Here it is: Jonas Kaufmann sings Lohengrin now on the Green Hill in Bayreuth. Brigitte Kempen met the charming festival star. Excerpts from the interview.
Your own Bayreuth debut: Is this the entrance to an El Dorado, a walk in the bullring or a job like anything else?
The moment in which I stand on stage and the curtain rises, it must be a normal job, like any other. When you get offered such an engagement that has certainly a special meaning, a personal priority. And in this case, of course, the overarching tradition that goes along with the works of Richard Wagner impresses, and the legacy of the many "fore-fathers", who have already embodied Lohengrin. But when you then do the production and sing the part, that may play no role. If you are trying too hard, are very excited and demand too much of ones self, then that is just not good.
Whether one has experienced you now live in Munich as Lohengrin, or in the DVD release of this production - remains your outstanding presentation of the “Gralserzählung.” What's your secret with this interpretation?
Sometime in the performance practice, we have accepted that Wagner always has to do anything with a loud, pompous and heroic song. But if you look at the scores, at least as many characters are noted Piano as Forte. There are many moments in which a "nothing" is played in accompaniment and only a single solo instrument plays. The question then arises, why not use this moment to bring other colors into a Wagner part. When I look at how the traditional singing of Wagner once was and how Wagner wanted the songs to be sung, then we have moved pretty far away from it. This does not mean that I want to turn back the wheel again, because the modern orchestral sound is unbelievably wonderful, no question. But you just have to use it in moderation and know when it is possible fully to use this sonority, and when to reduce it. Then there is the possibility to sing Wagner not only with a single dimension of sound, but make it more rich and colorful.
I have heard lately a lot of Wagner recordings in Italian. Then one thinks one is hearing a different music. Simply by changing the language immediately also the phrasing changes. There are some very long, beautiful arches in it, which can be reached with the German language and its rather hard articulation, without becoming indistinct.
In addition to these vocal technical aspects of course I am concerned with the character. In Lohengrin for me it is very clear: I sing a tragic hero and want to know what kind of person lies behind this heroic facade and what kind of feelings he has. One senses in many places, that he longs for a normal life, no longer wants to jump in as a super hero from mission to mission, and would happily stay longer than just this year with Elsa. And if he has in the few moments that he is in this world, invested so strongly in this idea, then Elsa’s question is a bitter disappointment, a personal loss - that's what makes the human element of this character. The failure of his mission, the political dimension moves then into second place. This is not very easy to establish, there are very few places where you get a look in. When “Gralserzählung” begins, Lohengrin has fallen in great disappointment into a depressed hole. The Gralserzählung is not heroic and proud, but incredibly simple and one feels faith and mysticism that have been since Lohengrin’s birth firmly rooted in him. He tells it all with a great sentimentality, as removed from the world. He is dead inside, and that bitterness is a real depression - which comes very well from the music, because the crescendo is developed from long quiet places.
You've now a very clear idea of the character of Lohengrin. But there are directors who interpret the character in a different context and make him a negative figure. Could you play along with such a concept?
At the very least I know in the Bayreuth production that Mr. Neuenfels wants to take and with its world represent the piece in such a way very seriously, how it is meant. To that extent that will not line up in this production. But basically: to be honest I very happily play bad guys, because as a tenor one doesn’t have this opportunity very often.
[This is translated from the online version of Opernglas. It is a pleasure to attempt to translate Mr. Kaufmann.]