I owe Jonas Kaufmann an apology. Anyone who has been following my blog from the start knows that, in the past, I have not been kind. When I first heard him, I did not like him at all. And it wasn't the depth or darkness of his voice. After all, I much prefer the darker tenor voices to the bright, sunny, cheerful-sounding ones. I would gladly listen to Domingo (my all-time favorite tenor) over Pavarotti (who I avoid in any role that isn't the Duke of Mantua) any day of the week. Among the newer generation of tenors, I favor those who have followed in Domingo's footsteps, and greatly appreciate the voices that have baritone qualities. So it was not the depth of his voice, although it did take me some time to become convinced that Kaufmann was not just a baritone trying to sing tenor roles. No, I thought his voice was somewhat muffled, as if he had something in his mouth. It may be that I had just found all the wrong YouTube videos, but there you have it. I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out what it was that everyone saw in him.
Cinema Paradiso, a lovely local art-house theater. I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised by him, but I wasn't expecting too much. I was going because I love Tosca, and because I was excited to see Bryn Terfel as Scarpia. I was really anticipating nothing more than a tolerable performance from Kaufmann. Harsh, I know, but there you have it. So when I did finally see his Cavaradossi, I was caught completely off guard. Not only did he sing the role very well, (second only to Domingo among all the Marios I have seen and heard,) he could ACT! I mean, really act. He seemed to really understand what the character was all about, and then adeptly conveyed that understanding to the audience.
After I saw that performance, I decided I was willing to give Kaufmann another chance. However, I approached his music slowly, and with some trepidation. And, while some of what I found did not impress me, a lot of it really did. I discovered that, although some roles really don't suit him (at least in my opinion), when he sings the right characters, he really is an exceptional singer. His voice has all the color of a baritone, yet he deftly handles the range of a tenor. This combination helps him provide a certain depth of character that is often missing from the tenor roles.
Jonas Kaufmann was born in Munich in 1969. While he studied piano and sang in the school choir as a child, he very nearly became a mathematician. However, he realized after a couple of semesters that he would never be happy with such a career choice. So he began his vocal training at the Academy of Music and Theatre in Munich, and upon graduation he signed a contract with the State Theatre in Saarbrücken. It was during that time that he began to have trouble with his voice, but under the instruction of Michael Rhodes, he learned to sing more easily by simply using his natural tone.
In the intervening years, Jonas Kaufmann has sung a wide variety of roles, from Rossini's Almaviva (this, I can't even imagine!) to some of the great Verdi and Puccini parts. He recently sang Siegmund at the Met, and has been applauded as an outstanding interpreter of Wagner's works. He is currently appearing, once again, on the stage of the Met, singing the title role in Gounod's Faust.
Jonas Kaufmann evokes strong reactions from opera lovers everywhere. People either love him or hate him. He is variably called the greatest tenor alive or a baritone in tenor's clothes. There's not a whole lot of middle ground where he is concerned. I used to be part of the group of people who strongly dislike him. But my opinion is changing. While he is still not my very favorite tenor in the world, (as I have said before, that spot will always be reserved for Domingo) I am beginning to develop an appreciation for his voice that grows every time I hear him. In a few short weeks, I have done a (somewhat) complete about-face. Whereas once I wondered what people saw in him, I now have come to enjoy his rich, dark voice. In time, I may become one of his die-hard fans. Then again, I may not. In the meantime, though, I plan on savoring his voice for its unique tones. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go listen to my new recording of Madama Butterfly, starring Jonas Kaufmann as Pinkerton!