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.
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: