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Music Review: Tenor Jonas Kaufmann makes U.S. recital debut at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

March 13, 2011 | 12:44 pm

Getprev-1 In recent years the opera world has obsessed over who qualifies as a “Barihunk,” a baritone so handsome that audiences yearn to see him sing with his shirt off. Tenors must have wondered what the big deal was. People have been swooning over these higher-voiced singers for ages.

The latest swoon-worthy tenor is Munich-born Jonas Kaufmann, who drove the audience nuts Friday at his U.S. recital debut sponsored by the Los Angeles Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Fans demanded no fewer than five encores, including one played by accompanist Helmut Deutsch from an iPad. O brave new world.

Kaufmann is tall, poised, curly-haired. He has chiseled looks and dramatic presence. His voice has a baritone’s dark coloring and weight, and he can use it for poetic effect. He knows that less is more, so he did not rely on extraneous gestures to punch up his program of lieder by Schumann and Strauss.

What’s not to like? Well, Kaufmann took a long time to warm up. He sounded most comfortable in mid-range. Moving up, his throat tended to tighten, making his upper notes -- unless super-powered -- thin and dry, and he did not linger on them long. When he did, they could be arresting, but they could also be harsh. One fears he may be living off his capital not his interest.

Kaufmann’s most telling moments came in Schumann’s “Dichterliebe” — lovely coloring in “Im wunderschönen Monat-Mai” and  controlled intimacy in “Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet” — and more frequently in such personal Strauss songs as “Sehnsucht,” “Morgen” and “Cäcilie.”

Throughout, Deutsch was his sensitive collaborator.

Kaufmann’s career vaults forward: He sings his first Siegmund in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Wagner’s “Die Walküre” next month. The performance can be seen in a “Live in HD” transmission May 14.

— Chris Pasles

Photo: Kaufmann at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion Friday night. Credit: Robert Millard


 
Comments () | Archives (12)

Wonderful concert. Really a treat to hear "Dichterliebe" twice--first with Rene Pape and now with Jonas Kaufmann. So glad the piano was fully open. Very fine pianist too. Can't tell you how much I will miss these LA Opera-sponsored voice recitals next season.

An extremely enjoyable recital not marred by extraneous applause, possibly a first in LA. Mr. Kaufmann deserves a standing ovation for politely informing his audience to respect the integrity of the work for the enjoyment of all in attendance.

We loved every minute of this recital as we did Dmitri's. Not overly fond of German Lieder, however, Kaufmann delivered such beautiful phrases that we found the recital totally engaging. I own several of his DVD's and CD's - he is as talented at opera and the acting required as he is the recital. Beautiful voice and the baritonal timbre is what sets him apart in the tenor world. I hope too much Wagner doesn't take a toll on his instrument as it has other singers. I'll miss having Dmitri and Kaufmann gracing our stage next season.....Thank goodness for Met at the Movies so we can see these wonderful artists!

A wonderful concert in all respects! I was, however, annoyed by Mr. Sved's review, particularly the first paragraphs where he reiterates all the stuff that second-rate writers have written about Mr. Kaufmann. Give me a break. He is the best German light tenor to appear since Fritz Wunderlich, a singer who studied with James King and Hans Hotter. He is a serious artists and a marvelous recitalist. I found the review shallow and general. I think we need an Alex Ross in Los Angeles to write our reviews.

Were we at the same concert? Never did I find Kaufmann's voice anything but appropriate for what he was singing. Lest we forget, lieder is different than opera and how you approach it is different. For me, this was the most exciting recital I have attended in years and years - exciting because it was thoughtful, gorgeous and at all times appropriate. What a joy to hear a world-class opera tenor sing gorgeous music of song composers.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and literally grew up at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. On that very stage I have heard Horowitz, Rubinstein, Heifetz, Leontyne Price, Rostropovich, Fournier, among others, and this recital was right up there!!! Thank you L. A. Opera for presenting him.

John Walz
Principal cellist, Los Angeles Opera

Tall? Are you mad?

Who is this Chris Pasles guy masquerading as a music critic? This reviewer is clearly an imbecile who is either deaf or knows nothing about the voice, thus he spends so much time talking about Kaufmann's physical appearance and even went so far as to used the term "barihunk." Seriously?? Kaufmann's forte IS his top, as he sings with full voice where most tenors would fall into their falsetto. It is because he has such an extraordinary voice and technique that he DOES NOT need to rely on his good looks as a marketing gimmick. The same can't be said for the likes of Netrebko or Grigolo. Unfortunately, few these days have the ear and knowledge to discern the great singers from the charlatans, and Chris Pasles of the LA Times is clearly not one of the them.

This ill-conceived reaction is a poor excuse for a blog entry by your staff. I was at the same performance and noted that this singer, although attractive, relied on his vocal gifts, not only to entertain an audience with high expectations, but to reveal that Opera, as an art form, can be entirely thrilling with the risk-taking that was witnessed at this recital. Performances like this should be celebrated and cherished as hallmarks which keep the art form vital in a day and age when technology overwhelms the senses.

I agree with most of the comments here. Chris Pasles must not have been at the same concert the rest of us attended. I was in the third row, keyboard side, and Kaufmann's voice soared in both his forte and pianissimi. This is a first-rate singer; a tenor the likes of which we rarely hear these days. He sang, of all things, a lieder recital, and achieved some of the highest artistry I have heard. I have been to many good recitals, a few great ones, but only maybe three really fantastic ones in my years of recital-going (Von Stade at the Ambassador, Hagegard at Royce Hall, the first two) and Kaufmann is the third. The LA Times needs to re-think its music review staff. If Pasles cannot hear this type of greatness.

I agree with previous comments that this is an absurd review. The concert I saw was of a first class singer AND a first class musician. I've been lucky in my day to hear Domingo, Pavarotti, Carreras, all in their prime, live in the theatre, not to mention Vickers, Gedda, and others, and I count Kaufmann as one of the greats. Friday night's recital was one of the finest I've ever witnessed, and I've seen the best of the best over 35+ years of concert-going. Not only was the singing of the highest order, but Mr. Kaufmann was an unusually generous performer, returning to the stage for no fewer than FIVE encores, putting as much into the 5th as he did the first, and never sacrificing or debasing his artistry. Bravo Jonas!

I have enjoyed Mr. Pasles' interviews in the past, but feel I must take issue with this one. In my modest career I have been lucky to share the stage with some great tenors, including Kraus, Pavarotti and Vickers. Friday evening's recital was absolutely mesmerizing, with technical and musical perfection in abundance. And yes, he does have an unusually dark timbre, not unlike Giacomini, but I do not hear any of the usual signs of wear and tear going on - flatting, wobbling and inability to modulate dynamics. I put friday night up there with the other two great recitals I keep in my heart - Pavarotti in 1973 at Royce Hall (when I was only 12), and Cesare Siepi in 1980, also at Royce Hall. In an age when I am finding myself increasingly dissapointed with the state of singing - save for the plethora of very good Mozart and Rossini vocalists - this recital was a throwback to another age. Barihunks, Shmarihunks! Vielen dank, Herr Kaufmann, you are great artist and a class act.


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