Jonas Kaufmann – review

Royal Festival Hall, London

The fickle hand of tenor superstardom – which alighted on Roberto Alagna, wavered over the late Salvatore Licitra and then brushed briefly against Rolando Villazón – is now pointing insistently at Jonas Kaufmann.

If there was any real complaint to be made about this glossy showcase recital, it was that there was too much orchestra and not enough tenor. Most showpieces for the tenor voice are sprints, not marathons, and the orchestral fillers – including chestnuts by Ponchielli and Mascagni, less familiar fare by Catalani and two chunks of Wagner – decently but unexceptionally played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Jochen Rieder, dragged in comparison.

Yet Kaufmann packed a lot into his brief bursts. The first notes of Cielo e Mar from Ponchielli's La Gioconda found him sounding huskily baritonal, but as his voice climbed upwards the ringing tenor tone began to shine through. It's that dialogue between slightly raw, expressively dark tone and Italian-sunshine resonance that makes Kaufmann's voice so interesting, while his willingness to take risks is what makes his use of it so classy. His high notes were thrilling in Mascagni's Addio alla Madre, and were all the more arresting after such a quiet, moving Flower Aria from Carmen.

Two extracts from Wagner's Lohengrin were highlights, with Kaufmann bringing to them the directness of Schubert songs; the early passages of In Fernem Land found his voice on the verge of cracking, but when this vulnerability morphed into assertiveness, the transition was seamless.

He wrapped up his four encores with Refice's gentle Ombra di Nube, but his calling card was the third, a thrillingly defiant Vesti la Giubba. Singing an aria so associated with Caruso, the archetypal tenor superstar, is a bold gesture, but Kaufmann can bring it off.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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