The Star-Ledger, January 19, 2013
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
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
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
Kaufmann was first coy and then withdrawn – the vocal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
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.