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Jonas Kaufmann: "L’Opéra"

CD Button Bayerisches Staatsorchester, de Billy. Texts and translations. Sony Classical 88985390762

Recordings Kaufmann Cover 118
Critics Choice Button 1015 

FRENCH OPERA HAS become central to tenor Jonas Kaufmann’s career, and here he takes a tour through the repertoire that has served him well. His delivery remains elegant and emotionally connected as ever, although in the first two selections—“Ah! lève-toi, soleil!,” from Roméo et Juliette, and “Pourquoi me réveiller,” from Werther—his characteristically dark sound grows gruff on the bottom and over-muscled on top. Fortunately, matters improve considerably. He is more anchored as Wilhelm Meister in “Elle ne croyait pas, dans sa candeur naïve,” from Mignon, the first French role he ever essayed. In a self-assured “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée,” Kaufmann maneuvers his final, hushed “Carmen, je t’aime” into a moment of discovery. 

His knack for allowing a character to surprise himself recurs in the heart-stirring climax of “Rachel, quand du Seigneur,” from La Juive, to which he builds after warming his sound with a mellow, paternal roundness that conveys nobility and wisdom. Kaufmann can lighten up when he wants, tenderly caressing the line in “Vainement, ma bien-aimée,” from Lalo’s Roi d’Ys, ending the aria with a devotional pianissimo full of tremulous desire. He approaches “Pays merveilleux,” from L’Africaine, with a similarly delicate touch, and the final B-flat benefits from his smooth approach. He tempers the declamatory nature of “Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père,” from Massenet’s Cid, with an air of self-effacement. Two Berlioz arias, “Merci, doux crépuscule,” from La Damnation de Faust, and “Inutiles regrets,” from Les Troyens, allow Kaufmann to exercise that perfect mix of romanticism and heroism at which he excels. 

There are outstanding guest appearances. Baritone Ludovic Tézier joins Kaufmann for “Au fond du temple saint,” from Les Pêcheurs de Perles. Their timbres are not that far apart, so their blend is gorgeous, with Kaufmann pointing his tenor a bit more brightly in the duet section. (That burnished focus is also on display in “Ô Dieu de quelle ivresse,” from Les Contes d’Hoffman.) Kaufmann matches the dreamy hopefulness of Sonya Yoncheva’s limpid soprano as des Grieux to her Manon in “Enfin, Manon, nous voilà seuls ensemble!” and simmers with wounded pride and suppressed longing as she pleads with him alluringly in “Toi! Vous!” The duet ends with a pulsing and passionate vocal consummation. Throughout, Bertrand de Billy and the Bayerisches Staatsorchester provide appropriately sumptuous support. —Joanne Sydney Lessner 

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