BWW Reviews: Follow the Lieder, Part Two--JONAS KAUFMANN Conquers Carnegie

What does an opera singer do on his night off from singing the title role in Massenet's WERTHER in a new production at the Metropolitan? If he's the charismatic wunder-tenor Jonas Kaufmann, he heads over to Carnegie Hall to conquer another world, with his recital debut in an evening of German art songs, or lieder.

And triumph he did.

Grand intimacy

After hearing Gerald Finley sing Schubert's "Winterreise" the previous week in the 599-seat Zankel Hall and thinking the size was about right for this kind of performance, I wondered what Kaufmann's lieder concert could do to fill the reaches of the 2804-seat Carnegie. I needn't have worried.

Kaufmann was so clearly at home in the concert's repertoire and his powerful baritonal voice was so flexible to the varied demands of the music that he made it into an intimate performance on a grand scale. This might seem like an oxymoron in describing some other singers, but not Kaufmann.

Depth of connection

As a German, he feels a deep connection to the music of Schumann and Wagner, represented on the program by selections from "Zwoelf Gedichte (Twelve Poems)," Op. 35 and the entire "Dichterliebe (A Poet's Love)," Op. 48, for the former, and "Wesendonck Lieder (Wesendonck Songs)," Op. 90, for the latter. Not only that, but he also has kindred feelings about the poets who inspired the composers, most notably by Goethe, but also by Kerner.

These works fit the singer as if they had been written for him, with the tenor ready to float a note (on the word im halfway through "Ich grolle nicht [I bear no grudge]") or be "operatic" and full-voiced (in "Stille Traenen [Silent Tears]," to be urgent (in "Die Rose, die lillie, die taube, die sonne [The rose, the lily, the dove the sun]") or suave and sad (in "Traume [Dreams]"). There has been some controversy about his choice of the Wagner songs, which were originally written for soprano but which Kaufmann insists are gender neutral. He wins.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.

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by Peter Danish