L’Opera is the title of Jonas Kaufmann’s latest recital disc devoted to French opera arias and a few duets. Kaufmann has achieved considerable success singing 19th century French opera, especially Massenet’s Werther. This recital demonstrates the reasons for this success which does not completely carry over to a sound recording.
In the theater you get the whole package that is Kaufmann: powerful and sensitive singing, a fine stage presence, and good looks. On a CD you get the refined singing that is typical of Kaufmann along with his “brown” sound which is not right for French opera minus the stage presence and good looks. He is such a fine artist that anything he does is interesting. But an aria like ‘Ah! lève-toi, soleil!’ cries out for a bright sound which is just not part of Kaufmann’s vocal armamentarium. He takes the climactic high note piano, but the note he produces is placed too far forward and is throaty. He does the same with the high note of the ‘Flower Song’. You may find the effect pleasing, but I would rather he sang it forte than the way he does.
The duet from The Pearl Fishers, with baritone Ludovic Tèzier is competently sung, but doesn’t come close to the brilliance of Björling and Merrill in their now legendary 1950 recording. The two men sound so alike that if you didn’t know the piece, you’d have a hard time telling one from the other.
Two excerpts from Manon, with Sonya Yoncheva, are very pleasing and well done. The aria from Thomas’ Mignon is performed with great artistry. I doubt anyone active today could match it.
Predictably, the numbers that sound the best are those now sung by a big voiced tenor. ‘Rachel, quand du Seigneur’ from Halévy’s La Juive benefits from both Kaufmann’s vocal finesse and his baritonal sound. ‘Inutiles regrets’ from Act 5 scene 1 of Berlioz’ Les Troyens is wonderfully sung. This a role that Jon Vickers performed with distinction. The late Canadian tenor has a voice that sounded very much like Kaufmann’s.
So who is this disc for? People who admire Kaufmann’s singing are sure to like this recital. Also those who care for French opera will like the artistry with which these selections are sung even if the tenor’s sound is not quite spot on for French opera.