Not too long ago, famed opera performer Jonas Kaufmann verified to the world that he is greatest living Wagnerian tenor of our time with a smashing all-Wagner program record. Fast-forward less than 7 months after his previous release, Kaufmann is at it again this time taking on a more challenging step in an all-Verdi program. As a performer, Kaufmann has rarely brought Verdi to the live stage, and rarely has his name been synonymous with the Italian composer.
Kaufmann comes out swinging on his Verdi “debut record” but to a lesser extent not to the bravado and cleanliness he held with the all Wagner-program. Let alone they are two entirely different styles, Kaufmann does show off his versatility switching to Verdi – perhaps remarkably taking on an uncharacteristic deeper and lower tone. Kaufmann controls his cords, never really belting out physical force on the more demanding Verdi selections on the record – notably “Act 1 Scena e romanza” from Aida, instead opting to go with a more subtle, softened approach. Whether it’s a bit of a mask for Kaufman to conceal a bit of possible flaw in vocal range with age, or as a means of a more sophisticated take on Verdi, Kaufmann is an all-star on bringing the majority of Verdi’s theatrical flair.
Kaufmann gravitates on the more well-known of the Verdi arias featured within (“La donna e mobile” of course), nonetheless proving he has the chops to handle a more playful and less-machismo role. However when it comes to the Shakespearian roles, Kaufmann gets a bit dicey singing the more dramatic gestures, particularly in the two Othello acts where his heavy deepness comes off dry and lacking sincerity. This is perhaps where it may come as a shock to Kaufmann fans used to the splendor and color in his voice as they’ll come to hear a more darkened and weighty range and very much so less of the zestful character his chords have usually garnered attention for.
In a year full of Verdi albums, Kaufmann’s efforts may be a bit lost in the shuffle. But make no mistake, Kaufmann is not only challenging his own versatility but his own willingness to take on risk. There is only a glimpse of the tenor the opera world generally recognizes found on The Verdi Album, but more so of a re-imagined Kaufmann and an unorthodox take on Verdi. Kaufmann does not fail in the slightest bit, but this lightened approach to Verdi may come off a bit too easy for a tenor of such a huge and spreading voice that letting just a tad loose on the power control would have only helped in the excitement department.
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