Classic Melbourne, 21.8.2014
Classic Melbourne
Konzert, Hamer Hall, Melbourne, 14. August 2014
Jonas Kaufmann
Last year, Melbourne saw two classical music events that exceeded anything that was on offer for the Melbourne Festival proper: Einstein on the Beach and The Ring Cycle. This year, Opera Australia and Orchestra Victoria have provided a very early curtain raiser to thrill opera lovers. Indeed, the advent of the world’s hottest tenor is a festival in itself. Jonas Kaufmann’s physical attractions alone are enough to increase the heart rate and banks of roses adorning the front of the stage struck a suitably festive note.

The glossy program, featuring page after page of glamorous photographs that would have been equally at home in a quality fashion magazine, seemed to promote a focus on Kaufmann’s more superficial attributes. Dressed in elegant tails and sporting designer stubble, he could have come directly from a photo shoot when he made his entrance after the Overture from Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani.

But Kaufmann has a great deal more to him than all this would suggest. As well as having a timbre that is now instantly recognizable, his voice has the quite phenomenal degree of beauty, ease and amplitude to justify the superlatives that have been heaped on it. His command of the messa di voce and an ability to sing softly throughout his considerable range with unerring control are truly astonishing.

Although Wagner was lamentably absent from his program of popular tenor arias by, largely, the greatest composers of verismo opera, there was plenty of scope for Kaufmann’s dramatic talents, both as an actor and vocal colorist. After a gloriously full-voiced “Recondita armonia” from Tosca, which ended in a melting diminuendo, the extended aria from Andrea Chenier was sung with all the dramatic nuance and intensity that any devotee of Giordano’s wonderful opera could wish for. Principal tenor arias from La Forza del Destino, I Pagliacci, Carmen, Werther and Cavalleria Rusticana were given similarly rivetting treatment.

The only reservation listeners might have had with regard to interpretation came in the “Flower Song”. With such exquisitely controlled soft singing throughout, how could Carmen ever have contemplated ditching the singer? Impossible. The role of Don Jose is usually sung by tenors with a fair amount of vocal weight, which all too often translates into strain for this particular aria, especially on the high notes. Kaufmann’s voice has substance allied with a tenderness that made his performance of this aria remarkably poignant.

Orchestra Victoria, under the sensitive baton of Jochen Rieder, interleaved the arias with a selection of overtures and intermezzi as well as a very spirited Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah and Massenet’s “Meditation” from Thais, affectingly rendered by Concertmaster Roger Jonsson. There was fine playing from the orchestra throughout the evening, with an excellent contribution from the clarinet in particular.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the concert was the fact that what was heard was unfiltered by any sound system. Here was a great tenor at the height of his powers who could be heard in the immediacy of a well-designed concert hall rather than an amplified stadium or via recorded sound. Sheer bliss.

It would be difficult to match the enthusiasm that greeted Kaufmann at the end of the advertised program and each of a series of encores. Even if he had omitted the popular aria from “You are my Heart’s Delight” and the repeat in English, which ended with “I love you”, the ecstatic audience would have been clamouring for more. The house lights were up, but most people were still on their feet shouting and clapping, reluctant to let him go until he made it clear with waves and kisses that it was all over – at least for the time being.

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