Friday, June 12, 2015

"Fidelio" Beethoven's truth -- Jonas Kaufmann Interview

Die Presse, 26.05.2015
Wilhelm Sinkovicz

"Fidelio" Beethoven's truth

To discuss the challenge of a work such as "Fidelio" and how to do it justice, were Jonas Kaufmann (Florestan) [and Claus Guth (Director)] in discussion.

What is your experience with the role of Florestan? What makes the role difficult, uncomfortable, awkward?

Jonas Kaufmann: The role is short, but because of the great scene in the second act it is one of the most challenging roles in my Fach.  In the delicate final section many tenors have sung badly [?]. That is why I was rather cautious, when Helmut Rilling offered it to me for a series of concert performances at the Rheingau Music Festival, in the Stuttgart Liederhalle and the Beethoven Festival in Bonn. But to my great joy my voice in the thorny places did not close, but went on more and more. That is now already 13 years ago.

Beethoven is widely recognized as a composer who has written quite instrumentally for voices.

"He understood nothing about voices," is often said tersely. However, who could argue that an emotionally extreme situation can just be sung easily?  Florestan's vision of the guardian angel - "To freedom, to freedom, to the heavenly kingdom" - and the ever-higher spiraling phrases "Et vitam venturi" the choir sopranos in the "Missa solemnis" have in my opinion one thing in common: Here is the means of "despair through unsingableness" part of the concept.  Not to mention the great aria of Leonore in the original version:  This is the most difficult dramatic coloratura! The changes that Beethoven made to this aria were clearly due to theater practice.

The discrepancy between the fact that here is represented a long-standing imprisoned man who, however, has to deal with a very exhausting aria at the beginning of the second act - how does one deal with it?

It's like all extreme situations on stage: You have to be in full command of your vocal and musical means to make these situations and characters work. Florestan "Gott! ! Welch Dunkel hier "is just not realism, but opera reality: Not the physical decay should be heard here, but the state of mind of the desperate, his ecstatic vision of salvation and liberation. Likewise, the first sound of this scene, the coming out of nowhere, ever more urgent and expectant of the outcry "Gott!" of the tormented soul - requires not just a naturalistic, but a musical outcry, that requires the most technical control of the voice.  I do not know how many times I worked on this crescendo. Anyway, it took a long time until it sounded as I imagined it. Only the audience with such phrases should not think: "Wow, how he can do that!" But always feel with the depicted person.  And that is the great challenge in our profession:  slip fully into a character and yet always have control over what you do as a singer and performer. Karajan called it "controlled ecstasy".

How do you divide your tasks throughout the year - are there roles that you sing to relax the voice between the more dramatic ones?

Basically, I make sure that I create my repertoire in as versatile a way as possible: opera and song, Wagner and Verdi, Massenet and Strauss, dramatic and less dramatic. That keeps me flexible in every respect, linguistically, stylistically, musically and vocally. Even within my concerts I look for a good mix. For example, in my tour with the tenor hits by Richard Tauber and Joseph Schmidt: Instead of the whole "Puccini Lehár" of " Dein ist mein ganzes Herz " to " Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert " to smash one after the other, I have sung pieces between that require very intimate, tender and soft sounds,  such as " Schatz, ich bitt dich, komm heut’ Nacht " or " Frag nicht, warum ich gehe."  You cannot belt these out into the audience, and that's why I used a microphone for these chanson-like evergreens.  This does not necessarily mean that the quiet parts are lighter than the "Puccini Lehár". Easy Listening, yes - but not necessarily Easy Singing! But the mixture of different pieces keeps the voice supple, I am convinced.

[I have translated only the part of the interview with Jonas.]

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