Chicago Tribune, March 20, 2014
|John von Rhein
Konzert: Renée Fleming und Jonas Kaufmann, Chicago, 19. März 2014
Fleming, Kaufmann bring fans to their feet at first joint Lyric concert
No disrespect to soprano Renee Fleming, but the leading attraction of Lyric
Opera's Subscriber Appreciation Concert in which she appeared Wednesday
night was her co-star, German superstar singer Jonas Kaufmann, the hottest
and most sought-after tenor in today's opera world.
Kaufmann has been
conspicuously absent from the Lyric roster since his well-remembered
appearances here in Massenet's "Manon" in 2008. The time was long overdue
for this charismatic, superbly intelligent singer to return to the house
that had given him his U.S. operatic debut -- as Cassio in Verdi's "Otello"
-- in 2001.
Those Verdi performances marked the only previous
occasion Kaufmann and Fleming have appeared in the same production at Lyric.
(Their only other performances together anywhere were in a Strauss
"Rosenkavalier" in Baden-Baden, Germany, in 2009.) So this gala concert,
which included familiar arias and duets, could be regarded as Lyric's (and
creative consultant Fleming's) way of coaxing Kaufmann back into the fold.
The Civic Opera House was virtually sold out for the event, which
brought the Lyric Opera Orchestra and conductor Andrew Davis up from the pit
onto the chandelier-festooned stage. They supported the singers with all due
musical care and flexibility, against the palace wall set design from the
currently running production of Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito."
Kaufmann got to sing arias by Verdi, Bizet and Massenet. Fleming delivered a
Massenet aria and a Refice song in addition to joining the tenor for duets
by Gounod, Verdi and Massenet.
As is often the case with these
affairs, the artists' first joint concert resembled a fashion show as much
as a showcase of operatic greatest hits. Fleming modeled a glamorous
succession of designer gowns: the first a gown of burnished gold and silver,
the second an iridescent, dark-green crepe de Chine.
Not to be
outdone in the swank department, Kaufmann traded his black tuxedo jacket for
a white jacket ahead of the concert's second half. The opera superstars got
to indulge in bits of playful nuzzling and stroking each other's coifs. The
fans roared with pleasure, their cellphone cameras flashing merrily.
Kaufmann's contributions represented roles that are central to his repertory
(the title heroes of Gounod's "Faust" and Massenet's "Werther"; Don Jose in
Bizet's "Carmen" and Des Grieux in Massenet's "Manon"), along with
relatively new assumptions (Alvaro in Verdi's "La Forza del Destino") and a
part he's planning for down the line (the title role in "Otello").
Everything the tenor sang bespoke virile intensity and admirable musical
intelligence, his chocolaty baritonal shadings adding an intriguing
expressive dimension to the singing. The only time he betrayed any vocal
insecurity was the "Otello" love duet, in which his singing, with its
trademark dusky covering, seemed rather tentative opposite Fleming's
Everything else showed how much Chicago has been
missing in Kaufmann's long absence. His French items gloried in a winning
combination of ardent vocalism, impeccable diction and technically flawless
use of what the French call voix mixte, ethereally beautiful high notes that
combine chest voice and head voice.
But the arias that drew the
loudest ovations were the "Forza" and "Werther" excerpts.
Alvaro is a
Verdi role Kaufmann sang for the first time late last year in Munich. His
impassioned, full-throated, finely nuanced account of the hero's despairing
soliloquy was matched by the eloquent clarinet solo of Charlene Zimmerman.
It's hard to imagine a more riveting, stylish or supremely masculine Werther
than Kaufmann, who sang this signature role as recently as last week in a
new production at the Met.
Fleming and Kaufmann played to each
other's vocal strengths in the third-act duet from "Faust" but especially in
the third-act duet from "Manon" where Fleming's heroine poured on the
seductive charm, with luscious sound and a seamless legato that melted the
resolve of Kaufmann's Des Grieux, along with the hearts of audience members.
Their encores amounted to a schmaltz-fest of German opera and operetta
duets that gave Kaufmann his only chance of the evening to sing in his
native tongue. He and Fleming danced and sang a slow waltz to the romantic
strains of "Lippen schweigen," from Lehar's "The Merry Widow." Together they
infused the original duet version of "Gluck das mir verblieb," from
Korngold's "Die Tote Stadt," with ravishing warmth
Fleming -- in her
first local appearance since singing the National Anthem at this year's
Super Bowl, to an audience estimated to be 112 million in the U.S. alone -
sounded just about as glamorous as she looked. Too bad her account of the
folksong "Danny Boy" was so mannered, all about beautiful singing and very
little else. The diva's finest singing on her own came in Manon's touching
farewell to her little table.
Davis and his orchestra vamped till the
singers were ready with orchestral bits and pieces by Saint-Saens, Verdi and
Michael Tippett. The first trumpet was having an off-night; everybody else
played well. When will we hear Kaufmann again at Lyric? Soon, one hopes.