The Times, 26 October 2011
Neil Fisher
Konzert, London, Royal Festival Hall, 24. Oktober 2011
Jonas Kaufmann at the Festival Hall
This wasn’t just a concert. It was a manifesto. There is no other tenor today apart from Jonas Kaufmann who could pull off such a diverse programme of operatic arias, from Mascagni to Bizet to Wagner, and do it with such flair. When the official programme finished, with the Grail Narration from Lohengrin, it was almost as if divine approval had been bestowed not just on Wagner’s messianic swan knight but on the German singer too.  
That sounds like hyperbole, but Kaufmann brings extraordinary vocal and dramatic gifts to the operatic table. True, his dark-toned tenor sounded a little woody as it limbered up through Ponchielli’s Cielo e Mar. But soon oak turned to mahogany as Kaufmann wrung every ounce of expression from several very different heroes.  

Romeo’s lament from Zandonai’s Giulietta e Romeo, the rarity of the night, had verismo swagger without losing its heartfelt anguish; Mascagni’s drunken and doomed Turiddu (from Cavalleria Rusticana) sounded just like the foolish mummy’s boy he really is. In a shamelessly seductive Flower Song from Carmen, meanwhile, Kaufmann demonstrated his technical poise — as well as linguistic finesse in French — lingering on a pianissimo climax where most tenors have to ramp up to forte to stay in breath.  

What makes Kaufmann’s Wagner special is that he is able to maintain the same Italianate warmth, a quality that shone through Siegmund’s glorious hailing of the spring, Winterstürme, as well as Lohengrin’s climactic narration. Four generous encores then swivelled beguilingly between more verismo and Richard Tauber’s unashamedly schmaltzy Du bist die Welt für mich (You Are the World for Me), which many in the audience took as a direct message.  

This could and should have been a five-star evening. But in their wisdom, the soloist and promoter (Raymond Gubbay) had settled on a conductor to lead the Royal Philharmonic with an unerring ability to turn the most rip-roaring piece — the Bacchanale from Saint-Saëns’s Samson, the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana — into a finger-gnawingly tedious interlude. To call Jochen Rieder’s tempos hearse-paced would be an insult to a funeral cortège. Add a glossy six-quid programme riddled with typos, without song texts, but stuffed full of identical pictures of the soloist, and you have room for improvement.


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