Tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who just made the recital debut of the decade at Carnegie Hall with pianist Helmut Deutsch last Thursday, is in very high demand these days. Not only is he singing in every major opera house in the world, singing every major tenor role, he is also carving a niche for himself in the recital hall. He is currently singing at the Met in Werther, and his recent aforementioned debut set the venue ablaze with thunderous applause accompanied by more than a few bouquets from some of his adoring devotees.
He chose his repertoire wisely as the sets he sang, though they are reaching their bicentennial, still resonate with the modern audience. The subject of love is nothing new to any population, and, thusly, the poetry of this music will have a chance to connect even in the dullest of voices. But where the singer becomes the artist is in the delivery. Mr. Kaufmann not only delivered, he allowed us to feel the poetry with him by drawing us into the act through the power of his voice. It is very easy for a singer to over-act the subtitles of these texts, using physical motion to emphasize moments for a non-native speaking audience. But he brought out the supple richness in his voice to fully portray his character to tell these stories.
In Schumann’s “Stille Tränen” one could feel his love for this music, and from “Ich grolle nicht,” we can sense his artestry as he sang "without a grudge," conversing one-on-one to a nearly sold-out hall of three thousand plus.
But the real magic occured in his final set of Liszt songs, Tre sonetti di Petrarca. In “Benedetto sia’l giorno,” he began a note on the softest of pianissimo’s, then arched into a slow crescendo until he reached a full forte that was thrilling to behold. He made the floorboards tremble during the same set with his “Pace non trovo.”
There is no other word to use in describing his sound than rich. The man has a gilded set of cast iron vocal chords that allow him to sing the most dramatic of Wagner to the most lyric of Puccini, and back again.
That richness sounds something akin to James McCracken and Jon Vickers by way of dramatics, with a little Domingo thrown in to add depth and body. But his is certainly a voice all his own, and certainly will be for many, many years to come. To call him the greatest living tenor is to discredit his full potential. He has the makings to become the greatest tenor of all time. But that is many seasons in the future, and, of course, only time will tell.
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For more information about Helmut Deutsch, click here.