Opera News, May 2014
French Foreign Legion
These days, some of the most persuasive singers of the French repertoire are not native French speakers. What happened? DAVID J. BAKER listens in.


... It's tempting to return first to Werther, to register the far superior results achieved in this role by two non-French tenors of the present and the recent past. Both Europeans, they demonstrate a familiarity with the French language that is born of proximity and marked by a certain sensuality not inappropriate to the role and the composer.

As any Wagnerite will attest, Jonas Kaufmann (Werther in this season's Metropolitan Opera production) sings with striking attention to texts. His French is nearly on a level with the best of the cosmopolitans, but even if occasional sounds go astray, he achieves strong specificity with the words while merging them with the musical line to persuasive effect. His French is expressive, moody, and he caresses words and music with equal fervor, as an ardent but troubled Romantic hero. A certain palpable enjoyment of the language comes through. He's inconsistent in his rs, sometimes relying on his German pronunciation, which is not far from the sound of the letter in spoken French. But he clearly relishes the combinations of r with other consonants, in words such as front, tromper or the all-important printemps. We hear a Romantic poet in love with language....


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