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August 19, 2017
Friday, March 10, 2017

Kaufmann wows Berliners with plangent operetta

By Pablo Bardin
For the Herald
Jonas Kaufmann is a wonder. Many consider him the best tenor nowadays. Anyway, he certainly is the most versatile. He sings Wagner, Verdi and Massenet admirably and he is an expert polyglot. And now he also turns out to be an operetta model to follow, such as Gedda was in the 1950s and 1960s.
Unfortunately our city has lost several traditions: English, French and German operetta, even zarzuelas, are very little known here. To stick to German (Austrian, Hungarian) operetta, the only ones that appear  are Strauss’ Die Fledermaus (“The Bat”) and Lehár’s Die lustige Witwe (“The Merry Widow”).
The recital I’m commenting on happened in Berlin in 2014, and Kaufmann was accompanied by the Berlin Radio Symphony led by Jochen Rieder. In only the last three choices did he sing duets with soprano Julia Kleiter.
I think that he is responsible for all the selections, and he stresses, for some reason, a particular period: all the pieces are dated between 1920 and 1934, the late stage of operetta. I was sorry that we heard no Strauss or Zeller or Millöcker. He took some licences: a few were songs  and two were operas. It lasted an exact hour.
First, a general impression: he had enormous fun almost throughout; only in Korngold he was (appropriately) serious. Not just smiles but laughs and semi-dancing in pieces influenced by jazz, very much the showman charming the ladies.
At times he overdid it, but no matter: the singing was always marvellous. From pianissimo to fortissimo the voice was in ideal condition and the phrasing delectable.
There was one major flaw: no subtitles! This is a lack of respect for people (most of us) who don’t speak German and thus missed many details of his interpretations.
In fact, only three authors are reasonably well-known here: Lehár, Kálmán and Korngold. So the programme was news to almost all the audience that filled the Plaza Vaticano, and I met with certain songs for the first time.
From Lehár, an exuberant beginning with Giuditta, an opera in five acts; and later fragments from Frasquita, Das Land des Lächelns and Paganini. From Kálmán, Gräfin Maritza. And from Korngold, the lovely duet Glück, das mir verblieb from Die Tote Stadt, beautifully sung by both artists.
Robert Stolz had a long life (1882-1975) and was the last advocate of operetta; three songs, one for a film, another for an operetta of his own and the last as a contribution to Benatzky’s Im weissen Rössl.
Songs from Hans May, Richard Tauber (uncontested tenor king of operetta in the interwar period), Mischa Spoliansky and Werner Richard Heymann. And finally, with Kleiter as pleasant partner, two duets from Paul Abraham: melodic (Viktoria und ihr Hussar) and jazzy-funny (Die Blume von Hawaii).  
Throughout Rieder smoothly accompanied with a responsive orchestra.                                          w
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