Jonas Kaufmann: Nessun Dorma - The Puccini Album (CD review)

Jonas Kaufmann, tenor; Kristine Opolais, soprano; Massimo Simeoli, baritone; Antonio Pirozzi, bass; Antonio Pappano, Orchestra e Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Sony 88875092492.

He's relatively young. He's unquestionably handsome. He has a big, powerful voice. Is it any wonder German tenor Jonas Kaufmann is one of the most-popular operatic singers in the world, if not the most popular? And, yes, I know the questions some listeners may have about this 2015 Sony release, Nessun Dorma - The Puccini Album: Does Kaufmann's essentially Germanic voice suit the operatic needs of Italian verismo composer Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), and do we really need another album of Puccini arias when so many good albums already exist in the catalogue.

The answers are pretty simple, of course. Appreciation of the voice (or any music for that matter) is quite a subjective thing; so you either like Kaufmann or you don't. I'm not personally a great fan of Mr. Kaufmann, but then I'm not personally a great fan of opera, so what do I know? He is certainly a fine singer, with, as I say, a big, robust voice, and that is enough to warrant him a place among the best opera singers in today's opera world. Then, does he sing any better than past greats in the field? Again, subjective. Every opera fan will have his or her own favorite opera singers. Older opera fans will no doubt favor older singers, maybe the ones they grew up with; newer opera fans will favor newer singers, and surely Kaufmann fills the bill. New fans could do worse.

Here's the program for the current album:
  1. Manon Lescaut: "Donna non vidi mai"
  2. Manon Lescaut: "Oh, sarò la più bella!... Tu, tu, amore? Tu?"
  3. Manon Lescaut: "Ah! Manon mi tradisce"
  4. Manon Lescaut: "Presto! In fila!... Non v'avvicinate! No, pazzo son!"
  5. Le Villi: "Ei giunge!... Torna ai felici dì"
  6. Edgar: "Orgia, chimera dall'occhio vitreo"
  7. La Bohème: "O soave fanciulla"
  8. Tosca: "Recondita armonia"
  9. Madama Butterfly: "Addio, fiorito asil"
10. La Fanciulla del West: "Una parola sola!... Or son sei mesi"
11. La Fanciulla del West: "Risparmiate lo scherno... Ch'ella mi creda libero"
12. La Rondine: "Parigi! È la città dei desideri"
13. Il Tabarro: "Hai ben ragione"
14. Gianni Schicchi: "Avete torto!... Firenze e come un albero fiorito"
15. Turandot: "Non piangere, Liù!"
16. Turandot: "Nessun dorma"

As you can see, all of the selections are someone's old favorites, although some of the songs may appear more familiar than others. Kaufmann has already issued a number of albums, and he had already included many of Puccini's most-celebrated tunes on them. To avoid any overlap, we get a few things he might not have otherwise chosen. In other words, don't expect this to be a "Puccini's Greatest Hits" collection.

Jonas Kaufmann
One thing nobody can deny: Kaufmann is a passionate singer, and he fills his vocal renditions with dramatic tension and excitement. For myself, though, I find him, if anything, a little too muscular in most of these selections; yet that's a highly arbitrary opinion and obviously not one too many other people share. I wonder if a Di Stefano, Domingo, Del Monaco, Corelli, Bergonzi, or Pavarotti (to name just a few from the stereo age I'm familiar with) didn't have a stronger affinity for the Italian idiom. I dunno. Kaufmann seems to belt out everything as though it were Wagner. Again, maybe it's the fact that's he's German and not Italian or Spanish; again, I don't know.

In any case, I quibble. Kaufmann does a splendid job with most of these songs. The fact that we get a wide variety of items and not the usual core selections helps, too, in keeping our attention. Still and all, if I continue to prefer Puccini's La Boheme above all the things he wrote, you'll have to forgive me; I'm a hopeless romantic. Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais do a wonderfully sensitive "O Soave Fanciulla," and Maestro Antonio Pappano, Orchestra e Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia provide fine accompaniment.

Producers Philipp Nedel and engineers Philip Siney and Giacomo de Caterini recorded the music at the Santa Cecilia Hall, Rome, in September 2014. Kaufmann's voice appears full and round, with only a few traces of brightness, harshness, or hardness in the loudest passages. The miking of the voice is perhaps a trifle too close, but it is not at all distracting as so many close-up pop recordings can seem. The orchestra sounds nicely spread out behind him, somewhat one-dimensionally but never compartmentalized. Although the instruments could probably use a little more bass warmth and hall ambience, it's reasonably lifelike. When the other soloists (Opolais, Simeoli, and Pirozzi) join Kaufmann in various numbers, the sound gets a tad overbearing, the voices appearing to come forward a bit, the dynamics sometimes becoming too strong and wide for comfort. A fifteenth-row seat suddenly becomes a front-row seat, if you know what I mean. Anyway, it's good, modern sound in most ways, and it will not disappoint Mr. Kaufmann's fans.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa