Jonas Kaufmann impresses with his finely judged phrasing, psychological acuity and seductive swagger
The Times, June 12 2020
Geoff Brown
Jonas Kaufmann: Otello review — a star tenor eases into his heftiest role
Jonas Kaufmann’s vocal variety ensures plenty of punch when Otello is swallowed by regret
Jonas Kaufmann’s recording of Otello has been a long time coming. The seed was planted in 2013 when this charismatic tenor included two tracks on his Sony recital The Verdi Album; they were easily the album’s highlights. By 2017, at the Royal Opera House, after nursing inflamed vocal cords, he felt ready to tackle the full opera on stage, even though the title role needs a voice bursting with extra heft. One year later a DVD and Blu-ray memento emerged. The present offering is a carefully prepared studio recording, set down last summer in Rome, with Antonio Pappano, dynamic as ever, conducting the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

Maybe Kaufmann still isn’t a natural thunderer, lacking perhaps half the brute force usually expected when Otello starts to rage, despite the dark baritone colours at his command. Compensation comes with the expressive power and dramatic irony of his second famous characteristic: a beautiful head voice and pianissimo tone sustained by long curling breaths, heard at their most seductive when in love mode with Desdemona at the end of Act I. Kaufmann’s vocal variety also ensures plenty of punch when Otello is swallowed in bitter regret. Who could fail to be knocked for six by his, and the opera’s, very last word, “bacio” (kiss), reduced here to a death-rattle croak?

From the storm-tossed opening scene onwards, Pappano propels his forces with the passion and attention to detail that make him the supreme opera conductor, especially in Verdi. As Iago, Carlos Alvarez initially holds back his evil, but the gloves come off with his Credo aria and aren’t replaced. New to the role, Federica Lombardi at times makes Desdemona not just innocent but bland. All that is blown away by her tormented singing in Act IV. Before the virus intervened, she had been booked to create Desdemona in March at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Microphones and the hall acoustic create pros and cons of their own, with much beneficial highlighting of instrumental colours and occasional “offstage” effects that don’t convince. Buy the album anyway for Kaufmann’s painful beauties and Pappano’s sympathetic fire.

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