Jonas Kaufmann has re-written the Rule Book on tenors. A lyric voice that darkens to embrace the heroic repertoire, an occasional heldentenor who can also sing Lehár with supreme elegance, a German who is utterly, completely, and believably Italianate, there is really no one quite like Kaufmann on the international scene right now. He’s a subtle actor, a commanding stage presence, and impossibly good looking, too.
What else is there? Artistry – that most precious of all commodities. There are things that Kaufmann does instinctively that stop you in your tracks. Typically, he began this his first London orchestral concert with a challenge. “Cielo e Mar” from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda is no warm-up number but rather opens cold and high in the voice on the word “cielo”. The placement must be perfect, the sound his sweetest – dolce. It was. Soon those open, burnished, tones poured out, swarthy and thrusting in the middle voice but with those unexpected nuances, moments where the music is taken away on the breath to effect a weightless mezza voce. The final high B-flat was a true piano crescendoing excitingly to full-blooded fortissimo. A four-minute master class.
And so it went on: from the fragrant enticements of the Flower Song from Carmen, the high B-flat seductively caressed in head-voice, to the no holds barred verismo of Turridu’s farewell to “mamma”, “Addio alla Madre” from Cavalleria Rusticana, where beauty and brawn, not least in the final a capella phrases, fleshed out not just the aria but the character, too.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under a very safe pair of hands, Jochen Rieder, dispensed the operatic “lollipops” very efficiently – not least a rangy account of the Bacchanale from Samson et Delila – but then things got serious with Kaufmann and his compatriot’s beloved Wagner. “Winterstürme” from Die Walküre radiated Springtime warmth but with dark, heroic, overtones. But it was the segue from the seraphic prelude to Lohengrin into the final monologue “In fernem Land” that really took us to another level. The atmosphere of the entire opera was contained in his rapt narrative and with the revelation of his identity, the knight in shining armour stood there before us.
Encores took us from Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur to Pagliacci’s donning of the motley. But in between was Tauber’s delicious “Du bist der welt für mich” sung with heart and soul and more. Make no mistake, Kaufmann is an important artist.