Jonas Kaufmann review – a golden voice and a golden smile

Royal Festival Hall, London
As aria followed aria, with high-class orchestral interludes, the tenor was on shining form for an evening of Puccini

If there is one voice that turns connoisseurs into starstruck fans, it is Jonas Kaufmann’s tenor. The name alone sold out this recital with no indication of what he would actually sing – though the fact that he has a Puccini album out at the moment was a clue.

Kaufmann’s Puccini evening had all the elements of the celebrity opera recital: the hiked-up ticket prices, the expensive programme full of pictures of Kaufmann doing Blue Steel. And the acres of orchestral filler – because no singer can go from one Big Moment to another all night without recovery time. Here, at least, it was high-class filler, from the London Philharmonic under Jochen Rieder. Collectors of rarities will have enjoyed the early Preludio sinfonico, with its aura of Lohengrin-like piety, and the whirling ghostly dance from the little-known opera Le Villi, which put the orchestra on its mettle.

As for the star, he was on shining form, spinning velvety lines lower in the voice and then singing top notes so solid, so well supported that you could use them to jack up a 10-ton truck. After numbers from Le Villi and Edgar, another little-known opera, came the works in which there is probably nobody to touch Kaufmann at the moment: Manon Lescaut, La fanciulla del West. There was room for subtlety even in Nessun dorma, and a beautifully tempered tail-off at the end of his first encore, Recondita armonia from Tosca. Audience impatience had been such that they had barely been able to sit through the orchestral introduction.

As aria followed orchestral interlude followed aria, there was unavoidably a slight conveyor-belt feeling. Only with the pensive final encore, Recife’s Era il ciel, did Kaufmann break from the Puccini groove. But from the tenor with the golden voice and the golden smile – liberally bestowed on everyone, even those who clapped halfway through an aria and almost threw him off his concentration – that was something all seemed happy to overlook.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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