The Verdi Album (Deluxe Version) Import
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It was with Verdi that the leading tenor of our time, Jonas Kaufmann, made his international breakthrough in 2006 when he sang Alfredo Germont in La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. And for Kaufmann, the Verdi bicentenary in 2013 will be dominated by performances of works by the great Italian opera composer, including his debut album for Sony Classical, The Verdi Album. Recorded with Pier Giorgio Morandi conducting the Orchestra dell'Opera di Parma, this new album features twelve of Verdi's greatest tenor hits, eleven of which are recorded for the first time by Kaufmann. His choice of arias demonstrates the remarkable breadth of Kaufmann's musical versatility and expression.
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For his debut album on Sony, having jumped from Decca (perhaps with a guarantee of complete opera recordings?), the celebrated tenor, now in his mid-forties, gives us some very familiar Verdi arias from Rigoletto to Otello, with the exception of one rarity from I Masnadieri. The tag of "self-recommending" applies. Set against his superb verismo and Wagner recitals, however, this one is slightly inferior because of the ordinary conducting by Pier Giorgio Morandi, a routinier who at times pulls back the reins on his soloist. But even when the pacing becomes lackluster, Kaufmann throws himself into the music with controlled abandon - clearly he wants to establish his cred as a great Verdi singer, even though so far he has sung only seven roles on stage, mostly in Don Carlo and Traviata. This summer saw an excellent Trovatore in Munich.
As heard at the Met, where every appearance has been a triumph, Kaufmann's voice isn't large on the order of Vickers or Del Monaco, but more in line with Domingo's. If he eventually sings Otello, he will succeed as much on artistry as on sheer volume - again like Domingo - and this season's Parsifal showed how intelligently Kaufmann already marshals his forces in a very taxing opera. He's not afraid to sing softly and wait for the big moments to ring out.
All-purpose tenors always have decided strengths and relative weaknesses. For me, Kaufmann doesn't sound like the rakish Duke in 'La donna e mobile,' but the intrinsic soulfulness in his delivery makes him perfect for Don Carlo, Alvaro, Manrico, and Otello. If I had to choose, the very best thing here is the long aria from Forza del Destino with clarinet obligato, a wonderful display of Kaufmann's messa di voce, although the numbers from Trovatore are so secure and confident that they come as a breath of fresh air after the strained pushing from lyric tenors like Ramon Vargas and Marcelo Alvarez, who followed Carreras's example to boost themselves into bigger heroic Verdi roles.
Kaufmann is the real thing, a robust, charismatic dramatic tenor who can live comfortably in Verdi's fervent melodramatic world of outsized passion and suffering. This natural fit, far more than any reservations about sounding "Italian" enough, is what makes him invaluable on the international opera scene. He's one of a kind, offering no quarter to the great tenors of the golden age.
He is at a stage in his career when the voice is big, dark and handsome but without the Italianate ping and elegance which characterises a true Verdi tenor. He is now evidently best suited to even heavier roles and would no longer essay the more refined, delicate arias such as Tamino's "Dies Bildnis" which he once included in his recitals in order to demonstrate how he still retained sweetness and flexibility. He still has all the notes and does some lovely things such as singing the concluding B flat of "Celeste Aida" in a proper pianissimo rather than belting it - although it is not exactly seamless or effortless. Far too many notes here are preceded by an incipient bleat or catch in tonal production which spoils and breaks his legato; this is an irritating habit which has come and gone during his career and it's a tic I wish he'd break. The essential sound is one approaching a consistent smokiness which is almost a hoarseness and which suits a coarser-grained Fach such as the lighter Wagnerian roles or the German-French Romantic repertoire but is not and never was the bella voce of mainstream Verdi. In heavier roles such as Don Carlos his musicality and virility of tone convince in the same way as Jon Vickers could carry it off; I have twice heard Kaufmann live in that role and admired his anguished intensity and amplitude but the more lirico-spinto roles no longer suit his timbre; there are half a dozen great tenors like Bergonzi, Pavarotti, Bonisolli and Carreras I would sooner hear sing that repertoire. However, for all that he is a compelling Carlos, I cannot imagine why anyone would prefer to listen to this "Don Carlo" duet over, for example, versions by such as Merrill and Bjorling, especially with the lumpy, unsteady Rodrigo we have here. In perhaps my favourite Verdi aria from "La forza del destino", he is darkly intense but he labours the point too much, especially when hampered by conductor Morandi's slack direction; the pulse of Verdi's line is lost. I do not for a moment impugn Kaufmann's artistry or acting ability but I feel that this recital is evidence of his having succumbed to commercial over aesthetic considerations: a Verdi recital is not playing to his strengths.
Nor am I any longer sure that the choice of programme is wise: it is clearly geared towards the popular anthology of Verdi show-stoppers which Sony evidently hopes will sell but it's a very unimaginative selection and the inclusion of a supposed "bonus track" is sheer, cynical marketing-speak. Nowhere in this glossy, tri-lingual, handsomely illustrated production does it give the total length of the CD, but it is in fact a well-filled 69'30" - so how is the thirteenth aria a "bonus"? The term is meaningless. The Parma orchestra is distinctly squawky and second rate, and the comprimario singers and chorus are really poor - evidence of penny-pinching here. Are his producers beginning to take Kaufmann's audience for granted or cannot they tell the difference - or do they simply not care?
Of greatest interest here are the "Otello" excerpts: the role represents the acme of any tenor who has the voice to sing it and Kaufmann has made no secret of his ambition to do so. On this showing, he is ready and should leave behind the early-middle-period stuff; his baritonal heft and command of the long line are ideal. I would kill to hear him sing the role live, otherwise little in this recital surpasses his previous achievements.
There is so much that is good here that I am sorry to report that there is also too much of a whiff of naked opportunism about it for it to merit unqualified endorsement. Kaufmann's enormous gifts no longer necessarily lie in this kind of compilation. Roll on Tristan.
Rest assured. Kaufmann is first and foremost a tenor with a magnificently beautiful voice matched by some of the most intensely musical phrasing and arching of lines that rise seamlessly to the heights of emotion and intensity. His first Verdi encounter was with La Traviata in 2006 here in the US and he was praised at that time for his compleat performance. Though some naysayers will state that according to their ears, instead of throaty tone lower in the range, Kaufmann could bring to every note the same Italianate ping that distinguishes his upper extension.
All well and good. But even for those who fear these arias may not offer the dignity of what Kaufmann usually sings, listen carefully and see how he brings a new standard of artistry to the warhorses as well as the less well known arias included on this recording. This recording includes 13 tracks:
Rigoletto, Atto III, Canzone: "La donna e mobile"
Aida, Atto I, Scena e romanza: "Se quel guerrier io fossi!...Celeste Aida"
Un Ballo in Maschera, Atto I, Canzone: "Di' tu se fedele" and Atto III, Scena e romanza: "Forse la soglia attinse... Ma se m'e forza perderti"
Il Trovatore, Parte III, Scena ed aria: "Ah! si, ben mio... Di quella pira
Luisa Miller, Atto II, Scena ed aria: "Oh! fede negar potessi... Quando le sere al placido"
Simon Boccanegra, Atto II, Scena ed aria: "O inferno! Amelia qui!... Sento avvampar nell'anima... Cielo pietoso, rendila"
Don Carlo, Atto II, Scena e duetto: "E lui! desso, l'Infante!... Dio, che nell'alma infondere"
La Forza del Destino, Atto III, Scena e romanza: "La vita e inferno all'infelice...O tu, che in seno agli angeli"
I Masnadieri, Atto III, Scena 2: "Destatevi, o pietre... Giuri ognun questo canuto"
Otello, Atto III : "Dio! mi potevi scagliar" and , Atto IV: "Niun mi tema"
Macbeth, Atto IV, Scena ed aria: "O figli, o figli miei!... Ah, la paterna mano"
For example, listen to his excerpt from Aida, "Se quell guerrier io fossi! ... Celeste Aida." In the liner notes, he issues a challenge to every tenor who has sung the final B-flat full-out. "On no account should this note be blasted out. If tenors none the less do so, this is usually because they are worried that audiences will think that they are crooning or perhaps that they are not sufficiently masculine. This macho complex is unfortunately widespread. Yet such a piano sound requires at least as much power as a tremendous forte, for physically speaking, the singer should be able to turn up the volume at any moment and transform this piano into a forte." Of course, he sings the final note as written. Not only is his diminuendo almost perfect, but he also tapers to a remarkably sweet sound, which he manages to hold through much of the orchestral close. If he can accomplish this feat onstage, he will surely bring down the house.
Pier Giorgio Morandi conducts the Orchestra dell'Opera di Parma: Kaufmann deserves better orchestral collaboration than this rather limp accompanimnet. But is all this is a splendid new jewel in Kaufmann's crown. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, September 13
Sony classical renowned for their excellent box sets,such as RCA Classical living stereo,have made a production out of Kaufmann-the Verdi Album. There are translations of the arias in English,French and German. In the booklet there is Kaufmanns opinion about the arias he had sung in this album. He states that he has sung the Duke in Rigoletto,conducted by Nello Santi in the Zurich opera house in 2005. He is going to sing his first Manrico in Il Trovatore at the 2013 Munich Opera Festival. At the end of 2013 he is looking forward to his stage debut in a new production of La Forza Del Destino at the Bavarian State opera. Yet where Othello is concerned Kaufmann reckons he will leave that mighty opera for three years.So I am going to approach this excellent CD from an entirely different angle,for the details have been covered by other reviewers.
There is an essay in the booklet entitled "between dreams and reality:Verdi and his tenors". In it there is a discussion about the role of Othello. Domingo states that well meaning advisers tried to discourage him from taking on a role they felt was unsuited to him,and he would not be able to hold a candle to Mario Del Monaco. In turn that tenor had been warned about about inviting comparisons with Ramon Vinay. Yet it had been argued that Vinay too,could never stand comparsion with Martinelli. There is no yardstick that can be used to measure the way a role should be interpreted,define and rethought:each operatic character is redefined by the achievements of individual singers. I should imagine Kaufmann will be told to leave the role alone until he is 50.
I became so interested in this reasoning,that I played my 1938 Met Naxos live version of Othello,with Martinelli as Othello,Rethberg Desdemonia and Iago Tibbett. Then compared that recording with Furtwanglers 1951 Salzburg version with Ramon Vinay and Paul Schoffler as Iago. What I found was that the interpretations of the two Othello's were different,as were the voices. Vinay is more baritonal and can soften his notes. Martinelli as far as I could make out through the hiss and crackle,was a typical Italianite dramatic tenor. Whereas Vinay made a fine Tristan in Von Karajans 1952 Tristan and Isolde at Bayreuth;Martinelli could not sing that role. The point I am making, is that with his essentially baritonal voice,Kaufmann could.
Kaufmann is that unique tenor whom no one can quite pin down as to who he sounds like. Caruso was the same. He refused to have pupils because he could not teach his technique. But along with Kaufmann,Caruso's voice is instantly recognised.Yet there is no one like Caruso and never will be.Kaufmann has been compared to Vickers and Corelli,both singers I like. But the problem is that these singers have different type of voices and certainly not baritonal. If they have anything in common it is the sheer emotional thrust. This Kaufmann has,but his voice is uniquely his,as this set of popular arias shows.
I was listening to my bluray of Adriana Lecouvreur conducted by Mark Elder at the Royal Opera House. Kaufmann in Act 4 is singing a duet with with Angela Gheorghiu.He softens his baritonal voices almost to that of a lyrical tenor;it is amazing.I find his aria from Luisa Miller:'Oh!fede negar potessi..Quando le sere al placido',shows his ability to reduce his voice to a lyrical sound.In the two arias from Othello he does it again.But has this marvellous voice changed;of course it has. But in a very positive way. It takes years to know how far you can go,and this Kaufmann has done. He has not ruined his voice by singing roles that are beyond him. His has been a gradual process. He has moulded his voice so that it is like bronze flickering with sunlight. He has incorporated his lyrical voice into his baritonal one. What a Othello he will make.Also,a Tristan or Siegfried,the like of which we have not seen in our lifetime. Hats off Ladies and Gentlemen,to not only the greatest singer of his generation,but one of the greatest of all time. We have had Maria Callas,now Jonas Kaufmann.
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".