The New York Times, 31 October 2011
Recital, Metropolitan Opera, New York, 30. Oktober 2011
A Fast-Rising Opera Star in a Solo Setting
In Friedrich Rückert’s poem “I Am Lost to the World,” the narrator sighs that the world “has heard nothing from me for so long,/That it may very well believe that I am dead.”

That isn’t Jonas Kaufmann’s problem. At 42, Mr. Kaufmann, the German tenor who sang Mahler’s setting of Rückert’s poem during his first New York recital on Sunday afternoon at the Metropolitan Opera, is one of the busiest and most celebrated singers in opera.

His career has developed with extraordinary speed. As recently as 2004, he was singing minor parts like Cassio in a Paris production of Verdi’s “Otello,” and it was just last year that New York audiences really seemed to take notice of him, in a revival of Puccini’s “Tosca.” Luciano Pavarotti’s first recital at the Met presented by the company occurred after he had been singing in New York for 20 years; Mr. Kaufmann made his Met debut in 2006.

The swiftness of his rise to prominence speaks both to his great talent and to an art form decidedly lacking in bankable stars, particularly male ones. Mr. Kaufmann has quickly become a key component of artistic plans at the Met and other major companies, so there was widespread concern in August when he announced that he would be undergoing surgery to remove a node from his chest.

He recovered without a hitch, and on Sunday, accompanied by the pianist Helmut Deutsch in a program of Liszt, Mahler, Duparc and Strauss, his voice sounded intact: dark, burnished and steady. He floated Strauss’s “Morgen” with exquisite control.

Mr. Kaufmann’s quirks have also remained. His voice still has a hooded, covered, slightly burred quality that can be dusky and mysterious, making it sound as if the tone were being drawn out by force of masculine will. It’s an exciting effect, particularly when clarion high notes sail out, but it grows wearying in large doses. With his diction murky and phrasing dull, he sounded uncomfortable in five Duparc songs, and he was strongest in a smoothly winning closing set of six by Strauss. (Four of his five encores were Strauss songs too.)

Last season, as an impassioned Siegmund in “Die Walküre,” he occasionally faded against Wagner’s huge orchestra. But on Sunday Mr. Kaufmann’s sound projected perfectly to a spot in the standing room at the back of the Met’s family circle level.

What he did not project was the command of intimacy and nuance that is to be expected of serious recitalists. Mr. Kaufmann is tremendously appealing, but his emotions are not complicated; he is happy or sad or angry or peaceful, but rarely a subtle mixture of those.

Even from the 12th row of the orchestra level, he seemed earnest but remote. Genial and sincere, feet planted firmly, with his long, curly dark hair, Mr. Kaufmann really does approach the Romantic ideal; not for nothing is he inserted into a Caspar David Friedrich painting on a 2010 album cover.

As Romantic heroes like Cavaradossi and Don José, Mr. Kaufmann is dashing, and his voice is always beautiful. But the song repertory requires an authority and a specificity that he does not yet provide.


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