Nov 18, 2008

Jonas Kaufmann’s Romantic Arias

1. La Bohème, Puccini - Che gelida manina 
2. Carmen, Bizet - La fleur que tu m'avais jetée 
3. Martha, Flotow - Ach, so fromm 
4. Tosca, Puccini - E lucevan le stelle 
5. Don Carlo, Verdi - Io l'ho perduta... Io la vidi, a suo sorriso 
6. Der Freischütz, Weber - Nein, länger trag' ich nicht die Quälen / Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen 
7. La traviata, Verdi - Lunge da lei...De miei bollenti spiriti...O mio rimorso 
8. Manon, Massenet - Je suis seul...Ah, fuyez, douce image 
9. Rigoletto, Verdi - Ella mi fu rapita...Parmi veder le lagrime 
10. Faust, Gounod - Quel trouble inconnu...Salut! Demeure chaste et pure 
11. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Wagner - Morgenlich leuchtend 
12. La Damnation de Faust, Berlioz - Invocation à la Nature 
13. Werther, Massenet - Pourquoi me réveiller, ô souffle du printemps?


The perfect male voice, in my standards, would be an hybrid where the masculinity of a baritone timbre would be tempered with the clarity of a tenor. Or simply put, Ernest Blanc's voice. These affinities make me a hybrid myself, as those two aspects rarely come together. Juan Diego Flórez for instance is without a doubt the paragon for clarity these days. His masculinity on the other hand is a wishful concept longing for emancipation. So what about Jonas Kaufmann ?

This CD is a good way to apprehend him globally, as the track listing covers a wide range of XIXth century composers, mixing hackneyed extracts of Rigoletto, Tosca, Faust, Traviata with more unusual arias. Among the later, Flotow's "Ach! So fromm" offers Kaufmann a perfect opportunity to shine; his expressivity is through the roof and he exudes genuineness, especially when he calls Martha's name. Also striking are "Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen" from Weber's Freischultz and "Morgenlich leuchtend" from Wagner's Meistersinger. The German language is the one suiting him the best, I think, as it is obvious he gets all the subtleties of both the pronunciation and musicality of it. His dark timbre is perfect for this kind of repertoire – not so much for "Salut! Demeure chaste et pure" from Faust or Berlioz's "Nature immense" – and that's when you realize, to relay my initial question, that his timbre – as gorgeous as it may be – lacks the clarity necessary for those arias.

His attempts at Puccini ("che gelida manina" and "e lucevan le stelle") are even less successful and to me, the main weakness of this recording – I consequently think it was a mistake to include them as it only brings light to a recurrent critic about Kaufmann – his inconsistency.

Alternating with the bad, his interpretation of arias from Werther and Manon offers a new perspective on Massenet's work – I never thought they had any kind of dramatic intensity in them. I suspect though this is symptomatic of Kaufmann's timbre and of the way he attacks notes (rather aggressively with that distinctive virility of his). His Rigoletto's "Ella mi fu rapita!" follows on the same path – for the exact same reasons.

Marco Armiliato's conduction is once again unimaginative and insipid, desperately neutral and without any kind of statement about the various pieces of this recording. One thing for sure: he doesn't overstep one inch his supporting role.

This recording provides indeed an exhaustive grasp of Jonas Kaufmann – showcasing both his strengths and his weaknesses. All and all, my final impression will remain his powerful interpretations of the 3 German arias chosen.

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