The Sydney Morning Herald, August 11, 2014
Peter McCallum
Konzert, Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, 10. August 2014
Jonas Kaufmann's golden voice unleashes a whole world of emotion
Perhaps it is unfair, as the publicity for this concert did, to say that Jonas Kaufmann is at the peak of his powers. One wouldn't want to imply it was all downhill from here. Nevertheless, it was clear from the glorious mahogany-coloured opening notes of Recondita Armonia (appropriate “hidden harmonies”), the opening aria from Puccini’s Tosca, that this was one of the great singers of our time.

Kaufmann’s tenor voice is transparently clear with honeyed tone and the most beautifully burnished finish. It is neither craggy nor over-light, neither overly dark nor meretricious, neither unduly pinched nor stentorian. It sits in the ideal centre of these extremes with impeccable smoothness.

Yet there is much more to his art than the superb sound. Kaufmann has extraordinary control of both supremely soft notes (as in his second aria from Giordano’s much excerpted, rarely performed opera Andrea Chenier) and resonantly forceful sounds (as in Vesti la giubba from Pagliacci, which closed the first half). He moulds the lines into shapes that seem to span a great arch from the first note to the last. In La vita e inferno, from Verdi’s La Forza del destino, Kaufmann etched this great picture of despair with sincere dramatic intensity of unforced integrity. He rose to the final note in a mood of whispered defeat but before it concluded, the tone had swelled to a mood of fierce defiance – a whole world of emotion on a single A flat.

Kaufmann began the French arias of the second half in more subdued reflection, singing la fleur que tu m’avai jetee from Bizet’s Carmen without releasing the incendiary passionate moments that had inflamed the Italian operatic numbers of the first half. Yet the exquisite softness in Pourquoi me reveiller from Massenet's Werther did nothing to hide the noble sound – if anything it accentuated it.

Each vocal number was framed with a cognate orchestral excerpt, sometimes from the same work. Though a program of excerpts is necessarily fragmented, the logic was cogent. Particular highlights from the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Jochen Rieder, included the clarinet solos from Peter Jenkins in the Verdi and in E lucevan le stelle from Tosca, sung as an encore, and Laura Hamilton’s eloquently precise Meditation from Massenet’s Thais.

 back top