Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Intimacy at the Met

The art of the lieder recital requires the creation of a sense of intimacy. But, with what? The audience? The piano partner? The music? The entire idea is baffling and no one since Pavarotti has given such a recital at the Met until last Sunday afternoon when tenor-of-the-moment Jonas Kaufmann did so with piano partner Helmut Deutsch. Staring at this beautiful and talented tenor through my opera glasses from a balcony box was not the best circumstance for a feeling of intimacy I am not sure that sitting in the front row of the orchestra would have helped since the size of the house mitigates against the feeling of “you, me and the music”. But it is unlikely that one would ever have the opportunity to see and hear such a super-star in a tiny venue.

This cavil aside, it was a great privilege to be in the audience and to hear Mr. Kaufmann’s impressive artistry and to see his engaging stage presence. He and Mr. Deutsch opened the program with some lesser-known songs by Franz Liszt, including the charming “Die drei Zigeuner” a setting of a poem by Nikolaus Lenau that gives us good advice on dealing with the darkness of life by smoking, sleeping or playing music.
Next Mr. Kaufmann gave us Mahler’s Ruckert Lieder which allowed him to show off his lovely phrasing, varied moods, and marvelous control of tone and color. In spite of having a dark Germanic sound, he can float a pianissimo with the best of them. He is quiet and poised onstage and restrained in his gestures, allowing his voice to convey the emotions.

After a handful of chansons by Henri Duparc, who chose some fine poets to set including Baudelaire, our artists moved on to six songs by Richard Strauss, and it is here that Mr. K. did his most thrilling singing. He clearly has a special feeling for Strauss. Who would not weep listening to “Befreit” or feel the peaceful joy of “Morgen!” or the exaltation of “Caecilie?

The audience demanded encore after encore and Mr. K. generously provided a half dozen, sounding just as fresh as he had at the beginning. Strauss followed Strauss followed Strauss; perhaps “Zueignung” was the favorite. He closed the program with “Dein ist Mein Ganzes Herz” from the Lehar operetta “Das Land des Laechelns”. We left the Met grinning from ear to ear and humming along with several other people who apparently were similarly affected. Bravo Jonas!

(c) Meche Kroop for The Opera Insider

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