History has taught us that every generational talent in the music business has had one common feature: they possess idiosyncrasies that set them apart from the norm, and are able to grow from there by staying true to their talent.
Jonas Kaufmann is one of these generational talents. Evidently, he has a tenor voice – a voice, however, noticeably different from the customary Italianate light and sunny sound that made Luciano Pavarotti so recognizable and that influenced many tenors that followed. Kaufman’s voice is instead dark and full-bodied, more comparable to a stout German beer than to an Italian sparkling wine.
This was my main reflection after watching the Documentary My Italy, in which Kaufman is the protagonist.
The film alternates between images of him touring Italy in a convertible and him performing popular Italian and Neapolitan songs in Turin’s Teatro Carignano. Among those songs are Core ‘ngrato, Torna A Surriento… the kind of hymns that Italians “sing full out in the streets”, to paraphrase what famous tenor Mario del Monaco once said about how to sing this repertoire.
Kaufman explores new territory by doing this project. Previously, he had tackled mostly Italian opera. It can be argued that these popular Italian songs are, to countless fans, even more important than any Verdi or Puccini aria.
However, the tenor is not intimidated by this and interprets these songs in his own way. He does not try to imitate great singers of the past such as Pavarotti or Giuseppe di Stefano, who where famous for singing this repertoire, and whose voices where naturally high placed, allowing them to sing bright Italian vowels throughout their vocal range. Kaufman instead sings these songs with his sophisticated dark voice, emphasizing the words and musical nuances, and showcasing his characteristic dark pianissimos to create a more intimate effect.
He also, of course, has his “sing full out in the streets“ moments: he delivers the traditional high notes at the cadence, appropriately revealing an instrument that is quite lyrical in weight at times but dark in colour. With his very personal way of interpreting these songs, he reminds us that the most important quality in a singer is the ability to communicate feelings and ideas through the voice.
To find it in a theatre near you :