Finally the day of the much-anticipated recital by star tenor Jonas Kaufmann was there.
Why did Amsterdam have to wait for him so long? Too expensive, too busy, too ….? A lot of speculating went on before the concert, caused by his recent cancellations. But Kaufmann came, saw, and conquered. Star soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and the energetic Residentie Orkest led by Jochen Rieder contributed to the huge success of the afternoon as well.
Expectations were high, and the hall was filled with fans, buzzing with excitement from the start. In spite of this, Kaufmann made a cautious start, visibly suffering from nerves.
As much as I loved his singing (very much, in fact), in his first aria ‘Celeste Aida’ Kaufmann had problems winning me over. Part of the problem had to do with his volume. Even with the sympathetic and delicate back-up by the Residentie Orkest he was difficult to hear at times from my seat. His pianissimi and mezza voce phrases were breathtaking, as beautiful as his diminuendo at the end of the aria, but did he make a convincing warrior? Not to me.
‘La vita è inferno all’infelice’ from La Forza del Destino almost went off the rails because of the lethargic tempi. Kaufmann sang heavenly, but taken as slow as this there was hardly any tension, and the fluctuations of the voice made a quasi-artistic impression. Did this matter? No, not really, but with better tempi perfection could have been achieved.
I do not know if Eva-Maria Westbroek ever sang ‘Tu che le vanità’ from Don Carlo before, but on Sunday it sounded like she had sung little else but Elisabetta her entire life. Completely immersed in the scene, she sang as if her life depended on it, flinging the aria into the hall. What an actress!
Westbroek’s emotions dominated the love duet from Otello. Thanks to her ‘Gia nella notte densa’ became the undeniable highpoint of the first half of the concert. Both singers were at their most lyrical and genuine here, treating the audience to a classic love scene that would not be out of a place in an old Hollywood classic. Involuntarily, I had to think of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh and those moments of deceiving stillness before the storm.
Kaufmann will add Otello to his repertoire in a few days, and people await it like a new Star Wars movie. Personally I still have doubts which Kaufmann could not erase on Sunday. He is much more the insecure and soft lover than the ruthless warrior. But perhaps I am wrong and he will give us an Otello that will even surpass Domingo’s portrayal?
I have no complaints whatsoever about the second half of the concert, not even a quibble. Wagner and his Walküre are familiar grounds for both singers who thoroughly understand Siegmund and Sieglinde. I honestly cannot think of another pair of singers who could do what they did. Everything was there: fear, resistance, and predominantly love, a lot of love. Perfect beauty is the only way to describe it.
The orchestra also sounded much more intense after intermission. Wagner sounded much closer to them than Verdi, I felt. In particular the Rienzi-overture, performed with great panache and drive was spectacular.
There was room for a real rarity on the program as well (bravo for that!), the Preludio that Verdi supposedly composed as an overture for Otello. This piece was recorded for CD by Riccardo Chailly, but the authenticity of it has been questioned. Rightly so. It is truly a miserable thing. Besides the Jago-motive you recognize parts of the ‘Esultate’ in it too. I did enjoy hearing it nevertheless, mainly for the great enthusiasm the orchestra played it with.
This was obviously not the first time Kaufmann and Jochen Rieder performed together. Their interaction on stage was affectionate and companionable, and they supported and supplemented each other well. Very moving to see.
The ovations at the end of the concert did not seem to end. People were hoping for an encore, which did not come. Personally I would have loved to hear more too, but both singers were obviously tired, and the program already was very heavy. Besides, what on earth could you sing as an encore after the final scene of the first act of Walküre?