Jonas Kaufmann - The Verdi Album

E-mail Print PDF

Coming so after his exceptional Wagner album for Decca an album of Verdi favourites with Jonas Kaufmann could easily have seemed anti-climactic. So let’s get the worst news out of the way first - Kaufmann was never suited to the superficial glamour of the Duke of Mantua and the insouciant glee of “La donna è mobile” is simply not in his armoury. Pavarotti sounds like a ray of careless sunshine in the aria whereas Kaufmann merely manages to sound lachrymose. There are at least ten other Verdi arias or duets I would have preferred him to tackle and would have suited him infinitely better. If he really felt the need to tackle an excerpt from Rigoletto then “Ella mi fu rapita” would have been a wiser choice. However I have a horrible feeling that the decision to record this piece at all was a cynical commercial choice, providing an instantly recognisable, bite size bon-bon for the commercial market. If so, it is unworthy of both the artist and his new record label.

With that gripe out of the way it is a pleasure to note that the rest of the album is on an entirely different level and, while not quite attaining the heights of Kaufmann’s Wagner recordings, is certainly a worthy addition to an overpopulated market. Second on the menu is “Celeste Aïda”, one of Verdi’s most cruel tests of a tenor since, not only does the unfortunate singer have to plunge in without pre-amble but is also expected to sing the final B flat pianissimo morendo to ppp without cracking or losing pitch. Most tenors don’t even attempt it but Kaufmann, to his credit, does and brings it off superbly. Whether he would take such a risk in the theatre is another matter entirely: unfortunately there are many theatres in Italy where such artistic scrupulousness is more likely to reap catcalls than bravos. The rest of the aria is on a similar level, a couple of slightly swooping descents aside, and I look forward to the promised complete recording with Pappano.

I am less convinced by his Riccardo in Un ballo in maschera. The part requires a feather-down touch especially in the early sections before the story darkens towards tragedy. Thus Kaufmann is significantly less successful in the canzone “Di tu se fedele”. I forget who described Riccardo a being like a ray of light piercing the gloom of this scene but we never get that feel from Kaufmann. However he has no problem with the testing low Cs which many tenors duck altogether. He even manages to make them sound more than just a strange misjudgement on Verdi’s part. The gorgeous romanza “Ma se m’è forza perdeti” suits him much better and he captures Riccardo’s longing and the premonition of impending tragedy.

He is similarly successful in the gloomy musings of Manrico in “Ah! sì ben mio” although I am not convinced the part suits him as well as the late Verdi roles. I prefer a brighter sound in the part than Kaufmann can muster but there is no arguing with the heroism of his cabaletta: both verses and two spiffing top Cs.

I very much enjoyed Kaufmann’s approach to Rodolfo’s recitative and aria from Luisa Miller. The former is one the earliest examples of the grand accompanied Verdian recitative which reached its apogee in “La vita è inferno all’infelice” in La forza del destino. Kaufmann instantly captures the mingled rage and grief of the young man and the ensuing aria, “Quanda la sere al placido”, is meltingly sung without ever subsuming the drama to mere beautiful vocalism. Luisa Miller is overdue for a decent revival at Covent Garden and I would love to hear Kaufmann in the complete role.

The aria from Simon Boccanegra and the duet from Don Carlo are equally successful although I guiltily wished he had recorded the Lacrymosa duet from the Paris Version especially as it is now often restored to its rightful place. The aforementioned Forza aria is expansively sung and Kaufmann aptly captures Alvaro’s gloomy pessimism. Once he has performed the role complete he will, I suspect, find even more light and shade in the great recitative (one of my absolute favourite Verdian moments).

I masnadieri is not often performed, especially these days. It certainly isn’t Verdi at his greatest even when considered against other “galley years” works. Kaufmann makes what he can of the anti-hero’s Act III aria but even he can’t disguise that the interest in this work lies mainly with the baritone and bass parts.

And from average Verdi we move to his greatest masterpiece. Although Kaufmann has set no date or place for his Otello debut, it is already one of the most widely anticipated future events. Here he gives us two tantalising glimpses of what we can expect. Kaufmann’s dark tone and heroic thrust, so wrong for the Duke, is ideally suited to Verdi’s most demanding tenor role and he already shows himself equal to the musical and dramatic challenges. Just one illustration of his sensitivity comes in the cataclysmic “Oh, gloria!” immediately degenerating into the shattered emptiness of “Otello fu”. I can hardly wait for him to tackle the whole role.

There is a bonus item in the aria from Act IV of Macbeth which, excellent though it undoubtedly is, seems diminished when heard straight after the final scene from Otello. Might we not have had “Ora e per sempre addio” or even one of the duets?

Sony Classical 88765492002


Sebastian Petit

Opera Britannia

Don Carlo photograph © Catherine Ashmore



Recent Reviews

Puccini: Tosca

Renée Fleming, our hostess with the mostest at the Metropolitan Opera’s latest cinema relay of Tosca a few weeks ago, urged us – as ever – to experience opera first-hand and to ‘come visit the Met’ or to support your local opera company. The Opera Britannia excursions budget wouldn’t get you as far as York, let alone New York, so my local company it was and performing the same opera too. Tosca is very much the safe, financial bolster to Welsh National Opera’s Tudor trilogy in its autumn season – a crowd-pleaser of a production excavated from 1992, but which seemed even older.


Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel

And so to Milton Keynes, pursued by a perishing wind fit to crack the famous concrete cows. The Milton Keynes Theatre, as a venue, is one of the jewels in the ATG crown, big enough to house almost any touring product, with spacious and well-designed auditorium and foyers. Unfortunately it is marooned in one of those soulless retail areas surrounded by a sea of mediocre chain outlets which offer the same tat or that which passes for food in a thousand other identical areas the world over. Whether it was position or the icy blasts which accounted for the poorly populated house is hard to say.


Mozart: The Magic Flute

For all the risk-taking in the operatic world, productions which are guaranteed bums-on-seats bankers are like Nibelung gold. To scrap not one but two such productions is a brave move for English National Opera this season. We shall see what Christopher Alden inflicts on Rigoletto in the spring, replacing Jonathan Miller’s famous Little Italy staging. Meanwhile, Nicholas Hytner’s much loved production of The Magic Flute has finally been laid to rest (after a few ‘absolutely your last chance to see’ revivals), replaced with this new one by Simon McBurney and Complicite.


Shostakovich: The Nose

Described at the time as “an anarchist’s hand grenade,” The Nosewas not well received and soon disappeared from view, although Malko, one of Shostakovich’s teachers at the Conservatoire, recognised the quality of the score. It was composed in 1927-28 and given a concert performance, against Shostakovich’s better judgment, in 1929: “The Nose loses all meaning if it is seen just as a musical composition. For the music springs only from the action...It is clear to me that a concert performance of The Nose will destroy it."



ENO goes widescreen

After resisting the prevailing tide for opera houses beaming their wares to a worldwide cinema audience, English National Opera has seen the light. From 2014, selected productions will be screened at 300 cinemas around the UK and beyond, starting with its revival of David Alden’s production of Peter Grimes, starring Stuart Skelton. A new production, by Terry Gilliam, of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini will also be relayed. Gilliam’s earlier Berlioz adventure, The Damnation of Faust, was broadcast on television.



Poetry Corner

Biography: Mary Robertson is an Emeritus Professor in Neuropsychiatry at University College London and visiting Professor at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London. Aside from being an opera devotee, Mary is a published poet and photographer.

(New poems added: 04/08/2010)

more >>



News updates

Subscribe to Opera Britannia to receive all the latest news and latest reviews

Signup >>

Around the Houses

Dmitri Platanias will sing the title role when the Royal Opera revives its new production of Nabucco. Mariusz Kwiecien will be joined by Saimir Pirgu in Steffen Aarfing's production of Szymanowski's King Roger at Covent Garden in 2015. The Royal Opera will stage Andrea Chenier in 2014/15 with Jonas Kaufmann, Eva-Maria Westbroek and Željko Lucic.

Anna Netrebko is due to sing the role of Lady Macbeth for a single performance at the Bavarian State Opera in June 2014.

Maria Agresta will sing Lucrezia in Verdi's I due Foscari in the 2014-15 season at Covent Garden. Placido Domingo does the Doge double, adding the baritone role of Francesca Foscari to his Simon Boccanegra.

Corinne Winters, fresh from her triumph as Violetta in ENO's production of La traviata, is to return to the Coliseum next season as Teresa in Berlioz's Benvenuto CelliniMichael Spyres sings the title role in a production which sees the return ofTerry Gilliam to the director's seat, after his Damnation of Faust debut.

. Read More>>

"Around the Houses" concentrates on providing the latest news on future plans for opera companies around the globe, artists schedules, cancellations and interesting snippets of information. We will try and avoid unsubstantiated gossip wherever possible, but all of our sources will remain completely confidential.  If you would like to advise us about potential news for this section, then please feel free to email us at

Coming Soon

Reviews to be published shortly:



CD Reviews

Vivaldi: Catone in Utica (Naive)

Although he claimed to have composed around ninety operas, there cannot be many left in the archives of the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin for Naïve to record in its ongoing Vivaldi Edition if you discount pasticcios, reworkings and incomplete works. Their latest offering, the fourteenth opera in the series, falls into the latter category, for only Acts II and III of Catone in Utica have survived. The opera was written to celebrate the culmination of his third and final season at Verona’s Teatro dell’Accademia Filarmonica – a profitable success for the composer. Premiered in 1737, it is unknown whether Act I was even written by Vivaldi himself, or whether music by other composers was employed.

Read more>>

Recital Reviews

Anne Sofie von Otter: Alumni Series

Milton Court, 23rd November 2013

When this was first drawn to my attention, such is my regard for the Swedish mezzo that I immediately withdrew from reviewing Albert Herring some two hundred yards down the road in the Barbican, and enthusiastically opted for what I thought was an evening of French chansons and mélodies. What a prospect! Anne Sofie von Otter let loose on Chausson and Debussy, Fauré and Poulenc, perhaps some Gounod and Bizet, with maybe a little Délibes and/or Satie by way of let-your-hair-down encore material. All with her long-term musical accompanist Bengt Forsberg summoning up the necessary style. Rapture guaranteed, for which I arrived fully prepared.

Read more>>

DVD Reviews

Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia (EuroArts)

Scholars now doubt on Lucrezia Borgia’s credentials as mass poisoner, but Donizetti’s operatic treatment on her historical character would have us believe she spiked drinks with cantarella and laced dishes with deadly nightshade like nobody’s business. Lucrezia, here on her fourth marriage (in reality, her third) to Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, is reunited with Gennaro, her long-lost son. Unfortunately, she withholds this vital information from him and from her husband, who suspects her of conducting an affair. It’s as free an interpretation as the lusty television series The Borgias, which never got as far as this in Lucrezia’s marital history, but none the worse for that.

Read more>>

Copyright 09 Opera Britannia
facebook twitter