Intense: recording Puccini arias was an obvious choice for Jonas Kaufmann, who has enjoyed major success on stage in many of Puccini’s tenor roles
(‘Do they really mean me?’) written by his friend and manager Thomas Voigt. By the time I arrive, the queue of fans is already pushing at the seams of the CD department.
at the Last Night of the Proms, and, for anyone who frets about such things, will thus be the first German ever to perform ‘Rule, Britannia!’ at the event. He has a muchanticipated – to put it mildly – staged role debut coming up in May next year too, when he sings Walther in Die Meistersinger in his home city of Munich. There was another fillip recently when Sir Antonio Pappano, the Music Director of the Royal Opera, named the top three current singers of Italian repertoire: Diana Damrau, Anja Harteros and – naturally – Jonas Kaufmann. (That all three are Germans, Kaufmann puts down to his country’s tradition of giving young singers contracts as part of an ensemble, and thus a chance to build their careers solidly and surely.) Pappano’s admiration is reciprocated: Kaufmann adores the maestro, and asked him to conduct his new Puccini disc.
A store employee waves me through the jostling crowd of opera lovers into a comfortable little antechamber where the singer is waiting. He’s friendly, charming, and laid-back, and it’s soon clear that he seems happy to be in his own skin.
‘There are arias in Puccini’s two early operas which are so overwhelmingly beautiful that they deserve to be heard’
He looks trim in a casual shirt and jeans, and though there’s a small sprinkling of salt and pepper in his famously curly locks, his ‘silver fox’ years are way ahead of him yet (he’s 46 on July 10).
On a personal level, things aren’t quite so rosy. There was a rocky patch last year when he announced on his website that he was separating from his mezzo-soprano wife Margarete Joswig, ending a relationship which had begun in the mid-1990s when the couple were both based at the opera house in Saarbrücken. The union has produced three children too. But we’ll come back to that later. When I meet Kaufmann, he looks relaxed, upbeat and full of vim. Our interview is at Ludwig Beck, a smart department store in central Munich, where the tenor is due to sign copies of a new edition of his biography Meinen die wirklich mich?
We talk first about his new disc. For a singer who is so careful and thoughtful about the progression of his career and about the roles he chooses (often waiting years before reprising a new role after a first outing, just in case it doesn’t suit him), I wonder if an album of Puccini arias is a bit, well, vin ordinaire? A bit predictable, perhaps? He concedes some ground. ‘It’s obvious that at some point when you start having a major success with the roles of a certain composer, that you should concentrate on that. And it’s certainly much easier to record an album when you’ve sung the whole role and not just studied the aria. It really helps you get into the mood much better. But there’s something more. Puccini was the most modern of the really popular composers. He experienced so many of the inventions which have taken place in the modern era, and I think this is why the access to that music is easier for us – maybe more so than for
12 GRAMOPHONE JULY 2015