The Telegraph, 25 October 2011
By Hugo Shirley
Konzert, London, Royal Festival Hall, 24. Oktober 2011
Jonas Kaufmann, Festival Hall, review
After going under the knife to remove a node from his chest, one of the opera world's hottest properties, Jonas Kaufmann kept the audience waiting and wanting more at the Festival Hall.

Less than two months ago, German tenor Jonas Kaufmann had an operation to remove a node from his chest. The announcements of this news were cautiously optimistic, but the opera world held its breath as Kaufmann, one of its hottest properties, went under the knife.

Thankfully, it seems we needn’t have worried. This showcase of the tenor’s talents at a packed Festival Hall showed the voice to be in as glorious form as ever. He took to the stage looking like the next James Bond and became visibly relaxed as he made his way through a demanding, shrewdly planned programme.

For much of the evening, however, he kept us waiting and wanting more. An hour-long first half was heavy on orchestra-only padding, dutifully performed by a brass-heavy Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Jochen Rieder, and we can’t have heard much more than a quarter of an hour of the tenor before the interval. But what we did hear was often magnificent, particularly in the big verismo numbers featured on Kaufmann’s latest CD.

After a slightly tentative start, Ponchielli’s “Cielo e Mar” was sung with rare refinement and intelligence, the voice warming up to its burnished, baritonal best. Romeo’s aria from Zandonai’s forgotten take on Shakespeare was even better, crowned by a series of intense cries of “morta!”. The tipsy Turridu’s farewell from Cavalleria Rusticana was gloriously open-throated.

Yet, while Kaufmann’s full-throttle tenor was irresistible in its robust, mahogany colour, its core dissolved in the half-voiced pianissimos that featured most heavily in his performance of Don José’s “Flower Song” from Carmen, where the intended seductive, honeyed tones often felt underwhelming.

Some verismo spilled over into the second half, with an impulsive account of Andrea Chénier’s “L’improvviso”, but here the main business was Wagner. A raucous account of the Act 3 Lohengrin prelude introduced Siegmund’s “Winterstürme”. Hacked unceremoniously from Die Walküre, it was beautifully sung but leaden and uninvolving.

Lohengrin’s “Gralserzählung”, following seamlessly on from the Act 1 prelude, was a great deal more effective, with Kaufmann building an astonishing intensity from one long, generous phrase to the next.

Loosened up, and with the audience hanging on his every note, he delivered three encores: “L’animo ho stanca” from Adriana Lecouvreur, a gloriously schmaltzy Richard Tauber number and a magnetic, shattering account of Pagliacci’s “Vesti la giubba”, in which vocal brain and brawn united to show why Kaufmann leaves so many rivals standing.


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