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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 18, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 11
Tenor's L.A. performance a dream come true
Arts & Entertainment
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Tenor's L.A. performance a dream come true

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Tenor Jonas Kaufmann in recital
March 11
L.A. Opera
Sixty years of concert-going sometimes makes me feel jaded. Big stars like Reneé Fleming in recital leave me yawning. On the other hand, last week's recital at L.A. Opera by Jonas Kaufmann brought back my memories of Schwartzkopf, Bjoerling, and de los Angeles in recital, leaving me sobbing in gratitude for being transported back into the 'golden age' of lieder singing.

Indeed, this still-young Munich-born tenor could by force of his artistry and charisma re-establish the almost lost tradition of lieder recitals in this country. (This was his American recital debut.) The reception he got was ecstatic and prompted no less than five encores.

The program was entirely Schumann and Strauss, with no opera, even in the encores. I am, in case you haven't noticed, an opera queen; but I didn't miss the opera element in the least. Besides, some of the Strauss was downright operatic. This is not to say that Kaufmann overdramatized anything (as Byrn Terfel did a few years ago in a Vancouver recital). He knew when to keep his arms still at his side and when to use gestures. He is, as anyone who has seen his DVDs knows, a fine actor of great nuance.

Helmut Deutsch was his perfect accompanist.

Four songs from Robert Schumann's 'Aus den Kerner-Liedern,' (opus 35) opened the recital. Complete texts were printed (both German and English) in the program. But throughout this recital I did not follow the words, preferring to marvel at how entrancing was the music alone. Kaufmann made the emotions perfectly clear through tone, dynamics, and gesture.

Because some listeners were unfamiliar with recital etiquette, Kaufmann spoke (with a microphone) in a most charming manner before continuing with the song cycle 'Dichterliebe' (opus 48). He explained that each of these very short 16 songs 'belongs to the song before it' and should not be separated by applause. Kaufmann's 'Dichterliebe' was exquisite, honoring the memory of his idol, Fritz Wunderlich, and of Axel Schötz.

Songs of Richard Strauss filled the second half, first with the five songs from 'Schlichte Weisen: Fünf Gedichte von Felix Dahn,' and then with eight more songs, including the 'Vier Lieder' (opus 27).

The five encores were as follows: Richard Strauss: 'Breit über mein haubt,' 'Nichts,' 'Zeignung,' Franz Lehar: 'Dein ist mein ganzes Herz,' and Schumann: 'Mondnacht,' with the accompanist Deutsch playing this last encore from a score on his iPad!

Kaufmann sang the last encore very softly, to stunning effect. In the second verse, he sang pianissimo, getting even softer as he ascended the last line. There wasn't a dry eye around me! It was perfectly clear that his voice was still fresh, a testament to his fine technique and perfect breath control. I expect this 42-year-old tenor will still be concertizing 20 years from now.

With high expectations, I went all the way to Los Angeles to hear this recital. Yet I was wary, for the art of a song recital is very different from that of opera. Great opera stars have failed miserably at recitals. Deborah Voigt is a recent Seattle example. But Kaufmann succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

Unfortunately for us, Kaufmann's American tour included only one more stop (at Berkeley). Then he is off to rehearsals for this spring's appearance as Siegmund in the Met's Die Walküre, which will be seen Live in HD at your local cinema on May 14. Don't miss it! (See www.fathomevents.com for tickets.)

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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