Opera, November 2013
Graham Rogers
Jonas Kaufmann—The Verdi Album
Most eagerly anticipated of all—from the superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Released by Sony, this album is the first fruit of his new exclusive signing to the label after transferring his allegiance from Decca—a major coup.

One of Kaufmann’s first big international splashes was as Alfredo in the Met’s 2006 La traviata. Since then, though, his career has not encompassed much Verdi—indeed, of the 11 roles represented on this disc (Alfredo not being among them), nine are first encounters. There is little evidence of work in progress in these generally bold and confident performances, however.

Kaufmann opens with the most famous of them all, ‘La donna è mobile’, and his cerebral, fully-switched-on approach is immediately apparent—after, that is, the arresting impact of the voice itself: virile and subtle, with a sumptuous richness all-but-unrivalled among tenors past or present. His Duke of Mantua exudes suave, boastful arrogance but also—something enhanced by Kaufmann’s chocolatey baritone nuances—an apt world-weariness.

‘Celeste Aida’ showcases a faultless legato line, with supremely masculine, heroic characterization, solid and imposing but also tender; and, as he is at pains to point out in his booklet notes, Kaufmann sings the final, sustained top B flat as Verdi instructs—pianissimo and morendo—superbly controlled, to mesmerizing effect.

From the thrilling heroism of his Manrico (Il trovatore), through the bittersweet beauty of his Rodolfo (Luisa Miller), and the sweet, plaintive sincerity of his Adorno (Simon Boccanegra), to the chillingly intense fury and acute remorseful resignation of his Otello, Kaufmann’s affinity for Verdi is in absolutely no doubt. His plushlyupholstered tone, with no hint of the over-bright sourness that can creep into the upper registers of even the best tenors, sustains interest through the more routine arias such as Riccardo’s canzone from Un ballo in maschera.

The Parma orchestra plays with authentic Italian colour, but, under the conductor Pier Giorgio Morandi, the accompaniment is often merely adequate. It is impossible not to imagine how much more electrifying this album could have been with someone more theatrically engaged at the helm. As it is, there is plenty to savour in Kaufmann’s intelligent and vivid portrayals, whetting the appetite for when—and if—he starts incorporating some of these new roles into his repertoire.

As well as Kaufmann’s own notes, the booklet contains full lyrics and translations and a liberal peppering of photos of the tenor in smouldering model-like poses.

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