Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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March 12, 2011

Jonas Kaufmann Photo: Uli Webber

The much-anticipated debut of tenor Jonas Kaufmann to the Western U.S. occurred last night in a recital at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the invitation of L.A. Opera. It was the third and final recital this season by some of the most admired and most attractive male vocalists working today including René Pape and Dimitri Hvorostovsky. But the Kaufmann appearance was special both because it was his first appearance in the area and because his career is currently one of the hottest in all opera. And it was truly spectacular. If the measure of a vocalist is his or her ability to communicate with the audience with little more than the sound of one’s voice, Kaufmann gave one of the most exciting performances I’ve seen in quite awhile. The program was entirely in German with the first half devoted to Schumann including his Dichterliebe and the second to songs from Richard Strauss. Schumann’s Dichterliebe has featured prominently in many recitals here lately including René Pape’s. But Kaufmann made the works sound surprisingly new with a real musical unity and overarching line of development in the cycle. Kaufmann’s voice has a natural baritonal coloring (reminiscent of another very famous tenor well known to L.A. audiences) and the power and clarity in his lower range in quite impressive.

The Strauss works were equally remarkable including a setting of five poems by Felix Dahn. Again Kaufmann displayed a real sense of communicating emotion with the sound of his voice without having to over rely on his physical gestures. His upper register is quite interesting. Certainly less assured, the upper voice was not completely effortless and could be somewhat breathy in the more pianissimo passages. And yet, this was in no way unpleasant to the ear and actually lent a certain fragility and vulnerability to the singing that fit perfectly to the works. By the time he go to Strauss’ “Ich liebe dich” op. 37, no. 2, many in the audience, including myself, was on the verge of something I’d have to call swooning. It was a remarkable evening made even more impressive with the well integrated and equally sensitive accompaniment of pianist Helmut Deutsch.

The enthusiastic reception at the end of the concert was one of the biggest I’ve seen for a recital in L.A. Kaufmann returned to the stage again and again giving five encores, which while not an unheard of number, certainly a notable one in this day and age. These included many familiar choices such as Strauss’ "Breit' über mein Haupt dein schwarzes Haar," "Nichts," and "Zueignung." Lehar’s familiar "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" could have melted stone in this room and Schumann’s "Mondnacht" provided a superb coda to the evening. (Interestingly this song was the first time I'd seen a pianist, in this case Deutsch, play music from an iPad instead of good old-fashioned sheet music.) Based on this recital, I’d say Kaufmann’s reputation as the tenor of the moment is well deserved and hopefully L.A. Opera will find some way to coax him back out to these shores very, very soon.



Wow you are all so lucky. I am yet to hear this great artist sing live. I know his Dichterliebe from ten years ago and I can only imagine what he does with it today. That his voice is fuller at the bottom for "Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome" and "Ich grolle nicht" and the final song, and that his interpretation is exquisite. Helmut Deutsch is great too.

How were the 4 songs of op. 27 by Strauss? Their rendition of "Morgen" is totally disarming and "Cacilie" hair-raising. Wonderful.

What you said about is top notes is I hope something jet-lagged induced rather than an actual problem. I'm glad he's keeping his voice limber with such repertoire.
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