THE German tenor Jonas Kaufmann is one of the world’s great
Wagner hopes. He has brilliance, intelligence and stamina, along
with the rugged good looks of a Grail knight. Yet he is a
tremendously varied singer, and he has carefully built his
career on popular Italian and French roles rather than German
Sticking with that strategy he is now releasing an
album of arias from the Italian melodramas that startled with
their raw emotions and violence when they were new, around 1900.
In verismo operas like Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana,”
Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” and Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur” men
are men, radiant with virility whether rooting out their
girlfriends’ adultery, remembering past happiness or going to
Mr. Kaufmann certainly sounds virile,
with a dark, husky tone that resembles that of the tenor Jon
Vickers in his prime. He throws himself with gusto into arias
like the “Improvviso” from Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier” and
“Cielo e mar” from Ponchielli’s “Gioconda.” He also brings
nuanced dynamics and phrasing to a repertory not known for its
The orchestra of the National Academy of St.
Cecilia shines under Antonio Pappano, and the soprano Eva-Maria
Westbroek matches Mr. Kaufmann’s energy in the final duet from
Yet the disc, for all its
thoughtfulness and power, is not always persuasive. The long,
arching lines of verismo benefit from the warm ring of a
traditional red-sauce Italian tenor. That isn’t Mr. Kaufmann.
Without bright, brassy resonance he can’t effortlessly fill out
this slow-burning music.
This deficit can be an
advantage. Having to work for every effect builds a thrilling
tension, particularly in climaxes. But though Mr. Kaufmann’s
singing is always credible, it is never quite natural. Even if
it were, the larger problem with the disc is simply that an hour
of nonstop masculinity gets a little exhausting. It turns out
there’s only so much virility one can take.