Jonas Kaufmann / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra cond.Jochen Rieder - Royal Festival Hall, 24 October 2011
What's hot, yummy and Bavarian? No, not Weisswurst.
Drooling as adorably as a basset hound in his recently-fitted braces, Jonas Kaufmann won over tonight's London audience to the tune of four encores. His programme stretched from verismo cheese to the magnificence of Wagner and he didn't put one foot wrong.
His voice is burnished bronze, an instrument in its prime. He controls it perfectly, with taste, musicality, and a studied ear for style. I have to say he's given some opera performances more emotionally committed and as a result more moving, but from a purely technical standpoint, this is the best I've ever heard him sing. Even a slack and under-rehearsed orchestra weren't enough to let him down.
A bold choice of starter displayed his confidence. The unaccompanied opening lines of Cielo e mar from La Gioconda make a daring test for a voice fresh from the dressing room, but the control was absolute. La fleur que tu m'avais jetée was a brooding reminder of one of his greatest stage roles. More verismo completed a first half padded out with overlong and overslow orchestral filler, like a stale sponge with not enough jam.
After making Andrea Chénier sound like a masterpiece, he moved on to the Wagner. Siegmund is undoubtedly the Wagnerian role most tailored to his skills right now, and he deftly raised and narrowed his tone to project the Winterstürme from Die Walküre over the massed orchestra. He narrated the Gralserzählung from Lohengrin with the enormous sensitivity to text which characterises all his German singing, but his thinned tone left me constantly aware of how uncomfortably the role sits in the tenor passaggio.
Of course we all want the greatest singers to sing the greatest music. But in a strange way Kaufmann's Italian escapades, with their visceral, instinctive connection to the emotional core of the music, were the more satisfying part of the programme. And never more so than in his third encore, a wrought and abandoned Vesti la giubba. Surely reason enough for Covent Garden to try a Pagliacci?
Giuseppe Verdi: Overture, Les vêpres siciliennes
Amilcare Ponchielli: Cielo e mar from La Gioconda
Amilcare Ponchielli: Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda
Riccardo Zandonai: Giulietta! son io from Romeo e Giulietta
Alfredo Catalani: Overture to Act 4 from La Wally
Georges Bizet: La fleur que tu m'avais jetée from Carmen
Pietro Mascagni: Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana
Pietro Mascagni: Addio alla madre from Cavalleria Rusticana
Camille Saint-Saëns: Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila
Umberto Giordano: Un dì all'azzuro spazio (Improvviso) from Andrea Chénier
Richard Wagner: Lohengrin, Prelude to Act 3
Richard Wagner: Winterstürme from Die Walküre
Richard Wagner: Lohengrin, Prelude to Act 1
Richard Wagner: Gralserzählung from Lohengrin
Finally, Special Agent Kyoko tucked a secret camera into her Birkin to bring you this footage:
all photos - intermezzo.typepad.com