Eight hundred photographs of the world’s most celebrated opera stars ceremoniously decorate the lobby concourse of the Metropolitan Opera. These legends of the stage look on from behind their glass windows into the hallowed Founder’s Hall. And there, framed among his peers is Bavarian-born, lyric-dramatic tenor Jonas Kaufmann, most recently honored by being invited to perform a solo concert, a grand gesture that recognizes the tremendous contributions of a truly magnificent performer. Mr. Kaufmann, along with long-time collaborator, pianist Helmut Deutsch, performed musical selections from composers Strauss, Duparc, Mahler and Liszt, vocal repertoire which deftly showcased Mr. Kaufmann’s beautiful timbre and breathtaking vocal control.
Mr. Kaufmann walked out from behind the golden curtains this past Sunday afternoon baring his signature ear-to-ear smile, before beginning with Franz Liszt’s “Vergiftet sind meine Lieder” (“Poisoned Are My Songs”), a dramatically woeful poem by Heinrich Heine set to an even more tempestuous accompaniment. Kaufmann looked and sounded at ease on the unadorned stage, a place certainly not unfamiliar to the famed tenor. In 2006, just five years after being brought into the spotlight by Alexander Pereira, general director of the Zurich Opera, Mr. Kaufmann took his first Metropolitan Opera bow after playing a dashing Alfredo opposite famed French chanteuse Angela Gheorghiu in La Traviata. In the years since, Mr. Kaufmann has oft returned to the Met, taking on roles such as Cavardossi in Tosca, Don Jose in Carmen, Tamino in Die Zauberflöte and Siegmund in die Walküre. Towards the end of this month, Mr. Kaufmann will play the title role of McAnuff’s Faust. This coming spring he will return yet again as Siegmund.
Despite his globe-trotting schedule, Mr. Kaufmann has made it a top priority to perform an annual concert series with Mr. Deutsch, a Viennese pianist and composer, accomplished in his own right, having played for Diana Damrau, Brigitte Fassbaender and Grace Bumbry among many others. Mr. Kaufmann and Mr.Deutsch complemented each other once more on Sunday. Mr. Deutsche’s beautiful interpretations of all four sets proved the challenge to be masterfully surmountable, and his strong relationship with the tenor was most obvious in songs such as Franz Liszt’s “Ihr Glocken von Marling” (“Bells of Marling”) as they accompanied each other effortlessly. The environment offered Mr. Kaufmann an opportunity to be himself, his own personality vibrantly showcased while storytelling during pieces such as Liszt’s “Three Gypsies” and “The King in Thule.” For the second set, Gustav Mahler’s “Five Rükert-Lieder,” Mr. Kaufmann performed what is considered one of Mahler’s most moving compositions, “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (“I am Lost to the World”), with near impossible pianissimi woven artfully throughout:
“I am dead to the world’s tumult
And I rest in a quiet realm
I live alone in my heaven
In my love and in my song.”
During intermission, dozens of fur-laden elderly and middle-aged ladies swarmed the merchandise table, grabbing like starstruck tweens at Mr. Kaufmann’s recordings and DVDs. One could hardly blame them since The Observer hadn’t seen a tenor this attractive since Franco Corelli or Mario Del Monaco.