August 10, 2014,
Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House.
It was an evening to cherish. Presented by Opera Australia, German tenor Jonas Kaufmann gave his Australian debut, in concert at the Sydney Opera House, and the audience wouldn’t go home.
I admit to certain reservations about this event. Was a recital of arias second best to seeing the great tenor in an actual role? How would he sound in the bigger acoustic space of the concert hall of the Opera House rather than the more intimate opera theatre? My concerns were unfounded. The selection of arias showcased the prodigious extent of Kaufmann’s talent, ability and technique; the voice filled the space. It is perhaps redundant to talk about the voice. Kaufmann can sing. This is a rare talent, the likes of whom we don’t often hear in Australia due to the tyranny of distance and ensuing costs.
Performing with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra led by Laura Hamilton and conducted by Jochen Rieder, Kaufmann’s programme comprised alternating and mostly related instrumental and vocal items from opera. The stage of the concert hall was festooned with white flowers, indicating that something special was taking place, and the orchestra threw open the evening with the overture from Verdi’s I vespri siciliani. Perhaps it was because they were not secreted away in their subterranean pit; perhaps it was because their sound was out in the open – the orchestra sounded like it has never sounded before.
The excitement was palpable.
Kaufmann opened with a certain hit – Recondita armonia from Tosca. The audience went wild. After the Intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, Kaufmann moved to more esoteric repertoire, Improvviso from Andrea Chenier, and “La vita è inferno…O tu che in seno‘ from La forza del destino, preceeded by the overture from that opera which featured some sublime clarinet playing from Peter Jenkin. The first half of the programme closed with the sobs of Vesti la giubba from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci.
The orchestra let loose the second half of the evening with the revelry of the Bacchanale from Saint-Saens’ Samson et Dalila, followed by another crowd pleasing aria, La fleur que tu m’avais jeteè, which Kaufmann exploited to showcase his mastery of dynamics and register, moving from hushed sotto voce to full blooded passion. Concertmaster Laura Hamilton stepped into the soloist’s spotlight to deliver a serenely beautiful interpretation of Meditation from Massenet’s Thaïs, sensitively supported by Rieder and the orchestra.
The penultimate aria, Pourqoui me réveiller from Werther was sung with great tenderness supported by sheer muscular power and finally, the anguished song of doom, Mamma, quel vino è generoso from Cavalleria Rusticana.
Kaufmann performed with the might and stamina of a finely trained athlete, proving just how physical is the task of an elite singer. His programme contained arias and instrumental works that audiences in Sydney rarely, if ever, hear live, performed to an exquisite standard. Small wonder that the audience demanded and received, with grace, three encores – Du bist die Welt für mich, composed and made famous by the legendary Richard Tauber, E lucevan le stelle from Tosca, and Lehar’s popular Dein ist mein ganzes Herz, (You are my heart’s delight) made even more popular by the three tenors. Kaufmann’s main programme was in French and Italian. With his encores we had the pleasure of hearing him sing in his native German.
Jonas Kaufmann performs again in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House on Sunday August 17th 2014 at 7 pm. If you’re a ‘vocaphile’, this is one concert that is not to be missed.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundslikeSydney©