The Guardian, Tuesday 20 May 2008
Interview by Laura Barnett
Portrait of an artist
Jonas Kaufmann, tenor
When did you discover you could sing?

When I was a child. I was always singing, screaming and talking excessively. My mother doubted my voice could survive such treatment, but it did.

What was your big breakthrough?

Appearing at the Royal Opera House in London for the first time in 2002, in Puccini's La Rondine, alongside the soprano Angela Gheorghiu. Peope came to see her, and, luckily, discovered something else - me.

Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?

My private life. I'm away from home for months at a time, which is terrible for my children. People think that working nine to five is boring, but to me it's a dream.

What's the greatest threat to classical music today?

Classical musicians making the mistake of trying to compete with cinema, television and the internet. Classical music needs to stay unique; the more you try to change it for a younger generation, the less attractive it is to them.

What advice would you give a young singer?

Try to find your own vocal sound. It's not easy, because you often start out trying to imitate somebody else. But it's the most important step for your technique.

What one song would feature on the soundtrack to your life?

The German tenor Fritz Wunderlich's recording of the Neapolitan song Granada. It's as if somebody had told him that this would be the last piece he would ever be able to sing, so he put in all he had.

Do you suffer for your art?

I can't drink excessively, or smoke. Perhaps some singers can go out drinking all night and sing perfectly the next morning, but it might cut five years off their career.

Is opera misunderstood?

Yes. People think they should have an intellectual approach to it, when it was invented to entertain. Opera can only really work its magic when the audience has no preconceptions.

How does Britain's opera scene compare with Germany's?

Where Britain has a number of excellent opera houses, Germany's scene is in crisis. We have too many opera houses and too many modern productions; the Americans call it "Eurotrash".

What's the worst thing anyone's ever said about you?

A fellow singer once told me that when I sing, I look as if I'm about to throw up. He offered me his help in correcting this, and I said: "Thank you, I'll call you." But of course I never did.

In short

Born: Munich, 1970

Career: Has appeared at most of the world's major opera houses, including the Royal Opera House, London, where he performs in Tosca until June 5 (020-7304 4000). His debut album, Romantic Arias, is out now on Decca.

High point: "Seeing my album go to No 1 in Germany earlier this year."

Low point: "Losing my voice on stage in 1995. I had a cold and a sinus infection; I couldn't sing a note."


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