Wednesday, August 24, 2016
I won´t mince words: the most important tenor chamber recital in more than four decades. Jonas Kaufmann, a week after the ill-planned ending of the Barenboim Festival, came back for a song session (mainly Lieder) with his longtime accompanist, Helmut Deutsch. And this time he sang a perfect programme with groups of songs by Schubert, Schumann, Duparc, Liszt and Richard Strauss. This was at the Colón on last Sunday´s afternoon and for the Abono Verde. He had the support from the beginning of an anxious, knowledgeable and packed audience, who grew more and more enthusiastic. What happened after the last note of Strauss was an euphoric delirium as an incredible string of seven encores, proof not only of generosity but also of joy and gratitude, allowed us to hear him in opera and operetta. Kaufmann had conquered Buenos Aires with the highest vocal art; he demonstrated that, here as in Europe, the audience discriminates and not only reacts to tenors with splendid high Cs. Kaufmann is a linguist: Munich-born, his Italian is quite good and his French admirable. His memory is faultless: I followed with a score the majority of the songs and his always clear diction never missed a syllable; and, like that ideal baritone, the young Fischer-Dieskau, he gives dramatic sense to all he sings without ever going overboard, and the musical values are exact, following carefully every nuance indicated by the composer. By the way, if you are intrigued by who sang an impeccable recital more than forty years ago, he was Nicolai Gedda, but he did it at the Metro, not the Colón. His stance is revealing: he stands close to the piano and he concentrates totally in the song, scarcely moving, giving occasionally emphasis with the hands with sober gestures. His timbre is particular, hardly the typical tenor; it is never totally open. Don´t expect from him the stratospheric highs of Alfredo Kraus, he of the purest bel canto. But Kaufmann is the consumate master of the chiaroscuro, his breath control is amazing, and no other tenor in my experience has his ability to sing "piano-pianissimo" a "normal" high note and grow it to "forte". A special paragraph on the Viennese Helmut Deutsch, the veteran and still wonderful accompanist, whose work throughout was simply ideal. Mind you, he was the accompanist for twelve years of Hermann Prey, the only baritone that could match Fischer-Dieskau. Later, at Munich, he was professor of vocal interpretation for 28 years and taught and accompanied not only Kaufmann but first-rate artists as Diana Damrau and Michael Volle. He has recorded over a hundred CDs. Nobody has told me but I have no doubt that the programme was designed by both singer and pianist. It was unfailingly right. The Schubert started with two joyful pieces: "Der Musensohn" ("The Son of the Muses", on a Goethe text), all merry jumping, and the famous "Die Forelle" ("The Trout"). Then, the delightful watery "Der Jüngling an der Quelle" ("The young man at the source"), sung subtly and softly (but his projection is such that you hear him well if you are in the Gallery). And that "Lindenbaum" ( "Linden tree") whose melody seems folkish but is part of the stark "Die Winterreise" ("The Winter Voyage"). Then came the Schumann group, a selection of the "Twelve poems by Justinus Kerner" Op.35, very attractive and with the best schumannesque style. Of the chosen five I would single out the dramatic power of "Lust der Sturmnacht" ("Lust of the stormy night") and the Romantic impulse of "Stille Tränen" ("Silent tears"). Kaufmann gave us each mood with moving sensibility. And then, the so special case of Henri Duparc, born in 1848 and by 1885 no longer a composer after having produced some of the most exquisite "chansons d´art"; a strange mental condition cut off his creativity until his death in 1933. The four sung by our tenor are gems: the exquisite "L´invitation au voyage" ("The invitation to travel") on that often quoted text by Baudelaire that includes "order and beauty, luxury, calm and lust"; the dramatic "Le manoir de Rosemonde" ("Rosemonde´s country house"); the "Chanson triste" ("Sad song"), which mirrors that feeling admirably; and "Phidylé", a love song. I have long believed that these songs had their definitive interpretations by baritone Gérard Souzay; now I realize that a German tenor can be just as persuasive. But the best was yet to come. Most know Liszt´s "Petrarch Sonnets" in their piano transcription, but they were born as elaborate, refined songs. You will never hear them in such subjugating interpretations as Kaufmann gave us: with unbelievable feats of subtle vocality he went higher and sweeter, and higher...until you were convinced that this was an unmatched experience. And then, the Strauss group, in which I have my sole complaint: "Ich liebe dich" and "Freundliche vision" were changed and we were not told. Anyway, the expansive writing let him free his voice in "Heimliche Aufforderung" ("Secret Invitation") and the final "Cäcilie", and the composer´s humour came forward on two Von Schack songs, Op.19, where the tenor showed that he had also mastered that style. The encores were a separate recital and destroyed any doubt that might be left. For once in your life you heard the final phrase of Bizet´s "Flower aria" from "Carmen" and the Verdian "Celeste Aida" as they are written, ascending to a pianissimo; but his Radames lacked no power. Then, Verista expression in "L´anima ho stanca" from Cilea´s "Adriana Lecouvreur"; a Refice song, "Ombra di nube". "Nessun dorma" from Puccini´s "Turandot", where the tenor showed the solidity of his means and the audience officiated admirably as choir in the fragment where Calaf doesn´t sing. Then, like a born Neapolitan, "Core ´ngrato" ("Catarí") by Cardillo. And finally, that glorious Lehár aria from "The Land of Smiles", "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" ("Yours is my whole heart"), as beautifully sung as Tauber. Please come back with an operatic recital with the Colón´s Orquesta Estable! For Buenos Aires Herald
This is a sad review, for after calling the preceding concert (Barenboim/Argerich/WEDO) the event of the year, readers may expect a rather enthusiastic response to the last session of the Festival. But I went to the Colón in morose mood, for three facts were inexorable: the programme was too short; it presented the famous tenor in baritone repertoire; and it´s simply and irrevocably unethical to repeat a major score in the same subscription series. What drove me mad was the fact that the season programme, distributed in March, says: "we will present the dashing debut of German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who will delight our public with the music of Richard Wagner, avid to know one the maximal lyric expressions of our time". And this is what we got: the Prelude to the Third Act of Wagner´s "The Mastersingers"; Gustav Mahler´s "Songs of a Wayfarer"; and Mozart´s Symphony Nº41, "Jupiter". I can accept the first item (it was the encore of Concert Nº5; the encore, not one of the announced fragments). But baritone Mahler? And the repetition of Mozart´s "Jupiter" (played in the initial concert along with Nos. 39 and 40)? Sorry, there´s a limit to arbitrariness, even coming from world figures like Kaufmann and Barenboim. About Mahler: was it the tenor´s wish? Or did he propose something else and Barenboim vetoed it? I don´t know, but I give you a piece of news: Kaufmann will sing in Santiago de Chile a programme of operatic arias from Italian and French composers: "Tosca", "Aida", "Carmen", "Cavalleria Rusticana", "Le Cid", "Andrea Chenier" and "Turandot". Mouth-watering indeed, although it has no Wagner. Two ways to have done a decent programme: a) change the Wagner symphonic pieces in the concert with Argerich with, say, Brahms´ Fourth Symphony, and play the same symphonic fragments around Kaufmann, singing arias from "Lohengrin", "Die Walküre" and "The Mastersingers" (he has just sung the complete "Mastersingers" in Munich). b) Do the same programme as in Santiago, adding symphonic opera music to round it off. I have perused the CD R.E.R. catalogue of 2000 in the entry: Mahler: "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen" ("Songs of a wayfarer"). The character of the songs is clearly manly, but several ladies of great career haven´t resisted the temptation and have recorded the lovely music. But not one tenor risked recording it and for good reason: hear the young Fischer-Dieskau with Furtwängler and then recollect what you heard at the Colón with Kaufmann, and what a falling off! Is it an experiment and he decided to try it here? For I read that he has an even stranger idea: to sing both the tenor and the baritone parts in Mahler´s masterpiece "Das Lied von der Erde" (Song of the Earth"); and that lasts an hour! The voice sounded veiled and out of register, but the man is an artist and of course he phrased with expression and taste, splendidly accompanied by Barenboim and his WEDO (West-Eastern Divan Orchestra). Then came the very partial saving grace, after just 18 minutes of singing: the lovely "Winsterstürme", Siegmund´s aria from "Die Walküre". There his real voice appeared. And then, helpers moved the piano and Barenboim accompanied him in the Tristanesque "Träume", last of the Five Wesendonk Lieder: beautifully done, though he was poaching in soprano repertoire. At least in this case Kaufmann has two antecedents: Melchior and Kollo, but both with orchestrations not done by Wagner. Readers may remember that two years ago I wrote enthusiastically about his Alvaro ("La Forza del Destino") in Munich: even in a horrid staging there was no doubt about his exalted category. So he owes us a second visit singing opera and has shown bad judgment in his debut. I do hold great hopes for his forthcoming Lieder recital. It transpired that both Argerich and Barenboim were affected by the flu, markedly so when they repeated the fifth programme, in which there were no encores; and that Barenboim wasn´t cured on the concert with Kaufmann. There was no encore after the "Jupiter", to my mind played with less rhythmic bite than on the first concert (of course everyone was fresher then). I do hope that next year Barenboim will be more careful and ethical: he owes it not just to the public, but to himself. This is a very expensive series, and two concerts in it were clearly below par; a third one is a controversial decision, that of Arabic music. Let´s have a real Festival where everything is topnotch. A personal desire: he has expressed his enthusiasm with Elgar: wouldn´t it be a great contribution to bring the powerful Second Symphony? For Buenos Aires Herald
Sunday 24, 5 pm: the "Barenboim Festival of Music and Reflexion" starts its third edition at the Colón, and again becomes the highest point of the season, for it will also have the presence of Martha Argerich and for the first time, of tenor Jonas Kaufmann. In fact it is essentially music; reflexion will take place when Barenboim will dialogue for the third year with Felipe González, this time about "The Conflict of the Middle East, a global crisis?" (July 31, 8 pm). And of course, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO) will be at the center of the activity. The hand programme gives details of the whole programme, biographies and comments by Barenboim and Pablo Gianera. Some of Barenboim´s programming decisions are controversial, as they were in preceding Festivals, but I have no doubt that the final result will leave lasting memories. It´s worth recalling that the WEDO was founded by Barenboim and Edward Said in 1999 as a workshop for youthful musicians from Israel, Palestine and other Arabic countries, first at Weimar, then at Chicago, and finally at Seville (2003) under the sponsorship of the Junta de Andalucía. Then and now the purpose is to further understanding and intercultural dialogue between people that come from countries that are often at war. An orchestra unites them at least for a while. Currently there are also some Spanish musicians, and religions are mixed: Jews, Muslims, Christians, Protestants and orthodox. And the workshop also includes lectures and debates. The denomination of the WEDO is a reference to Goethe´s homonymous poems; they are his own, but he tried in them to develop the concept of global culture. Mind you, this orchestra doesn´t exist year-long: each Summer a new group is formed, although some come from earlier seasons, and under Barenboim they prepare programmes that will be played in different tours, although since 2014 they include Buenos Aires. I admire the project in itself, even if Barenboim knows that politically things haven´t changed. But now I have to mention a touchy issue: the WEDO doesn´t list its personnel, as other orchestras do; I was told last year that this was for security reasons, but the members of the Al-Diwan Ensemble who play Arabic music ARE listed, and other two are identified in the Mozarteum concerts. What, some are protected and others aren´t? There´s another question: the concerts are abysmally expensive here but not in Seville. The stalls at the Colón rows 1 to 14: $ 3.635. At Seville´s Teatro de la Maestranza: 45 E = $ 739. True, now we have streaming and the same programme I´m reviewing can be seen on Tuesday 26, 8 pm, for free; but to hear it live is very different. If you go to any of them, do read the curricula and particularly the detailed one about Barenboim: I believe that no other artist in the world has such a fantastic trajectory except Plácido Domingo. To be brief: main conducting posts in Paris, Chicago, Bayreuth Festival, Milan´s Scala and Berlin, plus a dazzling career as a pianist since he was eight. And at 73 he has lost none of his incredible stamina and quality. Now to the Mozart dream programme. Of course music lovers have those last three symphonies in CDs and probably have heard all three in the same evening (I did so) but to hear them in wonderful acoustics by a great conductor and his orchestra was the sort of deep artistic pleasure that seldom comes around. For although all three are quite different, they are masterpieces and they were created in the same period: Nº 39, in E flat, K.543; Nº 40, in G minor, K.550; and Nº 41, "Jupiter", in C, K.551. They were written in the space of six weeks, from late June to August 10, 1788, at a time of dire pecuniary need, and they were never played during his life! And yet (I know it´s idle speculation), had he lived to be 55, the history of the symphony would have changed profoundly, for these symphonies look forward in harmony, rhythm and dramatic impact. A Mozart writing in 1798 would have left deep marks on Beethoven. Barenboim isn´t a historicist, and the WEDO was bigger than orchestras in Mozart´s time. But all the marks of great interpretation were there: the unerring sense of form, the careful contrast of dynamics, the exact though expressive phrasing. And the WEDO is not only technically very good: the players are intense and unanimous; they vividly enjoy the music. Nº 39 is the least played of the three, perhaps because it innovates less; but it is throughout gorgeous music. Nº 40´s first movement is urgent, dramatic and famous; and the Finale has a sweeping forwardness that was ideally expressed by the artists. As to the "Jupiter", the amazing contrapuntal "tour de force" of the Finale has no paragon in Mozart and reveals that his Bach studies changed his style whilst losing nothing of his vision of the future. If I have to nitpìck, I prefer the Minuets slighly slower: they are marked Allegretto, not Allegro. And just before the coda of the "Jupiter" Finale, for once Barenboim did a big "rallentando"; it isn´t specified and I feel it inhibits the continuity. A small but important detail: the podium lacked a step and Barenboim almost fell at the start of the concert; after the interval it was fixed.For Buenos Aires Herald
Anna Caterina Antonacci and Jonas Kaufmann in Carmen, The Royal Opera, 2006 © Catherine Ashmore Shocked by a ludicrous death? Amazed by an unexpected performance? Caught off-guard by a live broadcast while channel-flicking? Love it or hate it, there's something unforgettable about experiencing an opera for the first time. We encouraged our Twitter followers to indulge in a moment of nostalgia and tell us how they got hooked on opera — or how they learnt to love it — be it live on the Covent Garden stage, or further afield. We were not disappointed. @TheRoyalOpera my first experience was WOZZECK at 19. life-changing. decided in that moment that I'd become an opera scholar (& I did!) — Imani Mosley (@imanimosley) July 27, 2016 @TheRoyalOpera @LOVEtheatrecom Tosca, Naples,1970s - loved music but Tosca's death ludicrous as she bounced up again after fall to 'death'. — Jenny Worstall (@JennyWorstall) July 27, 2016 @TheRoyalOpera I saw Kungliga Operans production of Hanzel and Gretzel. Superb and amazing first experience for a child. — Nea (@LinneaBLO) July 27, 2016 @TheRoyalOpera 27 years ago I saw Pavarotti in a docklands arena & Carmen at Earls Court. Both big & spectacular. Now a veteran opera fan — Peter (@oysterman55) July 27, 2016 Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo and Kiri Te Kanawa as Mimì in La bohème, The Royal Opera, 1976 © ROH. Photograph by Donald Southern @TheRoyalOpera First live performance was Madame Butterfly, at the ROH in April 2015. It was utterly compelling and absorbing. — Nick Treby (@NickTreby) July 27, 2016 @TheRoyalOpera @RoyalOperaHouse At age 14 I accidentally tuned in to the Metropolitan Opera performance of LaBoheme. I became a fan. — John Dean (@JohnDea92919719) July 27, 2016 @TheRoyalOpera @RoyalOperaHouse @PopupOperaUK barber of Seville by pop-up opera in the rotherhithe tunnel a couple of months ago. Converted! — Dylan Fryer (@MrDylanFryer) July 27, 2016 @TheRoyalOpera Mine was a @WNOtweet bartered bride with a new young singer called Lesley Garrett. Often wonder what she went on to do... — Pinko Redux (@mancpinkoreturn) July 27, 2016 Martina Serafin as Tosca, Juha Uusitalo as Scarpia in Tosca © Catherine Ashmore/ROH 2011 @TheRoyalOpera I started late. 18. I saw Carmen streamed to a local cinema. Truly converted now. One of the most pure art forms. — Louis Simon (@louissimon96) July 27, 2016 @TheRoyalOpera Eugene Onegin in Prague on a school trip when I was 14. Left at the interval to drink beer and play pinball. — London Snail Eater (@Ldn_snail_eater) July 27, 2016 @TheRoyalOpera @RoyalOperaHouse Covent Garden, Parsifal. I was in a dream for days afterwards. — Emma Lewis (@Petchary) July 27, 2016 @TheRoyalOpera La Bohème in 1958 or '59 with my mother. She had prepared me well and I loved it. Still coming all these years later. — Roger (@BestBroadsYacht) July 27, 2016 What was your first experience of opera? Let us know via the comments below. ROH Live Cinema relays are a great way to experience opera for the first time. Find your nearest cinema and sign up to our mailing list .
Elina Garanca has crashed out, ordered by her doctors to take a week’s break. She is replaced on July 22 and 24 by the Russian mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova – a fine artist but not quite the same fire-power as the other stars on show: Anja Harteros, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel.
Great opera singers