Jonas Kaufmann's Barbican residency, London Tickets sold out months ago, despite being priced way beyond average. High prices are fair enough for JK, Karita Mattila, Eric Halfvarson and Tony Pappano, but for the piano recital with Helmut Deutsch ? Viagogo advertised one ticket for the last concert at £435, though I've heard a rumour that prices on the black market were much higher. This is indecent, it's nothing to do with art. Which raises interesting questions. Was the series artistic endeavour or celebrity binge ? Or both ? Why not? Nothing JK does is "ordinary". Some of my friends, true devotees, travelled for thousands of miles to attend, and had a wonderful time. Experience of a lifetime! Most of my friends opted for the Wagner concert, a wise choice, since hardly anyone does Siegmund better than JK, and Mattila was, by all accounts, even more impressive.
The first concert was much less interesting since Kaufmann's done similar programmes before, including at the Wigmore Hall. Kaufmann's timbre is quite Italianate, with luscious depth, ideally suited to Britten's Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo op 22. Much better than Peter Pears, who sounds like he's singing an alien language. Kaufmann makes the songs breathe sensual richness. Kaufmann's done the Schumann Kerner Lieder op 35 several times, too, as recently in London as 2015. Nothing obscure about these songs ! Again, they suit Kaufmann's voice. In one of the songs Stirb' Lieb’ und Freud”! , a man observes a woman transfixed by religious ecstasy. Beautiful as the image is, it's unnatural to the man, who now can never speak of his love. The tessitura suddenly peaks so high that some singers scrape into falsetto, but no chance of that with Kaufmann, who has the range, and has the technique to make it easy.
It doesn't matter if listeners don't know the songs or who the poet was : the important thing was to pay attention and figure out why Kaufmann likes doing them. Unfortunately some of the London press tends towards fashion victim. This is a shame, because that does JK no favours. The better audiences understand what he does, and why, the better they'll really value him, but with a press that values hype over substance, how do listeners learn ?. Schumann's Kerner Lieder are by no means obscure, or difficult to follow. Think about those images of gold, wine, mystery, lusciousness : JK all over, and making the most of the smoky undertones that make his voice unique. Read HERE for more about the Kerner Lieder.
Kaufmann's last concert could well be the most interesting of all, because he's doing something really different, Strauss Vier letzte Lieder, which were written for soprano. Songs change when they're transposed to a different kind of voice, but there's nothing controversial about that, in principle. So what Kaufmann will do with them is fascinating. They have been done by men before, even by baritones. But again, I think Kaufmann has the range and stylishness to convince. Moreover, presenting Vier letzte Lieder in the context of other Strauss, and together with Erich Korngold's Schauspeile Overture and Elgar's In the South, also makes a difference. Again, even if these works are new the challenge is to listen, and appreciate how hearing things in context influences the experience. Alas, the concert was cancelled at the last minute !
There's another concert Feb. 16th 2018, where Kaufmann will sing Hugo Wolf Italienisches Liederbuch with Diana Damrau. Tickets reaching £160 ! Again, a wise match between material and voice. Each of these songs tells a little story. While they aren't "operatic", they withstand operatic treatment better than most Lieder. Kaufmann's voice and Damrau's balance very well, so it's hardly surprising that they've done these songs together before. Although the Barbican Hall isn't ideal for piano song, it's not bad. Fischer-Dieskau and Schwarzkopf sold out the Royal Festival Hall when they sang Hugo Wolf, sixty years ago. The RFH is bigger than the Barbican and in those days had a dead acoustic. In the end, it's the quality of listening that counts.
So Jonas Kaufmann's a sex god ? Real fans also love him for his art. And for many of us, that's WHY he's so darn sexy !