The Star-Ledger, January 19, 2013
Ronni Reich
Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin, Princeton, 17. Januar 2013
It's in his voice: Tenor takes listeners on an emotional journey
For the majority of his recital at the McCarter Theatre, Jonas Kaufmann stood firmly planted in the crook of the piano, his face largely impassive.

The stage presence was surprisingly subdued for a performer who commands thousands in leading roles at opera houses around the world. But the tenor needed no more than his voice to create an absorbing emotional journey through Schubert’s song cycle “Die Schöne Müllerin” on Thursday.

Superbly accompanied by pianist Helmut Deutsch, Kaufmann unfolded the story of a young man who loves a miller’s daughter with conversational spontaneity, gratifyingly specific character and mood, and an artfully calculated trajectory.

His sound alone—baritonal in its lower reaches, focused and caramel-hued in its top—has an inimitable appeal. But here it was the singer’s artistry more than his instrument that impressed.

Kaufmann began shyly, singing softly as a wanderer looking only to his surroundings for guidance—most importantly, a brook that seems to gently carry him to his love, roil sympathetically with the turmoil of betrayal, and then beckon the brokenhearted man to drown himself in its waters.

Singing of heavy millstones rolling in the first song, Kaufmann already gave a sense of how excitable and impressionable his character was. Awe and tenderness tinged his asking the brook, “war es also gemeint?” as he allowed himself to believe that the stream was leading him to the mill.

Deutsch, who expertly captured the rolling motion of the brook, encouraged a sense of drawn-out longing in “Der Neugierige,” (“The curious man”) with protruding low notes suggesting doubt beneath the dreamy, cloud-like supporting arpeggios.

Kaufmann was vulnerable and beseeching as he asked the brook, ‘yes or no,’ does she love him, or love him not?

Even when declaring that he wanted to tell the world his heart belonged to the miller girl, Kaufmann displayed a touch of reticence. Although he was a little tight on the refrain, “Dein ist mein Herz,” in “Ungeduld” there was an intriguing sense that the character was afraid to admit even to himself the intensity of his affection—as though acknowledging it might cause it to vanish.

Kaufmann was first coy and then withdrawn – the vocal equivalent of biting a lip and turning away – when he asked the girl if his attention bothered her in “Morgengruß.”

He brought a poignant decrescendo from a resplendent full-voiced tone to a delicate float in “Pause” as he wondered if a new song, a new tone would take over the courtship.

Kaufmann enlivened the story using timbre and dynamics for text-painting effects—the sigh of the ribbon tied around his guitar brushing against its strings in “Pause,” a girl’s voice—light and carefree—contrasting the ample, chivalrous sound of the protagonist in “Mit dem grünen Lautenbande.”

Kaufmann and Deutsch brought breathtaking speed to the songs of his romantic rival in “Der Jäger” and “Eifersucht und Stolz.” Kaufmann lent burliness and weight to the hunter that illustrated him as a foil to the protagonist.

Kaufmann snarled and spat his words as he described the indecency of the girl craning her neck out the window to watch the hunter.

A bitter, haunted whisper marked “Die liebe Farbe” and then Kaufmann’s character finally snapped in “Die böse Farbe.” His voice broke into exclamations and sobs as he addressed the end of his affair.

He sounded numb—his song a current of beautifully supported, fragile sound—following his revelation when he sang of “Withered Flowers,” as though the life had already left him.

Throughout the work, there were moments where Kaufmann sounded tenuous or precious in the held-back, hushed tone he often relied on, but it was still a highly rewarding performance.

Following a standing ovation and rapturous bravos, Kaufmann and Deutsch performed Schubert’s “Der Jüngling an der Quelle” as an encore.

Kaufmann, whose operatic roles include the virile Siegmund in Wagner’s “Die Walküre” and the courageous idealist Mario Cavaradossi in Puccini’s “Tosca,” showed that he could convincingly play the naïf as well. Such range bodes well for his appearance in the title role of Wagner’s “Parsifal,” which opens February 15 at the Metropolitan Opera.

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