The New York Times, Oct. 18, 2018
By Anthony Tommasini
Puccini: La Fanciulla del West, New York, Metropolitan Opera, ab 17. Oktober 2018
Review: Jonas Kaufmann, Back at the Met, Is Good, Not Great
You could feel trepidation at the Metropolitan Opera on Wednesday as the audience took its seats for Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West.” The superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann was finally returning after an absence of four and a half years, including withdrawals from two new productions conceived with him in mind. Would he actually show?

He did, for the first of four performances through Oct. 27. He came, he sang, he — well, if he didn’t entirely conquer, Mr. Kaufmann certainly reminded us why he’s been missed. “Fanciulla,” a tale of hardscrabble miners during the California Gold Rush, is, I’m more convinced at each encounter, one of Puccini’s finest operas. But you need persuasive singers to plumb the depths of the music and the subtleties of the characters.

The hero, Dick Johnson — actually a bandit fleeing the law — shows up intent on thievery but falls in love with Minnie, who runs the town saloon and tends to the miners with motherly affection. It’s a good role for Mr. Kaufmann, who conveys Johnson’s inner torment while exuding charisma. The chemistry between him and the soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek, who brings a strong, silvery voice and appealing vulnerability to the role, was palpable during their initial exchanges. (Ms. Westbroek has been singing Minnie opposite the tenor Yusif Eyvazov since this 1991 production returned earlier this month.)

The dusky colorings of Mr. Kaufmann’s voice gave his singing of this Italianate music a Germanic cast, but that quality made his Johnson seem, intriguingly, more of an outsider. He brought melting richness and dramatic nuances to his performance, supported by the sensitive conducting of Marco Armiliato.

Mr. Kaufmann and Ms. Westbroek seemed to feed off each other during the crucial scene in Act II when Johnson arrives at Minnie’s cabin for a humble meal. Tension stirs below the surface of the music as a blizzard builds outside and a posse of miners led by Jack Rance, the town sheriff (the husky-voiced baritone Zeljko Lucic), closes in. But the real tension came from the hints of attraction and emotional need that Mr. Kaufmann and Ms. Westbroek conveyed, even while exchanging seemingly innocent phrases.

Still, at a moment when Mr. Kaufmann has been taking on demanding dramatic tenor roles like Verdi’s Otello — and even testing the waters of Wagner’s Tristan — his singing seemed a little underpowered. He summoned some full-voiced, exciting high notes during the opera’s only real aria, when Johnson, who thinks he’s about to be hanged, begs the men to tell Minnie that he has been set free to lead a better life. Yet at times his voice seemed curiously restrained.

For a while, Mr. Kaufmann was hands down the most exciting tenor in opera. Now he has some younger competition, including at the Met, where the thrilling tenor Vittorio Grigolo, who stepped in when Mr. Kaufmann withdrew from a new production of Puccini’s “Tosca,” has become a house favorite.

It is, however, without a doubt great to have the compelling Mr. Kaufmann back with the company.

 back top