Operawire, JANUARY 18, 2018
Liederabend: Los Angeles, The Broad Stage, 15. Januar 2018
Jonas Kaufmann’s Musical Genius Comes to Fore in Schubert’s ‘Die Schöne Mullerin’ (Ausschnitt)
The Tenor We All Dream Of

Kaufmann transforms the cycle from pure lyric poem and song to dramatic presentation, showing once again, how carefully he simultaneously couples narrative, emotion, and musical richness. “Willkommen Liebes Bächlein,” welcome lovely brook, welcomes him as performer and us as audience as well. Where are we? In the intimate auditorium so artistically designed and alive, or in the natural landscape which Kaufmann creates simply standing next to the fine musicianship of Helmut Deutsch? We do not know nor do we inquire. Instead we pursue the living embodiment of the young wanderer on this journey of heart. A chance to sport in the woods as the tenor’s whole body – face, feet, hands, eyebrows and toes embody the excitement of music alive and resonant. That is one feature so moving about Kaufmann’s intelligent and aesthetic singing… he brings the scene and the situation alive, and feelings with conviction. It is a promise made by all great art, and which we who offer ourselves to it, make again in each fine performance.

Kaufmanns articulates individual words with special care, enunciation satisfies, and emphasizes meaning. “Bleiben”, for instance in #7, “Ungeduld,” Impatience, remain, or stay, he sings the delicate triplet to emphasize the faithfulness he vows. Subtle and definitive, the idea, the meaning, the sound, he compounds on purpose. And this followed by the plaintive, hymn-like “Guten Morgen, schöne Müllerin,” a contrast that shows the young man’s fastidiousness in not wanting to jar her – she “turns her little head” – he wants to do it all perfectly, wanderer- lover- poet- and singer – caring for each movement and gesture, facial, eyes bright and expressive, looking abjest when he begins to see her turn from him. Oh surely she won’t reject such a felicitous courting, will she?

That’s what stands out, stanza after stanza, throughout the twenty-song cycle – through the “pianissimi” Kaufmann offers, and the legato lines when he begins to lament in growing awareness of the loss to come – “Mein Schats hat’s Grun so gern” – poet and composer playing on the melancholy that contrast so strongly to his earlier declaration in #11, MEIN, when he asserts, she IS HIS. Until he bursts out, we have almost forgotten the volume Kaufmann’s voice possesses, what he has in his store. When he begins to encounter hunter and the maiden’s shifting hearts, even after he has dismissed his own earlier pining, which he thought were great, until now, in comparison with this weight of love and faithfulness and commitment, they are nothing.

All this variety is a perfect vehicle for Kaufmann’s versatility. From opening buoyancy through the colors of joy and celebration to despair and loss, he gives us a palette of music that enlivens and entices in every word, the sweet and the bitter flowing from the same source from within, always carefully estimated for full and fragility of feeling. He embodies the whole, as if his body itself sang, eyebrows to toes. He is not simply a teller or singer of the tale – but, the music itself, and we listen as he links this to us and wherever the song goes when it is gone.

But is it? Perhaps not. Just as the concert was not… for six plus encores later, almost all German, except for the the exquisite “Ombra di Nube,” in Italian, and the English translation of “Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz,” while the audience clapping and clapping wanting more and more. Gracious, he gave what they wanted, while trying to sustain the mood and the magic of the Schubert he so skillfully conveyed; but they wanted the volume and the luster that Kaufmann is also known for, and brings from his tenor and operatic realm. Young members of the audience seemed highly responsive to such immediacy of this glamour, the art songs an acquired taste for some of them. Other audience members cheered vociferously whatever he offered. And even so, it was hard to let any of it go, bouquets of red and white and yellow roses were hardly enough to shower on both Deutsch and Kaufmann for their artistic merit and gifts. “Gute Nacht,” Good Night, Schubert’s last song, a lullaby, could have been apt closure to it all, but the epilogue of encores threw it all into the commotion of high song.

Still, the intimacy and quiet of the main music, as Kaufmann himself said in his perfect English, the theater offered with its wonderful acoustics. And us, who will hardly relinquish the beautiful cycle even for the expansive depths of “Winterreise” and the languorous eroticism of Strauss Lieder, what we can only imagine Schubert would have produced had he lived longer than 31 years, several past the brilliant John Keats, and four less than Shelley and Byron. All we can wish is that the still-in-his-prime Jonas Kaufmann, 47, will continue to offer his substantial intelligent artistry to us for many more years to come.

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