Friday, February 05, 2016

Why are tenors so erotic?

[I am overdue for a translation:]

Bunte, 44/2015
Interview: Claus Dreckmann
Why are tenors so erotic?

JONAS KAUFMANN talks about how it is to be an object of desire - and about his two biggest crises

For classical music fans he exerts an irresistible attraction: Jonas Kaufmann, 46. The smart appearance is paired with the star tenor with an exceptional voice. Recently he was awarded the ECHO Klassik - for the sixth time

Bunte reveals why he is sometimes gladly an "object of desire" and what makes the tenor voice so erotic. He who should doubt this can convince himself with his new CD "Nessun Dorma -The Puccini Album" ...

You sing Puccini, Verdi, Wagner, Strauss Johann, Strauss Richard, Schubert, Massenet, Mahler, Lehar ... How do you manage to meet expectations in such diverse composers at the highest level? 

If listeners find that I meet expectations in different styles and languages, then I am very pleased. I want to maintain this diversity as long as it's vocally possible for me, and I think that it is precisely this mixture of partly very different repertoire that keeps the voice flexible. Anyway, I've always found that a Wagnerian role benefits if I have previously sung Verdi or Puccini - and vice versa.

What music do you prefer: Puccini or Wagner? 

I do not want to miss either one. Both Wagner, as well as Puccini's music have a tremendous suction force, which one as listener can hardly escape. Both composers have set the sensual effect of their music, both have understood it masterfully to symphonically illustrate the inner life of their characters. Whereby Puccini’s works are certainly even "cinematic." Not for nothing are his operas often associated with film music. He painted pictures with music.

The eternal issue: How important is the appearance of a singer? 

The appearance of singers has become more important in the era of opera transmissions in the cinema and television and on DVD, it seems to me logical, and if singers therefore pay more attention to their figure, then that's just okay. But if first class singers are replaced by mediocre ones, because the former are less "telegenic", and if more emphasis is put on optical than on vocal or musical criteria, then the pain threshold is reached for me. And basically the criteria for optical credibility in the opera are so different from film. There might be a 15-year-old Butterfly or l7-year-old Salome who doubles for an experienced singer, but not live on stage.

Does it bother you as star tenor always to be an "object of desire"? Or is it a cliché from the past? 

It annoys me when it's all about my appearance and has nothing to do with my voice and performance. Not only on stage but also in concerts we want singers who are appreciated and sought after primarily because of our performance. If I am a singer and performer "object of desire," then I'll take that as a compliment.

What makes the eroticism of the tenor voice?

That has already been asked by philosophers like Ernst Bloch who has described the tenor as a "singing Erotikon". Does it have to do primarily with the fact that the romantic lovers were mostly written for tenor voice?  One would have to reply that many famous tenors optically were not exactly the Latin Lover type. So it must have primarily to do with the sound, especially with the sound development in the high notes.

Are there any boundaries for modern productions? Would you get out when something totally goes against the grain? 

The limit would be reached when music and text are in no way respected and the director only seeks to provoke a scandal, to get a lot of attention from the press. Then I would try to propose something constructive. Of course, there are situations where one is so annoyed that one would rather get out. But he who gets out, cannot change anything, let alone save it. So I'm always for first seeking dialogue with the director to see if you cannot find a common path.

Can you imagine ever living without the general public, the great applause? 

Most certainly! Twice I came to the place where I had to think: How would life be without the stage? That was during my novice crisis in Saarbrücken, where I was on the stage in a small part, and the voice went completely away, and in June 2012, as an infection was so persistent that I had to take two months off. In both cases, I said to myself: If I can’t sing any longer, then I’ll have to do something else.

You won again an ECHO Klassik. Can you still be happy about such prizes? 

But yes! Such awards are recognition of my work. Who would not be happy?

[Naturally he agrees with me.]

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

News about Jonas Kaufmann

There will be a DVD of Verdi's La Forza del Destino from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich starring Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros reviewed here.

As part of his residence at the Barbican in London Feb 2017 Jonas will sing Strauss's Vier Letzte 1Lieder (Four Last Songs).  He's already done Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, which I think he could have done better, so why not other soprano repertoire?

He will do his first Tales of Hoffmann in Paris and first Otello in London.

There's a lot more, but these seem sufficient.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Turandot in HD

 Nina Stemme

Conductor Paolo Carignani
Turandot Nina Stemme
Liù Anita Hartig
Calàf Marco Berti
Timur Alexander Tsymbalyuk

Puccini's Turandot from the Metropolitan Opera is such a familiar old friend that one scarcely knows what new thing one can say.  In contrast with the picture above, Nina seems to have been deliberately made up to look hideous.  Nothing could deter her spectacular performance, however.  Her warmth always shines through.

This time I paid particular attention to the place in the opera where it stops being Puccini.  This happens immediately after Liu dies.  The stage clears and there is an extended love duet which is not by Puccini. It was composed by Franco Alfano.  So this is what the fuss is about.  Puccini would undoubtedly have composed something far more beautiful for this important scene, but the drama takes over.  It's tolerable and that's about it.  The final scene is made up entirely of music heard earlier in the opera.

Anita Hartig as Lui both looked and sang beautifully.  Perhaps the opera is about Liu.

Berti is the only tenor I've ever seen who got no applause at all for "Nessun dorma."  He chopped off his high note.  I'm not a fan.


Over the time that I've been blogging, I have written a lot about Turandot.  I think my favorite performance is still Maria Guleghina in this same production.  I love Nina, but for me Maria completely redefined the role.

I wrote about why Franco Alfano was chosen to write the ending, what the long ending sounded like and why it was shortened here.  I wrote about seeing La Leggenda di Sakùntala by Franco Alfano live in Rome here.  I didn't know at the time that this was a recently rediscovered score.

The only aspect of the opera that I seem never to have discussed is the plot.  Is it disgusting?  Should we hate Calaf?  Look people.  It has to do with princes and princesses.  One desires a princess or prince because she or he is a princess or prince.  Physical beauty is vastly enhanced by power and position.  In the 21st century Prince William is allowed to marry a commoner.  Whatever time you move Turandot to, no one would have considered that.  Father agrees to Turandot's plan only because it includes at least the slim possibility that she will marry a foreign prince and produce an heir.  Prince Calaf would simply never consider marrying Liu.  So get over it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Concerts in the Sacramento Area

Andrés Cárdenes

The first Sacramento Philharmonic concert of the year featured the man pictured above.  All season each concert will be led by a different conductor.  With Maestro Cárdenes we got two for the price of one when he both conducted and played the violin solo for the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3.  I especially liked Mendelssohn's The Hebrides which has very unusual orchestration for its period.  It was an enjoyable concert.

Coote does Mahler

This is Alice Coote singing Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen by Mahler at the Royal Albert Hall.

I - "Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht" ("When My Sweetheart is Married")


I will add items as I think of them.

Jonas Kaufmann has cancelled his appearance in Manon Lescaut at the Met.  He may be catching colds from all those women he kisses.  So we will have to settle for the ROH film.  Roberto Alagna should be a good replacement.

Thanks to Opera Tattler for the LA Opera season announcement: September 17- October 16 2016: Macbeth; October 19-23 2016: Ted Hearne's The Source; October 29-31 2016: Nosferatu with score from Matthew Aucoin; November 5-27 2016: Akhnaten; December 2-5 2016 Bernstein's Wonderful Town (semi-staged); January 28- February 19 2017: The Abduction from the Seraglio; February 18- March 19 2017: Salome (Racette);March 25- April 8 2017: The Tales of Hoffmann (Grigolo); April 22- May 13 2017: Tosca; June 15-18 2017: Kamala Sankaram's Thumbprint.  Wow.  This is far more interesting than ours.

Go to Facebook for Christine Goerke's Photoshopathon.  It will be well worth it.

The New Century Chamber Orchestra will no longer be led by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.  I just discover her and now she is gone.  She is moving to New Orleans to become a teacher at Loyola.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Pearl Fishers in HD

Conductor Gianandrea Noseda
Director Penny Woolcock
Live in HD host:  Patricia Racette

Leïla Diana Damrau
Zurga Mariusz Kwiecien
Nadir Matthew Polenzani
Nourabad Nicolas Testé (Diana Damrau's husband)

For the first time in over 100 years the Metropolitan Opera presented Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers).  Unlike most of the audience, this was my fourth time, including once in San Jose, once in San Francisco and once in Santa Fe.

We were put in the mood of actual pearl divers with what appeared to be a film of people diving into deep water.  It was instead a kind of Peter Pan harness that looked amazingly realistic.

The famous duet was even more beautiful than I anticipated.  I did not take into account the fabulous conducting of Maestro Noseda.  He brought new lyrical qualities to the entire opera.  This is the most I have liked Mariusz Kwiecien who was perfect in his role.  I have always liked Matthew Polenzani.  Their voices were as perfect together as I thought they would be.

This revival was requested by Diana Damrau.  She brought many qualities to the role of Leola:  wonderful coloratura technique for the coloratura parts and power for the increasingly dramatic requirements as the opera progresses.

This is a big hit in New York.  All are predicting it won't be 100 years before we see it again.

What anyone likes about this opera is the music and the singing, spectacularly well done today.  What anyone doesn't like is the plot.  Leila has been hired to protect the pearl fishers from their constant exposure to the weather.  She is to sit alone by the ocean and sing to the god Brahma.  She fails miserably at this.

Nadir promises his friend Zurga that he has gotten over their mutual interest in Leila, the priestess they both simultaneously fell in love with years before.  Zurga does not similarly make such a promise to Nadir.  This doesn't matter because Nadir is lying.  It is important to notice that Nadir immediately recognizes Leila when he hears her voice, but Zurga does not.  This tells us that only Nadir truly loves her.

Zurga only allows them to escape because of the contrived deus ex machina, this time a giant pearl on a gold necklace.  In this action he betrays the pearl fisher community whom he has sworn to lead.  Because of Leila's inattention, they have been hit by a tsunami, fascinatingly evoked in the projections.  Sometimes Zurga is just left standing there, but sometimes Zurga dies at the end.  For me this works better.

Nadir seems to legitimately love Leila, while Zurga doesn't really make his case.  He is jealous for its own sake.  But what logic forgives Leila?  Would we like it more if Zurga killed them instead?  One can't help wondering.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Bis at La Scala

Nadine Sierra

Opera Bobb tells us:

"Ciao, Opera Mavens. At the end of the La Scala Rigoletto second act last night, the standing ovation audience demanded former Adler Nadine Sierra (Adler 2011-2012) and Leo Nucci repeat the final aria (conducted by SF Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti)."

Nadine is a raging success everywhere these days. For my encounters with her in San Francisco:

Her performance in a Merola final here.
Her Schwabacher debut recital here.
She sings Lucia here.

And now see it for yourself.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016


I just found out that the San Francisco Opera lost big on Sweeney Todd.  Nothing could make me happier.  I have always thought San Francisco was a big opera town, one that would not appreciate the dumbing down of the product.  In sharp contrast Die Meistersinger was a success.  Dear management, please learn from this.  Wagner yes.  Sondheim no.