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On Saturday, 18 July 2020, accompanied by pianist Helmut Deutsch, dark-voiced tenor Jonas Kaufmann sang an impressive group of opera's most popular, show-stopping arias from the ornate library of Bavaria's Polling Abbey. The grand Baroque interior of the historic venue, built in the 1770s with soaring vaulted ceilings and breathtaking frescoes, served as a perfect setting for the program which also included video highlights from his stage and HD performances. Streaming of this concert will be available for US$20 through 29 July 2020.
The Polling Abbey Library was built from 1776 to 1778 by master builder Matthias Bader. The ceiling fresco was painted by Johann Baader, and the stucco work was done by Thassilo Zopf. Restored to its former beauty by funds from the local Rotary Club, since 1975 the hall has been in regular use for classical concerts.
The genial Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb opened the program along with perky dramatic soprano Christine Goerke who will host each of the concerts in the series.
Tenor Jonas Kaufmann and accompanist Helmut Deutsch began the musical offerings with a slow, dreamy rendition of the aria from Act I of Puccini's Tosca, 'Recondita Armonia', (Remembered harmony) which set the tone for these artists' lyrical approach to dramatic music. Kaufmann's Cavaradossi paints the blonde Attavanti as his Madonna while dreaming of dark-eyed Tosca. A short 'blip' interrupted the performance here, but that was the only problem during this concert. The second Tosca aria was the tragic 'E lucevan le stelle' (The stars were shining) in which Kaufmann as Cavaradossi sang of the beauty of the stars just before the sunrise that signals his death. Although the titles were helpful, the colors in the tenor's voice told the story of his character's inability to save himself.
The program followed the two live arias with an excerpt from the Met in HD presentation of Puccini's La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) after which Kaufmann and Deutsch turned to the French operatic repertoire. The tenor finished his rendition of the 'Flower Song' from Carmen with a gorgeous pianissimo leading up to the final high note. When he sang 'Ah! lève-toi, soleil'! (Rise, sun!) from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, and in most of his other selections as well, every note had a beginning, a middle and an end.
A clip from his interview with Patricia Racette and his rendition of the aria 'Pourquoi me reveiller?' (Why do you wake me?) from the Met in HD presentation of Massenet's Werther afforded Kaufmann and Deutsch a bit of respite. Returning to the live recital, tenor and pianist treated us to two arias from operas we seldom get to hear: 'O paradis sorti de l'onde' ('O paradise') from Meyerbeer's L'Africaine and 'O Souverain, ô juge, ô père!' (O sovereign, o judge, o father) from Massenet's Le Cid. He sang both with excellent French diction and a full tapestry of vocal color.
Again, the artists took a short break while the audience watched an excerpt from a Met HD broadcast in which Kaufmann sang a most dramatic 'Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater' (Father promised me a sword) from the first act of Wagner's Die Walküre.
The live concert continued with 'Cielo e mar' (Sky and sea), an apotheosis of nature from Ponchielli's La Gioconda. Tenor and pianist continued with another less often heard aria, 'L'anima ho stanca' (My spirit is tired) from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur.
Deutsch played the heartstring-pulling Intermezzo from Puccini's Manon Lescaut while the audience saw still pictures of Kaufmann in various roles. This pianist's precise and lovely accompaniment deserves special kudos not only for its beauty of sound, but also for his ability to keep his volume perfectly matched to that of the singer.
In Refice's song 'Ombra di Nube' (Cloud Shadow), the singer begs the cloud not to obscure the beauty of life and to bring back the blue and the light. Perhaps Kaufmann was wishing COVID-19 could soon be gone. I loved the song and it was truly fitting for this time of pandemic. His next offering, 'Un dì, all'azzurro spazio' (One day in the blue above) from Giordano's Andrea Chénier also made his audience join him in wishing for happier conditions.
In the final break of the live presentation the audience saw a clip from the Salzburg Festival showing Kaufmann as Canio in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. Dressing for the stage, he plays with a pocket knife that foreshadows the opera's finale as he sings of heartbreak.
In 'È la solita storia' (It's the usual story) from Cilea's L'Arlesiana, the hero seeks peace, even if it is only for a few hours of sleep. With that soothing thought, Kaufmann sets his audience up for the punch of his finale, 'Nessun dorma' (No one shall sleep) from Puccini's Turandot. Kaufmann sings in his own strongly motivated individual style and his arias are perfectly faceted jewels.
If you missed this concert, you can still see it on the Met's website. I loved it and think readers will enjoy it too.
Copyright © 20 July 2020
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