Sinfini Music, 04 August 2014
Everyone's Talking About Jonas Kaufmann
Tenor Jonas Kaufmann has been described as 'the greatest operatic voice of our century'. He's an international superstar with his pick of roles and opera houses, and this August he makes his Australian debut at the Sydney Opera House. Brush up on all things Kaufmann here in our handy guide to this top tenor.

Lend us a tenor?

Here you go, then:
(Video von Youtube)

Wait, wait, wait. You’re telling me that Jonas Kaufmann sounds like that? And he looks like that? Non è possibile!

That’s kind of what a lot of people think, but I promise you, this guy is absolutely for real. It was in 2006 that he rose to fame in earnest, with a combination of his first solo CD (of Richard Strauss Lieder) and singing Alfredo to Angela Gheorghiu’s Violetta in La traviata at the New York Met. Now he has become possibly the world’s most sought-after tenor.

He sounds a bit like a baritone, though.

His timbre has a 'baritonal' darkness about it, but he’s definitely a tenor. You can’t argue with those top notes.

Where does he come from and how did he get where he is today?

Kaufmann hails from Munich and imbibed Wagner at the knee of his grandfather, who used to play the operas on the piano for fun. The family encouraged him to get a proper job rather than going in for singing, so he started to study maths, only to decide he couldn’t hack it. Music came first from then on.

Voices can take a while to get into their stride sometimes, can’t they?

It took him a while to find his real voice. But he climbed the ladder with the help of attentive coaches – not least the pianist Helmut Deutsch, his regular partner in Lieder recitals – and learned the repertoire the good old-fashioned way through company contracts at opera houses around Germany and Switzerland. Zurich, where Alexander Pereira booked him, was crucial; so was the Salzburg Festival.

So he sings Italian and French opera, and German Lieder?

And German opera. Particularly Wagner. Try him as Siegmund in Die Walküre, as Parsifal or Lohengrin, and soon also as Walther in Die Meistersinger von Nürnburg, which he’ll be performing on stage for the first time soon. He has often said in interviews that he could easily fill all his time with Wagner, but he doesn’t want to.

He doesn’t? What does he want to do, then?

Everything! He eats new roles virtually for breakfast. Apparently he even fancies singing Peter Grimes. And he’s not averse to lighter stuff: Viennese and German operetta is on his radar. I’ve seen grown men weep when he sings Lehár… Meanwhile, listen to his Verdi album and the extracts from Otello suggest something incredible ahead, in due course.

Isn’t it dangerous for a voice to do 'everything'?

His vocal technique is sterling – according to the conductor Antonio Pappano, who’s been working with him in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut this summer at Covent Garden, vocally 'he doesn’t put a foot wrong'.

Plenty of good tenor roles and songs for him, I guess.

Why stop at tenor stuff? He’s sung Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, which are for baritone, and Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, which are for mezzo-soprano.

How about acting?

He can act the socks off any role he chooses. Additionally, whether in opera or in Lieder, he can infuse the sound of a word with its meaning so that you barely have to know the language to understand what’s going on. Singers should do this, of course, but you’d be surprised by how many don’t.

I can sense there’s a 'but' coming.

Actually, no. There is no 'but'. At least, not a public one. A note on Kaufmann’s website not long ago informed fans that he had separated from his wife. The pressures of such a life can’t be easy.

Any chance of hearing him in Australia?

As it happens, there is. Kaufmann makes his Australian debut on 10 August at the Sydney Opera House, and returns for a second performance on 17 August. The concerts will showcase all his best bits (no, not those bits) in music by Bizet, Verdi and Puccini among others.

More recordings ?

Try and stop him. Just try.

A one-man replacement for The Three Tenors? The One and Only Tenor?

He is one of a kind – but in fact there are several relatively young tenors fine enough to fill the Three Tenor shoes: Kaufmann, Juan Diego Flórez and Joseph Calleja. We also love Rolando Villazón and sometimes Piotr Beczala. They’re all totally different and each is great in his own way.

Are we in some kind of new golden age of singing, then?

Sometimes I really think we are.

Blimey. Aren’t we the lucky ones.

My thoughts precisely.

Jonas Kaufmann appears in concert at the Sydney Opera House on 10 & 17 August, 2014.


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