Swisster, 9. August 2010
by Piera Anna Franini
Lucerne Festival star Jonas Kaufmann opens up
Hailed as the newest generation’s star tenor, Zurich-based Jonas Kaufmann is performing the opening night concert at the Lucerne Festival, where he is one of the most eagerly awaited artists. In an interview with Swisster, the singer regarded as one of the sexiest men in opera, speaks, among other things, about comparisons with Placido Domingo and his penchant for exercising to stay in good physical shape.
Zurich-based opera singer Jonas Kaufmann has been compared in excellence to the tenor Placido Domingo.

Domingo, the champion of lyrical music, has said himself that Kaufmann will be crowned as his successor.

What does Kaufmann, set to open the Lucerne Festival this week, think of such a prediction?

“Domingo has said this of me?” he responds, in an interview with Swisster, apparently unaware of the Spanish singer’s comment.

“This is fantastic,” Kaufman, 40, says.

“I cannot comment on Domingo’s observations, I am just happy and satisfied that he finds my talent worthy,” he says.

“The first time I met Domingo he said ‘You sing beautifully.’”

Kaufmann has all it takes to be invested as the heir to Domingo.

His extraordinary rich, baritone voice, his charm and lively intelligent repertoire, and his self-confidence all make him the perfect artist to follow Domingo.

Kaufmann, a native of Munich, where he was born in 1969, is one of the most eagerly awaited artists at this year’s Lucerne Festival.

He will sing in Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio op. 72 at the opening night of the festival on August 12 (also to be repeated on August 15).

The Lucerne Festival Orchestra and Arnold Schoenberg’s Choir will be conducted by Claudio Abbado.

German-born Kaufmann has lived for many years in Switzerland, a country which, above all others, has had a tremendous impact on his career.

He began his singing professionally in 1994, at the Staatstheater in Saarbrucken (Germany).

However, his international activities were established during his debut at the Zurich Opera in 2001, where he became a member of the ensemble.

His fame grew following his triumphant debut at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 2006.

Despite his commitments around the world, the singer maintains a close relationship and strong emotional ties with the Zurich Opera, the first theatre to support him in his early career.

And Kaufmann chose to live in Zurich with his wife, the singer Margarete Joswig, and their three children.

He was not destined to be part of the world of opera.

His father, a lawyer, had other ideas for his son and urged him to study mathematics.

However, setting aside theorems and equations, he graduated as a summa cum laude singer, at the age of 25, in his home town of Munich.

Kaufmann will celebrate his forty-first birthday this year; however, he appears much younger, more in his early 30s than 40s.

Typically after a performance, Kaufmann quickly sheds his costume and reverts to wearing comfortable jeans, T-shirt and tennis shoes.

He regrets that his audiences seem to consist mainly of the older generation.

“The opera must simply be frequented by all,” he said.

Kaufmann grew up in Germany, the homeland of daring and legendary directors of opera.

But when asked if innovative interpretations can bring young people’s attention to the opera, his answer is categorical.

“No, I don’t like it at all when a producer aims to duplicate reality in order to attract the young,” he said.

“The opera has to be a dream, not a mirror to our reality which is so oppressive and constantly portrayed by television and the cinema.

“Opera must supplant reality. It has to be magical. Above all, the opera must abandon certain rituals.

“We singers need to put over the message that we are flesh and bone and we do not live in a world apart.

“There is a biased opinion that to follow the opera one needs to get ready and to dress in a certain way - no, none of it is true.”

Kaufmann is always looking for new roles “because they are the promotion of our work and talent”.

“It is easier to correct errors if one continuously alternates one’s repertoire. When I have to sing in French or Italian I am always conscious of the potential of possible mistakes.

“If the mind and voice get used to always doing the same thing then one runs the risk of misinterpretation without realizing it.

“Then, I have to say, I have a fear of being labeled. As a result, many artists try to clarify this by saying, 'I am not a German tenor, I am not a French tenor, I am not an Italian tenor', but in one sense, all three are really bound together”.

The recording companies play on the public's fascination for Kaufmann, who has been dubbed a sex symbol of the opera.

The era of large overweight singers is coming to an end. Now many top-rank artists are not only skilled but good to look at too.

“It is better like this isn’t it? The argument is more complex than it seems because it touches on a trait of our times; a lack of imagination," Kaufmann says.

“We need to see, because we don’t any longer have the capacity to imagine. So we have to be good-looking as well as credible.

“I remember a duet, a love song, sung by Pavarotti and Caballé. They were, let’s say .. a little bulky and they did not even touch, but they sang so well that it was a duet of love, even if that was accidental!”

Kaufmann keeps himself in good physical shape “because I believe that we opera singers are also actors and we must sing with the same naturalness with which we speak”.

His latest CD, German operatic arias from Mozart’s Magic Flute at the Parsifal, richly accompanied by Claudio Abbado, has been well reviewed.

He denies any inclination to filling out his repertoire with performances in parks and stadiums, and departures from the standard operatic repertoire, as other tenors have done.

“For me to sing in stadiums, no, it does not interest me. I go to stadiums only as a fan to watch my team Bayern . . . ”

 back top