The Wagner-Decca album of Jonas Kaufmann has just won the Gramophone Award 2013, proposing a new standard of quality for lyrical recitals: the highest musical level, interpretive contribution and novelty, expressed therein in the original version of Lohengrin's farewell and in the "Wesendonck Lieder" cycle, singing as tenor on this occasion. The German artist now begins his career in a new record label, Sony, and chooses for it a tribute to Giuseppe Verdi, composer whose bicentennial is being celebrated and who lives at the core of the heart of opera fans.
A magnificent composer who feels great, vibrant and uneven in titles such as "Nabucco" or "I Lombardi"; who reaches heights in "Rigoletto", "La Traviata", "Un ballo in maschera " and "Othello", and who even becomes intellectual and affected in "Falstaff". Baritone Leo Nucci, talking about the musician from Roncole, said in 1995 that "the day that Giuseppe Giacomini, Nicola Martinucci and Lando Bartolini no longer sing, this is over. I think that the Italian tradition with those voices is over, because Pavarotti sings everything, but he is not a singer, he is a character who is beyond the world of opera."
To some extent, his dire prophesy has been fulfilled, to the point that La Scala opens on 7 December with a "Traviata" performed by a German soprano, Diama Damrau, and a Polish tenor, Piotr Beczala. Both are extraordinary, but are they Verdian? Beczala himself said in 2012: "Verdi's roles for tenors are complicated and musically complex. "Verdi's roles for babies', such as Alfredo or the Duke, which are the ones I sing, are the introduction to "adult" roles, such as Gustavo, Don Carlo, Manrico, Radames or, at the end of the line, ¡Othello!". Damrau, trained in Mozart and Handel, sang a great Gilda ("Rigoletto") and is an acclaimed Violetta Valery, but it is hard to think of her performing other great Verdian heroines.
Jonas Kaufmann (1969), after a career that started in 1992 (his is not a last minute career, as some people think), became famous as Alfredo, in a "Traviata" production of the New York Metropolitan in 2006, with Angela Gheorghiu. "When I came out on stage to receive the applause, I realized that something had happened," he remembers. Since then, his journey has reached unforeseen heights with "Werther" (Massenet), "Fidelio" (Beethoven) and "Lohengrin" (Wagner), as also with other Verdis. Above all with "Don Carlo", acclaimed in Zurich, London, Munich and, recently, in Salzburg.
This album, available from September 17, confirms the standard of the Wagner album and sheds light on the future of the great Verdian singing. Everything is taken care of, from the design and photographs to the choice of repertoire and the names on the cast: Kaufmann; expert Pier Giorgio Morandi conducting the Orchestra of the Parma Opera; the Piacenza Municipal Theatre Chorus, and baritone Franco Vassallo, intervening in "Don Carlo" and "Othello".
The choice of "La donna è mobile" of the unscrupulous Duke of "Rigoletto", who opens fire, a role which the tenor sang with great success in Zurich with Leo Nucci in 2005, sounds like a farewell. But Kaufmann hopes this is not so because he is determined to continue alternating lighter roles like this one with others that require another density. "In middle of the functions of 'Trovatore' in Munich I had to replace the tenor scheduled to sing 'Lohengrin', and it gave me great pleasure to feel that my singing, coming from Verdi, seemed softer, more liquid and closer to the Italian characteristics that Wagner expected for his opera", he says. The record does not include Alfredo, but almost all the others are there: Riccardo, Manrico, Rodolfo, Gabriele, Carlo, Alvaro, Othello and even Macduff.
Jonas Kaufmann sets out to introduce something different in each character, always mastering his "messa di voce", his "pianissimo" and a burning dark baritone color, which toughens interpretations that are never monochrome. On the contrary, in each one of his portrayals, the hero shows ardor and vulnerability, passion and despondency.
He shines in the arias of "Un ballo in maschera" and Riccardo will surely be a great role in his career, because he has the lightness and charm for "Di' tu se fedele", and is a real smothered volcano in "Ma se m'è forza perderti". "Celeste Aida" is pure lyricism (with final sfumando) and desire after a vibrant "Se quel guerrier io fossi!", accordingly emphasized. His "Ah! si, ben mio" exudes sweetness and anticipates the coming sorrow, but then charges with the tenor's cabaletta par excellence, "Di quella pira", high C included! Rodolfo's aria, "Quando le sere al placido", from "Luisa Miller" could not be absent, anger leading to pain and then to angelic remembrance in "lo sguardo innamorato" and "t'amo, dicea". Fury fills "O inferno! Amelia qui", of "Simon Boccanegra", which precedes his lovely "Don Carlo", a title of which he should make a complete recording in French and Italian; Franco Vasallo is Rodrigo de Posa in the duet that sets aflame the theaters of the world, "Dio nell'alma infondere". "La Forza del Destino" became part of his repertoire in December and here is the scene and aria from the spinto Don Alvaro of Act III, "La vita è inferno all'infelice... O tu, che in seno agli angeli", of such a complex structure and jumping all over the staff. Another Carlo is added, quite unknown, that Kaufmann sang in 2005: the Carlo from "I Masnadieri", "rol di forza" which takes him from high to low notes in the demanding "Destatevi, o pietre! ... Giuri ognun questo canuto". "Othello" is to be staged in a couple of years; the previews are "Dio ! Mi potebi scagliar" --Kaufmann is "dolcissimo" in "l'anima acqueto" and wildly aristocratic in "Ah! Dannazione! Pria confessi il delitto e poscia muoia!"-- and "Niun mi tema", where right from the start the Moor seems out of the world, as if he were meditating on his tragedy: "Otello fu" is an ascertaining for himself, not for others. The de luxe album adds "Ah, la paterna mano" of "Macbeth" which after all the foregoing, seems child's play.
It's no coincidence that on August 25 of this year, Plácido Domingo, when asked by The Telegraph who was going to be the next great tenor, replied: "Oh, it is already Jonas Kaufmann".