting opinion. For some he was magnificent both in voice and character, for others while he sounded good he was one-dimensional. There is no doubting the strength and beauty of Pape’s singing and while he did sing with authority, I have to admit that his performance was somewhat colourless and at times almost bland. Again, this Gurnemanz seemed almost one-dimensional in terms of the development of the character.

For me one of the stand out performances was Katarina Dalayman’s Kundry. Vocally she was superb. Her voice was rich and even throughout its register and she managed the range of emotions with great dexterity, colouring and bending her voice with ease to build possibly one of two of the strongest characterisations o the stage. Particularly moving and convincing was her performance alongside Kaufmann in the Second Act. Even her final redemption although Girard’s artistic licence in terms of the Grail’s reveal before her death was an emotional focal point.

I still remember Evgeny Nikitn’s Telramund in Munich and while his Klingsor was not as powerful, it was still a strong performance. His dark bass was ideally suited to the role and his overall portrayal – while sometime risking stepping over the boundary into caricature – was convincing.

However it was Peter Mattei’s pained Amfortas that delivered the most convincing performance – both musically and dramatically. It was an amazing debut performance in this role and was clearly a carefully thought out interpretation. And this was combined with some beautifully nuanced singing.

The single area of disappointment in the musical performance was the off stage chorus. However I put this down to a sound quality problem rather than the singing itself.

As this was part of the HD broadcast before curtain up in the intervals the Met employed a singer to interview the cast, director and conductor. In the past they have used with great success Joyce DiDonato and Deborah Voigt for example. Sadly, on this occasion they used Eric Owens who was either too inexperienced or badly prepared. As well as not always getting his lines right – which you could generously put down to nerves at speaking to a global audience – the questions that I heard him ask were nothing short of disastrous. For example, asking Gatti how he managed to conduct without a score was summarily dismissed by the maestro and his questioning of Peter Mattei did not elicit one answer that made any sense. Only a consummate spin-doctor like Gelb seemed to come off unscathed by Owen’s lack of interview prowess.

Clearly, in this role Owens is clearly more Mime than Alberich. A shame.

A great deal was made about how this production of Parsifal was definitely not set in the traditional era of knights and damsels. And of all Wagner’s operas Parsifal is the one that presents the greatest challenge to any director.

Parsifal represents the final – and not always happy or balanced – symbiosis of all Wagner’s beliefs on religion, mysticism and Buddhism and the various philosophers in one single moment. The opera is about a journey of discovery, suffering and redemption but all too often that journey is centred simply on Parsifal himself and not those around him. Here there seemed to be an even lesser focus on characterization than would be expected.

And an opera brimming with so much inbuilt symbolism requires someone with a clear sense of navigation otherwise not only the narrative but also the meaning can become hazy or even lost.

I enjoyed the excellent Herheim production – sadly only on DVD – and in terms of live performance I have seen both the ENO revival and Covent Garden’s production. The latter, directed by Grüber and made memorable for John Tomlinson’s Gurnemanz was impressive for its spirit of understatement. More recently, Lehnhoff’s production at the Coliseum with its ‘after-God’ setting managed to convey the themes of redemption, love and hope stripped of their Christian overtones and packed an emotional punch although I personally think the director undermined his own narrative with his ending. Indeed it was interesting to read at the time that it had taken over a decade for some of the original ideas in Lehnhoff’s production to finally crystallise.

At times it seemed that Girard’s approach to Parsifal – the result of five years work – was a concept rather than an interpretation. His often hinted at something but ultimately his ideas didn’t seem to coalesce into anything truly substantial except a series of – at times – visually arresting tableaux.

This was a Parsifal set in no specific time. During the prelude, with its use of a slightly reflective screen, men slowly stripped off coats, shoes and watches as if suggesting that they inhabited a place that did not exist except in the audiences mind. Parsifal was not so subtly spot lit and this scene – as with the rest of the opera – was steeped in Carolyn Choa’s distinctive choreography.

As the first act opened we found ourselves in an anonymous landscape, the ground barren with a single rivulet of running water that symbolically turned red with blood. Clearly this was a not so subtle reference to the wound of Christ and for the entire opera the two groups – the men and the women – did not stray across it to their opposing sides.

All the men were in white shirts, the women in veils. The men were the focus of all activity – some of which is slightly trance-like and again indicative of Choa’s choreography, with the women more often than not in the background. It is only at the end that the women only lose their veils and mingle with the men.

The suggestion of a cult was strong and made stronger by the use of pseudo-Christian hand gestures throughout. And yet this vocabulary of gestures was never developed or indeed did not return in the final act.

Yet when we do return to this place in the final act, the post-apocalyptic landscape has become even bleaker. There is hint of frost on the ground with graves and overturned chairs and a vertical shaft of light initially marks the return of the Spear before Parsifal appears over the ridge.

Setting the first and final acts in such a barren landscape requires a clear narrative, sense of direction and management of the use of symbolism. None were much in evidence in Girard’s production. Even the principals – bar Mattei – seemed to lack anything more than a rudimentary sense of characterization through stock poses and gestures and had it not been for the intensity of the music making there would have been a real risk of dramatic inertia.

Even Girard’s Parsifal stood out simply because of his costume and there only seemed a basic attempt to portray any sense of either innocence or the fool. For example, peering over the shoulders of the men as Amfortas revealed the Grail seemed not only weak but also insignificant. And in the final act he returns a broken man who miraculously revives to become king. There was no sense of the fragility or even spirituality in this hero.

Klingsor’s kingdom in the second act was in stark contrast to the first. Set, it seemed, in some kind of hell complete with a sea of blood and white-smocked damsels, Nikitin’s Klingsor looked as if he had had a bad fall. The pincushion effect of numerous Spears seemed a contradiction to the idea of a single weapon and there was less a sense of sensuality and danger than inspiration drawn from Hammer Horror movies. The entire act was saved only by Dalayman’s and Kaufmann’s singing and indeed the mannered choreography of the denouement seemed like a missed opportunity and somewhat of an anti-climax.

Throughout the opera the backdrop was constantly moving with digital imagery. There were the ubiquitous clouds in various formations, images suggestive of a more ‘cosmic’ – clearly meant to infer ‘buddhist’ iconography in some way -and ultimately what I could only reason to be an orange planet. In many ways, the videography – whether intentional or not – reminded me of Lars von Trier’s Melancolia with its own use of Wagner’s music. The background images simply didn’t marry convincingly with the narrative that Girard was attempting to create in the foreground.

Therefore for me at least none of Girard’s ideas – visual or physical – created a cohesive whole or sense of direction. Even the ending, with the simplest symbolism of clouds separating to reveal sunlight on a blemished land failed to convince.

Indeed it seemed that the journey referred to by Girard and others in their interviews was at best more a physical – almost simply a cross-stage journey – than either a spiritual or temporal one.

I have to admit that perhaps the overall scale of Girard’s production might have been lost in the cinema where – as I have said – you only see ever really see part of the entire production. However you have to believe that Girard used the camera to focus on those elements that would bring sense to his interpretation. I never go that feeling I am afraid.

Yet I was left with a sense that somewhere inside that production was an idea worth developing and I can only hope that successive revivals will work to refine and distil what Girard was trying to say.

Yet strangely unsatisfying as the Met’s new production of Parsifal was to watch, there was no denying the overall impact musically of Gatti and his singers.

Wagner’s final work – his Bühnenweihfestspiel – is meant to be a challenge. However it is made harder to contemplate and reflect on if the substance of the direction is as diffused and unclear as the sky often was above it.

Kaufmann der König

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on February 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm

I have to admit that I have taken rather longer than most to appreciate Jonas Kaufmann.

While his debut at the Met as Siegmund was, as I said at the time, on the whole impressive, he didn’t always have the heft nor complete mastery of the vocal range required. I am not fortunate enough to be able to get to Manhattan to see his debut as the lead in Parsifal but – avoiding reviews as much as I can – the Twittersphere is alive with plaudits. Sadly I have to wait until March to experience it in high definition in the cinema but I am definitely more excited by this Parsifal than others that I have attended. Suffice it to say I find it a difficult opera.

However here is a disc that demonstrates that he is a singer – and in particular a Wagner tenor – of both vocal prowess and musical intelligence.

This recital doesn’t cover old ground in terms of segments of Wagner included in his previous disc – here he performs the In Fernem Land in the unedited version for example – and the extracts from the operas are chosen with intelligence.

The recital opens with that magical moment in Die Walküre when Siegmund is left alone to consider his fate as he awaits the dawn in Hunding’s abode. Rhythmically alert brass and agitated strings create an immediate sense of tension and his opening entry is full-bodied and eloquent. Each and every word is crystal clear and he switches to sustained lyricism with ease at ein Weib sah’ ich, wonnig und hehr. The dynamic control into Wälse! Wälse! is impressively handled yet I do think that the second cry of Wälse is a tad indulgent and you can even perceive a slight flutter in Kaufmann’s singing as he pushes on slightly too long. But a peevish criticism I admit as it remains electrifying. And again at Selig schien mir der Sonne Licht Kaufmann’s trademark lyricism. Throughout the monologue Kauffman slips from the more declamatory, heroic passages to the lyrical sections with incredible ease.

Next from father to son for Siegfried’s Daß der mein Vater nicht ist. Over gentle murmuring string, Kaufmann again launches into this monologue and against effortlessly slips between dialogue and lyricism. How touchingly and in hushed tones he sings Das kann ich nun gar nicht mir denken … ein Menshenweib for example. Anyone who has read Eve Rieger’s recent book will relish interpreting the ‘masculine vs feminine’ phrase construction at this point I would imagine.

The mastery of Wagner’s orchestration is very much to the fore at this point and beautifully played by the orchestra of the Deutschen Oper Berlin. All credit in particular to the cor anglais player – as a former oboist I know how difficult it is to play badly and the player does so magnificently!

But personally the highlight of the disc is Rienzi’s Allmächt’ger Vater, blick herab! I cannot remember the last time I listened to this sung – or performed for that matter – with such rapt intensity. Kaufman’s first entry is a study in vocal control both dynamically and legato phrasing which continues through his delivery of the first iteration of ‘Rienzi theme’ and maintain the emotional momentum through its repeat and into the closing bars. Marvellous.

Next is Tannhäuser’s Rome Narration that demonstrates the rich texture and colouring of Kaufmann’s voice throughout its range. Kaufmann’s musical intelligence ensures that he moulds what can sometimes be a relentlessly difficult monologue to maintain in terms of interest and momentum into a compelling, dramatic scene. Just listen to the way he bends and colours his voice at Hast du so böse Lust geteilt. Simply chilling and again menacingly underpinned in the orchestra and in stark contrast to the lustful – full throated – singing with which Kaufmann closes the extract.

Kaufmann returns to a nobler, more lyrical characterisation for Walther’s Am stillen Herdin Winterszeit before ending his operatic selection with the full Grail Narration from Lohengrin. He captures perfectly the ‘other-worldly’ sense of the opening bars and matches vocally the timbre Wagner creates in the orchestra, once again floating effortlessly to the top notes even when singing in the most hushed tones. Wagner may have decided to cut the second stanza but Kaufmann makes a compelling argument for its inclusion if it can always be sung with such purpose and grandeur.

And in both Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, Kaufmann is most ably supported by Markus Brück and the chorus of the Deutschen Oper Berlin.

And so to Kaufmann’s performance of the Wesendonck Lieder. Call me a traditionalist – and much as I wanted to love these performances as much as the extracts from Wagner’s operas – after repeated listening I came to an opposite conclusion. Do not misunderstand me. Kaufmann sings this extended love letter to Mathilde Wesendonck beautifully, with great eloquence and sensitivity.

Yet they do not convince. It has nothing to do with the songs being sung by a tenor – not even one as talented as Kaufmann – but simply that they lose some sense of their sensuality and purpose overall. But there is no disputing that Kaufmann makes an almost convincing argument for their performance by a male voice here but not quite enough. Not even the Tristan-inspired Im Treibhaus where the orchestra pull out some incredibly transparent and chamber-like playing can ultimately convince.

But not surprisingly they do not detract from what is an impressively performed and constructed recital disc. And as I have already mentioned, the orchestra of the Deutschen Oper Berlin play with great beauty and conviction. All the more so surprising as I have in the past not rated Donald Runnicles. Perhaps his rapport with this orchestra is greater than with any other as he does coax incredibly playing, colour and warmth from this ensemble.

But this is very much Kaufmann’s disc. It furthers his position as the leading Wagner tenor performing at the moment. And if all accounts of his Parsifal at the Met are correct, then his position is cemented as tenor regnant.


Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

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