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Jonas Kaufmann

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

April 2

Best cast Parsifal of the century (so far)?

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discMunich, June 2018: Richard Wagner 1813 — 1883 PARSIFAL Ein Bühnenweihfestspiel in drei Aufzügen • 1882 Libretto vom Komponisten Conductor Kirill Petrenko Director Pierre Audi • Amfortas Christian Gerhaher • Titurel Bálint Szabó • Gurnemanz René Pape • Parsifal Jonas Kaufmann • Klingsor Wolfgang Koch • Kundry Nina Stemme • Erster Gralsritter Kevin Conners • Zweiter Gralsritter Callum Thorpe • Stimme aus der Höhe Rachael Wilson • Erster Knappe Elsa Benoit • Zweiter Knappe Tara Erraught • Dritter Knappe Manuel Günther • Vierter Knappe Matthew Grills • Blumenmädchen Golda Schultz, Elsa Benoit, Selene Zanetti, Tara Erraught, Alyona Abramowa, Rachael Wilson

Classical iconoclast

April 17

Unique ! Jonas Kaufmann Das Lied von der Erde

Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience.  This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.  A single voice in a song symphony created for two voices?  Not many artists have the vocal range and heft to sustain 45 minutes at this intensity but Kaufmann achieves a feat that would defy many others. Das Lied von der Erde for one soloist is a remarkable experiment that's probably a one-off, but that alone is reason enough to pay proper attention. The dichotomy between male and female runs like a powerful undercurrent through most of Mahler's work.  It's symbolic. The "Ewig-wiebliche", the Eternal feminine, represents abstract concepts like creativity, redemption and transcendance, fundamentals of Mahler's artistic metaphysics.  Ignore it at the risk of denaturing Mahler!  But there can be other ways of  creating duality, not tied to gender.  Witness the tenor/baritone versions, contrasting singers of the calibre of Schreier and Fischer-Dieskau.  For Das Lied von der Erde, Mahler specified tenor and mezzo, the mezzo supplying richness and depth in contrast to the anguish of the tenor, terrified of impending death.  This is significant, since most of Mahler's song cycles and songs for male voices are written for medium to low voices, and favour baritones. Tenors generally get short-changed, so this is an opportunity to hear how tenors can make the most of Mahler.  . Kaufmann is a Siegmund, not a Siegfried: his timbre has baritonal colourings not all can quite match. Transposing the mezzo songs causes him no great strain.  His Abschied is finely balanced and expressive, good enough to be heard alone, on its own terms. What this single voice Das Lied sacrifices in dynamic contrast, it compensates by presenting Das Lied von der Erde as a seamless internal monologue. Though Mahler uses two voices, the protagonist is an individual undergoing transformation: Mahler himself, or the listener, always learning more, through each symphony.  Thus the idea of a single-voice Das Lied is perfectly valid, emotionally more realistic than tenor/baritone.  All-male versions work when both singers are very good, but a single-voice version requires exceptional ability.  Quite probably, Kaufmann is the only tenor who  could carry off a single-voice Das Lied. With his background, Kaufmann knows how to create personality without being theatrical, an important distinction,  since Das Lied von der Erde is not opera, with defined "roles", but a more personal expression of the human condition.  This Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde  is unusually intense, since the person involved emphatically does not want to die.  The horns call, the orchestra soars, but Kaufmann's defiance rings with a ferocity most tenors  might not dare risk.  Wunderlich couldn't test this song to the limits the way Kaufmann does. Schreier, on the other hand, infused it with similar courage, outshining the mezzo and orchestra in his recording with Kurt Sanderling.  This heroic, outraged defiance is of the essence, for the protagonist is facing nothing less than annihilation. Twenty years ago, when Kaufmann sang Das Lied with Alice Coote in Edinburgh, I hated the way he did this song, as if it was a drinking song.  Now Kaufmann has its true measure, spitting out the words fearlessly, taking risks without compromise.  No trace whatsoever of Mario Lanza! This  reveals a side of Kaufmann which the marketing men pushing commercial product like the Puccini compilation will not understand, but enhances my respect for Kaufmann's integrity as a true artist. After the outburst of Das Trinklied, Der Einsame im Herbst is reflective, with Kaufmann's characteristic "smoky" timbre evoking a sense of autumnal melancholy.  This is usually a mezzo song,  so at a few points the highest notes aren't as pure as they might be, though that adds to the sense of vulnerability which makes this song so moving.  Von der Jugend is a tenor song, though no surprises there.  If Kaufmann's voice isn't as beautiful as it often is,  he uses it intelligently.  The arch of the bridge mirrored in the water is an image of reversal. Nothing remains as it was.   In Von der Schönheit Mahler undercuts the image of maidens with energetic, fast-flowing figures in the orchestra. This song isn't "feminine". The protagonist is no longer one of the young bucks with prancing horses. He has other, more pressing things on his mind.  Der Trunkene im Frühling usually marks the exit of the tenor, recapitulating Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde.  Though there are tender moments, such as the bird song and its melody, the mood is still not resigned. Kaufmann throws lines forcefully : "Der Lenz ist da!", "Am schrwarzen Firmament!" and, defiant to the end with "Laßt mich betrunken sein!" Jonathan Nott conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker. creating an atmospheric Abschied with muffled tam tam, woodwinds, strings, harps, celeste and mandolin.  Excellent playing, as you'd expect from this orchestra.  Just as the first five songs form a mini-cycle, the Abschied itself unfolds in several stages, each transition marked by an orchestral interlude.  The dichotomy now is not merely between voice types but between voice and orchestra: altogether more abstract and elevated.  This final song is the real test of this Das Lied and Kaufmann carries it off very well.  Now the tone grows ever firmer and more confident.  There are mini-transitions even within single lines of text, such as the beautifully articulated "Er sprach....., seine Stimme war umflort...... Du, mein Freund".  At last, resolution is reached. The ending is transcendant, textures sublimated and luminous.  The protagonist has reached a new plane of consciousness not of this world.  Kaufmann's voice takes on richness and serenity. He breathes into the words "Ewig....ewig" so the sound seems almost to glow.  Utterly convincing.  This isn't the prettiest Das Lied von der Erde on the market, but it wouldn't be proper Mahler if it were. It is much more important that it is psychologically coherent and musically valid.  Too often, interesting performances are dismissed out of hand because they are different, but Kaufmann's Das Lied von der Erde definitely repays thoughtful listening.




On An Overgrown Path

April 2

Classical music's $27 billion market opportunity

Deep Listening is a form of meditation. Attention is directed to the interplay of sounds and silences or sound/silence continuum. Sound is not limited to musical or speaking sounds but is inclusive of all perceptible vibrations (sonic formations). The practice is intended to expand consciousness to the whole space/time continuum of sound/silences.That extract is from Pauline Oliveros' book Deep Listening: A Composer's Sound Practice and my own experiments with her listening practice confirm that it is efficacious as a form of samadhi meditation. My recent post about Deep Listening attracted a surprisingly large readership, but I know there are some readers who still wish I would cut out the New Age nonsense and just write about Jonas Kaufmann and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. So let me give the unconvinced food for thought. In an age of changing values and priorities classical music is struggling to justify its funding, and arguing the case for funding is becoming more and more difficult as the artform moves away from being a holistic activity - don't forget art music is rooted in medieval sacred music - and moves towards the entertainment industry. Deep listening, which is a core classical practice, is holistic - see video below*. In the U.S. the yoga market is worth $27 billion annually; by contrast the value of the U.S. market for classical albums has declined to less than $200 million. Just a small chunk of that $27 billion would solve a lot of classical music's funding problems to everyone's - purists and New Agers - benefit. * Samadhi meditation is also known as mantra meditation. One of the CDs I have used in my Deep Listening experiments is music for santoor, sarangi, percussion and voice from Nawab Khan's The Mantra ensemble. Nawab is bringing The Mantra to Europe in May and is looking for additional bookings including the UK - contact details here. (I have no commercial links with Nawab Khan, but I have seen him play and was very impressed). Overgrown Path is also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).



Guardian

March 29

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde CD review – Jonas Kaufmann delivers a real disappointment

Kaufmann/Vienna PO/Nott (Sony Classical) In an interview that serves as the sleeve notes for his recording, Jonas Kaufmann describes his first encounter as a student with Das Lied von der Erde, in the classic recording conducted by Otto Klemperer. Kaufmann says he immediately tried to emulate Klemperer’s incomparable soloist Fritz Wunderlich in the three tenor songs, but doesn’t reveal whether at that stage he thought he could sing the three other numbers too, which Mahler designated for either a contralto or a baritone. (It’s Christa Ludwig, still unsurpassed, on the Klemperer recording.) Yet here he is tackling all six, in a recording taken from concerts in the Vienna Musikverein last June. Performances with a baritone rather than a mezzo or contralto as the second soloist appear to have become more common over the last decade, following the example set half a century ago by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Thomas Hampson and Christian Gerhaher, in particular, have showed how effective a second male voice can be. But though Kaufmann’s voice is regularly described as having baritonal qualities, he is not, at this stage in his career at any rate, a true baritone, and there are moments in all three of the contralto songs when he seems to be struggling to muster enough weight of tone to support the vocal line. Parts of the final Abschied are almost crooned, and the repeated closing “Ewig” is virtually toneless. Continue reading...

Royal Opera House

March 28

Puccini's Madama Butterfly musical highlight: ‘Un bel dì vedremo’

Ermonela Jaho and Elizabeth de Shong in Madama Butterfly © ROH 2017. Photograph by Bill Cooper ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ (One fine day) is an aria from Giacomo Puccini ’s 1904 opera Madama Butterfly , sung by the title character, Cio-Cio-San. It has become one of the best-known movements from the opera, with audiences entranced not only by its beautiful melody but also by its heartbreaking encapsulation of the tragedy at the opera’s heart. Where and when does it take place? ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ takes place in Act II of Madama Butterfly. In the first act, the 15-year-old Japanese geisha Cio-Cio-San marries the American naval officer Lieutenant Pinkerton while he visits Nagasaki. Pinkerton views their marriage as just a way to have a good time, but for Cio-Cio-San it is a deeply serious act – so much so that she converts to Christianity, offending her family who disown her. By ‘Un bel dì vedremo’, three years have passed since the wedding. Pinkerton left shortly after the marriage and has not returned. Cio-Cio-San lives in his house with their young son, and her maid Suzuki. Their money is running out and everyone urges Cio-Cio-San to forget Pinkerton and make a new marriage. But she firmly believes that he will return, and in ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ imagines that happy day. Meanwhile, Suzuki weeps. What do the words mean? Read our line-by-line translation of librettists Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica ’s original Italian text, created in 2003 by Royal Opera House surtitler Kenneth Chalmers: ‘Un bel dì vedromo’ Un bel dì vedremo levarsi un fil di fumo sull’estremo confin del mare. E poi la nave appare poi la nave bianca entra nel porto, romba il suo saluto. Vedi? È venuto! Io non gli scendo incontro. Io no. Mi metto là sul ciglio del colle e aspetto, e aspetto gran tempo e non mi pesa la lunga attesa. E uscito dalla folla cittadina un uom, un picciol punto s’avvia per la collina. Chi sarà? chi sarà? E come sarà giunto Che dirà? che dirà? Chiamerà ‘Butterfly!’ dalla lontana. Io senza dar risposta me ne starò nascosta, un po’ per celia e un po’ per non morir al primo incontro, ed egli alquanto in pena chiamerà, chiamerà: ‘Piccina mogliettina, olezzo di verbena!’ i nomi che mi dava al suo venire. Tutto questo avverrà, te lo prometto. Tienti la tua paura, io con sicura fede l’aspetto. One fine day we’ll see a thread of smoke out on the horizon, and then the ship will appear. The white ship will sail into port. It will fire its cannon Can you see? He’s back! I don’t go down to meet him. I stand on the brow of the hill, and wait And the long wait means nothing. Out of the bustling town comes a man, a tiny dot, heading for the hill Who can it be? And when he arrives, what will he say? He’ll call ‘Butterfly!’ from afar. I’ll say nothing, but stay hidden. Partly to tease, and partly so as not to die when we first meet again. He’ll be a little overcome, and call, ‘Little wife, verbena blossom!’ The names he used to call me when he was here. This will all come true, I promise you. Keep your fear to yourself. With a faith that can’t be shaken I'm waiting for him. See the full score on IMSLP here (from p.230). What makes the music so memorable? In this wonderful aria Puccini exploits music’s power to represent several different mental states at once: he vividly depicts Cio-Cio-San’s strength, while also telling us with heartbreaking certainty of her inevitable tragedy. Cio-Cio-San sounds vulnerable in her opening phrase, but it demands great vocal control from the soprano. The opening melody’s rhythmic simplicity and its shimmering orchestral accompaniment create the sense of a lovingly savoured dream – although one tinged with melancholy in the predominantly minor harmony. This theme returns with appalling power at two later points in the aria: first as Cio-Cio-San sings the word ‘morir’ (die), accompanied by the full orchestra playing ‘tutta forza’ (with all force). Almost before we can recover it returns again, again fortissimo, Cio-Cio-San this time rising to her highest note in the aria on the word ‘aspetto’ (I wait). The orchestra’s strong close firmly evokes Cio-Cio-San’s certain hope – while twisting the knife in our hearts. Madama Butterfly’s other musical highlights Where to start? Madama Butterfly is one of the most famous works in the opera canon, for good reason. Puccini returns to numerous melodies throughout the opera, giving the work both musical unity and dramatic inevitability; for example, the primary melody from ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ returns with powerful force when Butterfly sees Pinkerton’s ship sail into Nagasaki harbour. The famous Humming Chorus that follows shortly after is a remarkable, wordless evocation of Cio-Cio-San’s invincible patience as she waits, futilely, for Pinkerton to come to her. Their great Act I duet ‘Viene la sera’ (Night is falling), as well as being one of Puccini’s longest and most beautifully written, is crucial in establishing the basis of Butterfly’s love. Equally important is her relationship with her family, terrifyingly captured in the wedding ceremony, with music drawing on authentic Japanese melodies . Classic recordings Over the past decades there has been no shortage of great sopranos who bring their voices and their souls to this role, finding different ways to interpret Butterfly’s vulnerability and strength. Classic recordings include Victoria de los Angeles ’s at the Royal Opera House with Rudolf Kempe in 1957 ; Renata Scotto ’s with John Barbirolli in 1966 ; or Renata Tebaldi ’s with Tullio Serafin in 1958 . Mirella Freni appears on two iconic recordings, with Luciano Pavarotti and Herbert von Karajan in 1974 , and in the famous filmed version from the same year, again with Karajan and this time opposite Plácido Domingo . Of recent years the most famous audio recording must be Angela Gheorghiu ’s with Jonas Kaufmann and Antonio Pappano from 2009. The many DVD recordings include Anthony Minghella ’s wonderful production for English National Opera , filmed at the Metropolitan Opera, New York , in 2009 with Patricia Racette and Patrick Summers . More to discover Cio-Cio-San is perhaps the primary example of the noble, self-sacrificing heroine who is such a familiar figure in opera’s history. There are several in the Puccini canon, who all have wonderful key arias: Mimì from La bohème with ‘Mi chiamano Mimì’; the fiery Tosca and her ‘Vissi d’arte’; Suor Angelica ’s ‘Senza mamma’; Liù from Turandot with ‘Tu che di gel sei cinta’. It’s a thread that runs through 19th-century Italian opera, with just a handful of the many wonderful roles including Verdi ’s Violetta from La traviata and Gilda from Rigoletto , Bellini ’s Norma , Donizetti ’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Rossini ’s Elena from La donna del lago . But Butterfly is very much a work from the turn of the 20th century, with the near contemporaneous Pelléas et Mélisande by Debussy in many ways a close cousin, particularly in its use of harmony. Madama Butterfly runs until 25 April 2017. Tickets are sold out, but 49 tickets for each performance will be released the week before as part of Friday Rush . The production is broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 30 March 2017. Find your nearest cinema. The production is a co-production with Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona , and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Aud Jebsen, Spindrift Al Swaidi and The Maestro’s Circle .

Classical music and opera by Classissima



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