The Star-Ledger, November 01, 2011
By Ronni Reich
Recital, Metropolitan Opera, New York, 30. Oktober 2011
Tenor shines in New York recital debut at the Met
The gold curtains at the Metropolitan Opera stayed drawn and a simple wooden backdrop stood behind a piano, temporarily transforming the nearly 4,000-seat house into a recital hall in honor of one singer.

Making his New York recital debut on Sunday in the grandest of settings, tenor Jonas Kaufmann rose to the occasion with a performance that started out promisingly and only got stronger as it went on — through five encores.

Kaufmann dispatched his rugged, bronze-toned and flawlessly supported voice with intense force and a poetic sensibility. The instrument often seemed to brighten, as though it could catch the light, as it rose in pitch and tensile energy.

In a set of songs by Franz Liszt — accompanied with panache by pianist Helmut Deutsch, an equal partner not afraid to take the spotlight when appropriate — “Die Drei Zigeuner” stood out. Kaufmann’s playful vocal turns and gruff slides gave his rendering character and charisma. Yet there was more, as his voice seemed to melt in affection and hush with wonder at three distinct gypsies who enjoy themselves despite life’s challenges.

He imparted youthful vigor to “Liebst du um schönheit” from Gustav Mahler’s five “Rückert Lieder.” By contrast, the set’s sober, vulnerable “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” at times had a ghostly, hollow quality, even turning to a raw shiver on the word “gestorben” — “dead” — as he related estrangement from the world and retreat into music.

Kaufmann and Deutsch gave “Um Mitternacht” a searing performance, with Kaufmann especially striking during a long, melismatic phrase with shifting dynamics. A little throatiness crept into a few held-back passages of these songs, but it hardly mattered.

Limber, organic phrasing highlighted a set of sensuous Henri Duparc songs, particularly a muscular, not-too-controlled “Le Manoir de Rosamonde” and “Chanson Triste,” which grew from a lovelorn sigh to an operatic conclusion.

Kaufmann sounded light and effortless as a man gazing out his window — and wowed with his high notes — in Richard Strauss’ all-too-appropriate storm scene “Schlechtes Wetter.” In “Befreit,” a song affirming love even through death, Kaufmann affectingly balanced stoicism with outpourings of emotion.

Until the encores, Kaufmann stood straight with his hands clasped in front of him or held onto the piano. As he loosened up physically and showed more personality for the encores — among them the operetta aria “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” and the Strauss song “Zueignung” — he looked the part not just of the beautifully voiced, fine musician that he is, but also the opera star.

In the seriousness of his program choices and in his unusual, complex timbre, Kaufmann might not seem accessible in a “Three Tenors” kind of way — but the house was packed, and delighted. It should be fascinating to see where he goes from here.


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