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20 August, 2014

Jonas Kaufmann at The Sydney Opera House

Jonas Kaufmann in concert with Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under baton of Jochen Rieder at the Sydney Opera House 7pm Sunday 17th August 2014 (repeat of same concert from Sunday 10th - plus an extra encore). 

Dear colleagues in opera,

We were treated to a magnificent and memorable evening of opera arias and concert favourites which would be hard to find a rival since the golden age. 

Not since Pavarotti and Sutherland sang in this hall in 1983 have we heard such glorious vocalism.  As well as having an enormous and beautiful voice Mr Kaufmann is also a very serious singer.  He has clearly studied every note and every word of each aria, imparting their lines with depth and meaning.  And his command of forte-piano is consummate, wielding the crescendo-diminuendo like no other singer I have heard.  His pairing with maestro Jochen Rieder was crucial to the evening, one reason being that some slow tempi chosen could easily have got out of control.  Both visiting artists are Germans of the same age … they almost look as if they could be brothers.  And the whole night was about control breath control, pitch, dramatic and legato control in the context of big, dramatic vocal delivery. 

Of all the facets which opera singers have to master Mr Kaufmann ticks nearly all the boxes (I dont recall any trills).  The elements required include good enunciation, on-the-note, rolled r, true trill, inaudible breaths, long legato lines, even portamento, colouring of notes, acting and (finally) good looks which all contribute.  And Mr Kaufmann also possesses that extra special indefinable quality on stage.  Maria Callas had it to spare as all the greats have to some extent.  Kaufmann looks younger than his 44 years and he has a genuine and well humoured appearance on stage.  And he sings what audiences want to hear.  So there you have it, the perfect tenor and nothing like the archetypical short, stocky operatic hero. 

Being a single vocalist doing major arias he needed some recovery time which was ably provided by excellent operatic pieces from the companys Opera and Ballet Orchestra.  It was the last night of their guest lead violinist (who played the Meditation from Thaïs superbly).  It was touching that Mr Kaufmann spoke briefly to wish her well for the future and thank her for leading such a fine orchestra in Sydney.  And he plucked a flower from one of the enormous arrangements, presenting it to her with some gentlemanly style. 

My only slight disappointment was a lack of any lesser known aria or some Wagner perhaps.  Mr Kaufmann or his advisors may have been taking Nellie Melbas controversial advice to Clara Butt on tour in Australia: Sing em muck, thats all they will understand!  There were no German pieces until two Viennese encores.  Virtually all brackets were top-of-the-pops tenor items.  By contrast, a generation ago, each of the Three Tenors sang E la solita storia del pastore…’ from LArlessiana in their concerts something few of us will ever hear in the full opera.  Another regret is that no other singer was showcased, nor the marvellous chorus of our opera company but that is show-biz. 

I was also perplexed that both halves started with a concert piece.  Knowing the need to space out the vocalists high-octane output it would have seemed more logical to get on with it early. 

The rousing overture to the Sicilian Vespers was followed by Cavaradossis act I aria Recondita armonia from Tosca.  The Louisiana music from Manon Lescaut preceded the improvviso from Andrea Chenier by Giordano.  Then we had the Forza del Destino overture followed by its long tenor aria La vita è inferno all'infelice.  The entre act from Pagliacci was followed by Recitar Vesti la giubba to end the first half to an enormous (sitting) ovation. 

The bacchanale from Saint-Saens Samson and Delilah was followed by the flower song from Carmen.  The meditation from Thaïs by Massenet.  Pouquoi me reveiller? from Werther.  Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana then Mama, quel vino e generoso. 

After a universal standing ovation with serious foot stamping four encores started with Du bist die welt by Tauber (tenor and composer); E lucevan le stelle (Tosca); Catari Cor ngrato (written in Neapolitan dialect by American Cordillo); You are my hearts delight (verses in German then English).  Mostly Italian, but four other languages for the evening!  

It is clear that here is a man at the peak of his vocal and artistic talents who has discovered his extended staying power, like a marathon runner.  On the one hand he can sing extended roles like Siegmund and Parsifal and happily he can also sing up to a dozen arias for a concert like this which otherwise would need three or more normal tenors! 

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..