Los Angeles Times, JAN 16, 2018
|By MARK SWED
Liederabend: Los Angeles, The Broad Stage, 15. Januar 2018
Schubert's lonely hearts club band and a heartthrob tenor
A mill. A brook. A body.
A pretty, fickle daughter. A blithe
wanderer. A hunter. Nixies. A broken heart. An atmosphere of underlying
weirdness. A strophic soundtrack underscoring all that is inexplicable in
wooded nature and adding a beat to its offbeat inhabitants.
necessarily suggesting that Schubert's cycle of 20 songs, "Die Schöne
Müllerin" ("The Lovely Miller Maid"), which was given a stellar and suitably
theatrical performance by tenor Jonas Kaufmann on Monday night at the Broad
Stage in Santa Monica, was the inspiration of "Twin Peaks." But the
similarities are telling.
This was the first great narrative song
cycle. It strings together 20 settings of poems by Wilhelm Müller that tell
the story of an impracticably ardent young fellow. His fancy for a Miller's
daughter becomes too great to bear when she falls for a macho hunter. The
poet is both narrator and protagonist.
Somewhere along the
evolutionary line of popular culture, a strain of "Schöne Müllerin" DNA
managed to quietly transform not only into the roots of a revolutionary
television series but even more pertinently into the invention of the
concept album, such as The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club," and
that of the rock opera, beginning with The Who's "Tommy."
doesn't mean there is necessarily value in looking for Schubert scraps in
these works. But when it comes to "Schöne Müllerin," we have no choice but
to attend with a contemporary sensibility, just as we look for ourselves in
the ape, not ape remnants in us.
Kaufmann is the model modern opera
star capable of balancing both worlds. His immense popularity is rightfully
won. He has a movie star's appearance, manner and charisma. His voice on the
opera stage is powerful and clarion, but, as he also proved in the intimate
Broad space, scalable down to infinitesimal size.
Words matter in
Schubert's songs, and each was intelligibly attended to. The German tenor
telegraphed meaning vocally and through facial inflection. Emotion matters,
and Kaufmann proved a fine storyteller and fine actor.
mooning protagonist leapt for unutterable joy at a sign of recognition from
his love, his entire being filled with nothing but her, Kaufmann made us all
leap. When he needed to descend to the depth of pathos, the maid lost, that
stirring voice reduced to a microscopic fiber of a vocal chord, and all the
world felt lost.
As narrator, Kaufmann could also stand back,
undemonstratively describing a scene or precisely observing his characters
in discerning song. Among the many brilliant aspects of Schubert's music is
the way it captures the weather without and within. Green, the maid's
favorite color, is wonderful or hateful, depending on the mood of her
admirer. Kaufmann's inflections captured all.
Yet for all his
magnificence Monday, Kaufmann missed the one final element he needed to make
his "Schöne Müllerin" a new way of hearing Schubert. He was an opera singer
playing the role of a recitalist not a recitalist playing the role of
Schubert's song cycle.
He and his pianist Helmut Deutsch appeared in
elegant white tie and tails. This may be standard concert dress, but on a
small stage it creates an ambiance of antiquated formality. That can be
overcome but not without a noticeable effort that introduces its level of
dramatic artificiality. Kaufmann's way was to appear a tenant of the opera
stage looking to downsize.
Deutsch is a veteran Lieder accompanist,
respectfully remaining in the background, not acting as an equal with whom
the singer engages. That left the impression of the recital being neither
entirely here nor there, whereas the continued relevance of Schubert's cycle
transcends tradition and reaches into the present.
A series of
encores further helped and hurt. Other Schubert songs, notably "The Trout"
at the end, served to diminish the tragic ending of "Schöne Müllerin." Two
inappropriate operetta arias by Lehar, though, had a more intriguing effect.
The tails suddenly made sense. They showed Kaufmann's meltingly suave side
along with a touch of his stentorian operatic capability, which the audience
devoured. More important, the arias were so callously apart from the pathos
of Schubert's earnest lad that they added telling perspective.
began to wonder what the effect would have been if Kaufmann outrageously
framed the cycle with these numbers, as if the song cycle were a flashback
to a more tragically innocent time, rather the cynical look at love that is
the hallmark Viennese decadence in operetta. As for encores, what about then
adding "She's Leaving Home" from "Sgt. Pepper" and "Amazing Journey" from
"Tommy"? I doubt there is much that Kaufmann couldn't pull off.