Conflicting opinions...
Conflicting opinions among non-professionals are normal. I listen to them with complete equanimity. Among professional critics they should ideally be marginal. I happen to believe that there are rules for musical/vocal standard that are universal and which have been codified in the course of centuries by the best ears and the greatest musical geniuses. Therefore very conflicting opinions from critics, paid for their evaluations, disturb me.

Non–professionals often say that a performance goes “to the heart”. It probably reflects a subjective truth. The person in question receives a strong, maybe overwhelming emotion. But it says nothing of the quality of the input, because “hearts” have very different types of receptors, depending on the individual. For most people – and especially the young – loudness of tone awakes strong sensations. It should, of course. When a composer writes “f,” “ff”, or “fff”, there is a reason for it. But most composers, also Wagner and Verdi, more frequently employ a “p”. “pp”, even “ppppp” (as with Verdi), indications mostly completely ignored by vocal interpreters. Sadly enough there are “hearts” with receptors/antennas unable to catch the more refined signals or at least to convert them into a strong, valuable impression. Such “hearts” should be forbidden in the breast of professional critics.

I feel that it would be beneficial for Opera if there was a certificate of aptness for opera critics, delivered upon a severe exam. One of the main requisites should be a good knowledge of languages. Opera is Music set to Words. I have noted from my own experience( I was not always as good at languages as I am today, and what I know of Italian (now a lot) is wholly a result of my early passion for Italian opera) that it is perfectly possible to receive strong impressions of an opera performance without knowing what the artists are singing. The language of music alone is so expressive and so forceful that the communication works without the help of words.

To my great dismay I find, when reading contemporary opera critics, that many of them seem to ignore the words in vocal performances or maybe even don’t understand them, and judge the performance only from impressions of musical sound, mostly vocal timbre alone. It is a crime perpetuated against both librettist and composer as well as against the musician and the reader. The Danish critic in my translation is a case in point.

I have never been more aware of these problems than during my listening to Jonas in the Munich concert. All the numbers performed are so well known to me that they risk losing their intrinsic interest. But the fact that I happen to know the words by heart – and when I don’t, that I manage to recognize them in the course of singing – brought unwonted pleasure to the listening. Pleasure is perhaps to weak a word. Emotion is more correct. For it was so obvious that not one of these “classic pearls” were modelled on previous interpretations, of which there exist more than enough. Every sentence, every phrase is freshly thought and interpreted by the intelligent and sensitive mind of this remarkable young man. The means are the classical ones of the belcanto school. Attention to dynamic marks, a marvellous legato line based on a magnificent breathing technique, beautiful and varied colouring of sounds, intelligent “tempi rubati” (I hate metronomic interpretations), small vocal embellishments for expressive purposes applied with good taste. Add to this a vocal timbre of great seduction (and warmth), impressive top notes and plenty of heroic reserves and you have ….. Jonas Kaufmann.

The final words of Don José in the so called Flower Aria – “Carmen, je t’aime” – as interpreted by Jonas, suffice in themselves to prove that we have to do with an entirely original artist.
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