The Telegraph, 22 Apr 2013
Hugo Shirley
Konzert, Royal Festival Hall, London, 21. April 2013
Jonas Kaufmann, Royal Festival Hall, review
The were moments at Royal Festival Hall where opera star Jonas Kaufmann fused lacerating emotional intensity with vocal beauty and power were astonishing, says Hugo Shirley.
With acclaimed recent appearances as Wagner’s Parsifal in New York behind him, and a return to the Royal Opera next month to head a big-name cast in Verdi’s Don Carlo, Jonas Kaufmann is unusual in being in high demand for both anniversary composers’ works. He must also be one of only a handful of singers able to pack out the Royal Festival Hall at inflated prices, his musical attributes matched, in a manner famously uncommon for tenors, by dashing good looks and disarming affability.

But in what turned out to be a long evening, with Kaufmann’s contributions bulked out with sundry orchestral preludes and overtures from a lacklustre Philharmonia under Jochen Rieder, it was the Wagner of the second half that came across as the most convincing.

In the Verdi numbers, Kaufmann could be thrilling in the declamatory introductions, and his gloriously burnished, baritonal voice showed itself to be in purring, well-oiled condition right from his first aria, from Luisa Miller. But Rieder’s leaden conducting repeatedly snuffed out any real sense of dramatic fire; the laborious churn he produced in place of the emotional maelstrom that should accompany Simon Boccanegra’s O inferno! was the worst offender.

The intensity of Kaufmann’s vocal style, though, also means that he struggles to relax into Verdi’s long lines, having to opt for leisurely tempos and artful pianissimos instead – doing so, admittedly, to highly persuasive effect in Don Alvaro’s big aria from La forza del destino.

After the interval, London had a rare chance to hear Kaufmann in the repertoire he seems born to sing, but the first two bleeding chunks only hinted at what the tenor can do in the theatre. Even so, after a slightly clodhopping, brass-heavy Ride of the Valkyries from the orchestra, Kaufmann generated plenty of visceral dramatic energy in Siegmund’s Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater.

Am stillen Herd, from Die Meistersinger, proved more difficult to animate, especially after Rieder’s poorly balanced, gloopy account of the Prelude, but in the longer Amfortas! Die Wunde from Act 2 of Parsifal, Kaufmann was astonishing, fusing lacerating emotional intensity with vocal beauty and power in a manner Wagner could only have dreamt of. Despite three encores, taken from the tenor’s latest Wagner disc, it was this that stuck in the memory, making one regret the Royal Opera’s recent inability to pin him down for a Wagner role, and for next season’s Parsifal in particular.

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