On an occasion so special it practically defies description, tenor gigastar Jonas Kaufmann gave Melbourne’s opera cognoscenti an unforgettable night of superb musicianship.
On the dot of 7.30pm, the well-behaved audience came to an expectant hush without so much as a dimming of the lights. The good grace was instantly tarnished with shame, however, when a wretched ringtone derailed conductor and orchestra after less than a bar of playing. Decorum promptly resumed, and the first of many orchestral interludes began.
Maestro Jochen Rieder, a frequent collaborator of Kaufmann and others of his ilk, led the way in a program distinguished by the exceptional musicality of all involved. A highlight of the concert was the chance to see Orchestra Victoria out of the pit and on stage like a symphony orchestra. Their expert playing was unquestionably of a calibre to match that of the visiting star.
The overture from I vespri sicilani set an exciting tone for the evening, the first of seven featured pieces for the orchestra. In a second Verdi overture, from La forza del destino, the call and ever-so-delicate answer of woodwind and violins was played superbly and was also a joy to watch.
In the second half, the orchestra began with the mystical “Bacchanale” from Saint-Saën’s Samson et Dalila, building to a frenzy as the piece progressed. The lilting beauty of “Meditation” from Thaïs showed a gentler aspect to the playing.
Following the opening overture, a beaming, handsomely attired Kaufmann made his first appearance. Thrilled to finally see their idol stride out on stage, the audience were hooked from the first roll of the “r” at the start of Tosca’s “Recondita armonia.” This relatively brief, but warmly romantic, beginning was followed by “Improvviso” from Andrea Chénier, a title role Kaufmann is set to play at Royal Opera this January. The highpoint of the first half was surely the extended sequence from La forza del destino, in which Kaufmann demonstrated his ability with finely controlled pianissimo singing.
Many are the qualities that make up the wonder and splendour that is Kaufmann’s extraordinary voice. Excellent diction, luxuriously warm tone and effortlessly powerful high notes are part of the package. Lack of visible effort overall puts the listener at ease as exquisite phrases pour forth with the purest of legato. The sheer musicality of Kaufmann’s tone sounds wonderful when clearly exposed by the lightest accompaniment. Dynamically, he exhibits supreme control that allows him to dramatically diminuendo or crescendo on a long note. Tone, stance and attitude change as he inhabits the various characters for each aria.
In the second half, Kaufmann had hearts beating with a pair of French romantic favourites: “La fleur que to m’avais jetée” from Bizet’s Carmen and “Pourquoir me réveiller” from Massenet’s Werther.
After a magnificent finale from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, Kaufmann was rewarded with more than thirty minutes of curtain calls and standing ovations, during which time he sang four encores. “E lucevan le stelle” from Puccini’s Tosca was greeted with the applause of recognition and appreciation usually reserved for pop songs.
It would have been appreciated to have some personal insight from the great man, some glimmer of the personality behind the stage roles. As it stands, we have spent an evening with our hero and yet he remains an inscrutable mystery, to be idolized and adored at arms length.
“You Are My Heart’s Delight,” from Kaufmann’s next recording, was a glorious way to end a night that was a mutual lovefest. The ecstatic Melbourne crowd were left waving and grinning, immensely satisfied at the superb night of entertainment. Thank you Opera Australia for this wonderful event. Who is next on your list?
Jonas Kaufmann performs again in Sydney on 17 August 2014.
Man in Chair has previously reviewed Jonas Kaufmann:
La Forza del Destino at Bayersiche Staatsoper, Munich, in January 2014
Faust at Vienna Opera House in February 2012
Photo courtesy of Opera Australia