• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Jonas Kaufmann

    Opera Lively had the pleasure of interviewing the great tenor Jonas Kaufmann, on the occasion of his magnificent interpretation of the title role of Parsifal in the new production of the opera by the Bayerische Staatsoper, which we attended live on July 1, 2018 in Munich. Given the multiple demands on the famous tenor's time, we kept it short, but his intelligence and erudition still shine through, in his answers to our eight questions.

    This interview is part of our Central Europe coverage trip in the summer of 2018, when we visited four countries, seven cities, and eight opera companies where we attended sixteen performances in as many days and interviewed twenty-one artists. We gathered this material in a portal with links to all articles, reviews, and interviews. Click [here] to consult the portal, and on "read more" below for Mr. Kaufmann's words.

    © Gregor Hohenberg / Sony Classical

    Official Artistic Biography (reproduction authorized)

    Since his sensational début at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in a performance of “La Traviata” in 2006, Jonas Kaufmann has numbered among the top stars on the operatic horizon. The international press has singled him out as the “new king of tenors”. Insiders praise him as the most important German tenor since Fritz Wunderlich.

    Jonas Kaufmann comes from Munich. He completed his vocal studies there at the local Music Academy, in addition to which he attended master classes with Hans Hotter, James King and Josef Metternich. During his first years on stage at the State Theatre in Saarbrücken he continued his training with Michael Rhodes in Trier.

    After engagements in Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Milan - in Giorgio Strehler’s production of “Così fan tutte” and “Fidelio” with Riccardo Muti on the podium - Kaufmann moved on to the Zurich Opera in 2001. From there he began his international career, with appearances at the Salzburg Festival and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Paris Opéra and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, La Scala Milan, the Deutsche Oper and the State Opera in Berlin, the Vienna State Opera and the Metropolitan in New York. In 2010 he made his début at the Bayreuth Festival as Lohengrin in a spectacular staging by Hans Neuenfels.

    Kaufmann is just as much in demand internationally in the Italian and French repertoires as he is in German opera. He has sung Massenet’s Werther in Paris and Vienna, Cavaradossi in Puccini’s “Tosca” in London, at the Met and La Scala. His intensive characterizations of Don José in Bizet’s “Carmen” and Werther in Massenet’s opera took opera fans throughout the world by storm. Kaufmann loves portraying shattered characters, immersing himself in their world and making their thoughts and emotions strikingly believable.

    Besides his vocal and musical qualities, it is his total identification with his roles that has been received with such enthusiasm by press and public. This was the case at his role début as Siegmund in “Die Walküre” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in the spring of 2011. The eagerly awaited new production, masterfully conducted by James Levine, and transmitted world-wide on radio and in HD to cinemas, allowed audiences to hear the special quality of Kaufmann’s Wagner interpretations in detail: The blend of “German” expressive power and Italian vocal finesse. When Kaufmann afterwards had such a great success performing the title role of Gounod’s “Faust” (a new production that could also be seen in cinemas all over the world) he showed once again his vocal and theatrical versatility.

    In 2012 he gave his debut as Bacchus in “Ariadne auf Naxos” by Richard Strauss at the Salzburg Festival. In Salzburg he was also heard as Don José in the new production of “Carmen” conducted by Simon Rattle and in a performance of the Verdi Requiem conducted by Daniel Barenboim, which has been also performed at La Scala and at the Lucerne Festival. In December 2012 he came back to Milan for the opening of La Scala’s new season with the new production of “Lohengrin”, conducted by Barenboim and directed by Claus Guth.

    2013 was the year of Wagner and Verdi: After the Met’s new production of “Parsifal” and the revival of “Don Carlo” at the ROH in London, Kaufmann portrayed the title role in “Don Carlo” also in Munich and Salzburg. Furthermore he undertook two Verdi roles for the first time: Manrico in “Il Trovatore” and Alvaro in “La Forza del Destino”, both in new productions at the Bayerische Staatsoper. In February and March 2014 he portrayed Massenet’s Werther in a new production at the Met; in June he gave his debut as Des Grieux in Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” at the ROH in London.

    Highlights in 2015 were his debut as Andrea Chenier in a new production at the ROH with Antonio Pappano conducting, his first Radames in Rome (in a concert performance with Anja Harteros and Pappano), a high acclaimed double debut in the new production of “Cavalleria rusticana / Pagliacci” at the Salzburg Easter Festival, a Puccini recital at La Scala, and new productions of Beethovens “Fidelio” in Salzburg and Berlioz’ “La Damnation de Faust” at the Opéra National in Paris.

    After the big success of his solo album with evergreens from the late Twenties and early Thirties (“Du bist die Welt für mich”) he presented his new album with Puccini arias (“Nessun dorma”) in September 2015. Some of those arias he has performed at the legendary “Last night of the proms” in the Royal Albert Hall on September 12th.

    In Munich’s new production of Wagners “Meistersinger”, which had it’s premiere in May 2016, Kaufmann has sung the part of Walther von Stolzing for the first time on stage. In August 2016 Kaufmann made his South American tour debut with concerts and recitals in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Lima and Santiago de Chile.

    In January 2017 Kaufmann returned to the Paris Opéra with Claus Guth’s production of “Lohengrin”; in March he was the protagonist in Munich’s new production of “Andrea Chenier”. In June he made his long awaited role debut as Otello at the ROH in London. “Kaufmann sings an Otello for the ages” was the headline of the NY Times’ review; a week after the premiere, the production was broadcasted in cinemas all over the world. In August he returned to the Sydney Opera House for several performances of “Parsifal”. His first production in the season 2017/18 was the French version of Verdis “Don Carlos” in Paris, staged by Krzysztof Warlikowski and conducted by Philippe Jordan. In November 2017 Kaufmann did his first recital tour in China with Lied recitals in Shezhen, Guangzhou and Beijing and an opera concert in Shanghai.

    Kaufmann's versatility is documented on a number of CD’s and DVD’s in performances of such works as “Lohengrin”, “Walküre”, “Parsifal”, “Königskinder”, “Ariadne auf Naxos”, “Don Carlo”, “La Forza del Destino”, “Aida”, “Tosca”, “Adriana Lecouvreur”, “Werther” and “Carmen”. His solo albums are bestsellers only a few weeks after being released.

    In 2011 he was presented the coveted “Opera News Award” in New York. An article in “Opera News” heralded this selection with the words: “His intensity and elegance, the smoothness of his voice and his body language, combined with his musicality and his glowing appearance make him the very definition of a 21st century opera star.” Shortly afterwards Kaufmann was named a “Chevalier de l’Orde de l’Art et des Lettres” by French culture minister Frédéric Mitterand. Kaufmann has been selected several times as “Singer of the Year”, by the classical music magazines “Opernwelt”, “Diapason” and “Musical America” as well as by the juries of “Echo-Klassik” and the inaugural “International Opera Awards” (London 2013).

    Kaufmann is also a familiar figure world-wide on the concert and recital platforms. He regards art song interpretation as “The Royal Class of Singing”, since this genre calls for considerably more finesse and differentiation than any other vocal discipline. His partnership with pianist Hemut Deutsch, with whom he worked as far back as his student days in Munich, has proven itself in countless concerts including one on October 30 2011, on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. This was the first solo recital given at the Met since Luciano Pavarotti’s, back in 1994.

    © Gregor Hohenberg / Sony Music


    The singer's upcoming schedule can be consulted by clicking [here] - do observe that there is one more performance of Parsifal left at the Bayerische Staatsoper by the time of the publication of this interview; a show not to be missed! Or rather, for the privileged who snatched tickets, because it is sold-out. It will be revived in March 2019, and three dates still have available tickets: March 24, 28, and 31. Click [here] for tickets. This show is simply spectacular and was reviewed by Opera Lively with a score of A+++, above the maximum we usually grant of A++. Not only the audience will be treated to the great Kaufmann, but also to Nina Stemme, René Pape, and Christian Gerhaher, a luxury cast.

    This Opera Lively picture of the curtain calls is too dark for the audience part, but it does illustrate the unanimous standing ovation. Every single person in the theater stood up to applaud the artists:


    The tenor's full discography is too numerous to list here. Consult the list and cover images for all his DVD's/blu-ray discs by clicking [here], and the same for all his CD's by clicking [here].


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview With Jonas Kaufmann

    This interview done in July 2018 is copyrighted to Opera Lively and Opera Lively Press, all rights reserved. Reproduction of short excerpts is allowed as long as the source is quoted and a link to this article is provided. Extensive quotes or reproduction of the interview in its entirety are not allowed unless permission is asked first, by using the Contact Us link on the bottom of our pages. Questions by Opera Lively Chief Editor Luiz Gazzola. The pictures included in this article have been authorized by Jonas Kaufmann's Press Office, except as otherwise noted. This is Opera Lively's interview #254.


    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - What is most vocally difficult in singing this iconic role of Parsifal?

    Detail of a photo © Julian Hargreaves / Sony Classical
    Jonas Kaufmann - Vocally, it’s mainly the changes between lyric and dramatic moments, and the dramatic outburst “Amfortas! Die Wunde!”. But for me, the most difficult thing is to maintain the same level of energy during the entire evening: since Parsifal is largely an observer in acts 1 and 3, it’s very demanding to bridge those very long passages between the lines I have to sing. For example, the Grail procedure is almost half an hour of music in which Parsifal just watches, and sometimes keeping the tension physically and mentally over such a long time costs me more energy than singing.

    OL - Is the role emotionally draining for the singer? Tell me about the psychological arc of your character, please.

    JK - I think it’s not the role which can drain you emotionally, but the entire piece which really casts a spell over me like no other opera from Wagner. If you get involved without any reservations, you will experience something I call “transcendental journey”, no matter if you have grown up in the Christian tradition or not. It’s more the general understanding of the word "belief."

    OL - Maybe Parsifal is the most sublime music Wagner ever composed. Would you agree with this statement, and if yes, why, or if not, why not, and what would you quote instead?

    JK - Well, as we know the music of “Tristan” is very sublime as well, but perhaps “Parsifal” is more sophisticated: whereas “Tristan” is about longing for the great love, “Parsifal” is about longing for redemption, peace and harmony. To put it short, the first is about passion, the second about compassion – which includes all creatures, not only those you love. Therefore that line of Kundry “Sind die Tiere hier nicht heilig?” („Aren’t animals holy here?“) doesn’t only reflect that Wagner became a vegetarian during his last years, but especially his vision of universal redemption.

    Musically it is definitely the most complex pattern he ever wrote. There are so many themes that have been knitted into each other, one could call it complex or even complicated. A typical example for the prejudice that Wagner can’t be understood.

    OL - At the beginning Parsifal is “der reine Tor”, at the end he is the “Erlöser”. But is it a real development or more a sudden change, through Kundry’s “kiss of knowledge”?

    JK - That famous "kiss of knowledge" in the second act is quite blatant, that’s true. Of course there are hints of a development in the orchestra, mainly when Parsifal looks silently at the suffering Amfortas. But with the kiss of Kundry in the second act, he suddenly becomes omniscient and wise, he tells Kundry about a mission he has. In that sense, that kiss is an act of enlightenment.

    Photo Bayerische Staatsoper, fair promotional use, photographer credit unknown (we'll be happy to add it if we are told the credit)

    OL - Your career has been very fulfilling. You are one of the very best singers in your generation. For someone who "has it all" already, what are the projects and ideas for the future that you harbor, and that keep you going, and keep things interesting for you?

    JK - Generally, it’s the joy of singing and acting, along with the pleasure of working with great colleagues, conductors and directors, which keep me going. Of course there are always special challenges like Hugo Wolf’s “Italienisches Liederbuch”, singing all six songs in Mahlers “Lied von der Erde” or the “Four last songs” from Strauss. The biggest challenge recently was preparing for Tristan, the Mount Everest of tenors. Some weeks before the premiere of “Parsifal” in Munich, I made my first step towards that role, singing the second act in concerts in Boston and New York. Also concert versions of the third act are planned before I do the entire part on stage.

    OL - You had the fortune of being born in the country where opera is most popular. The art form struggles elsewhere, in modern times. What would be your ideas and advice to keep the art form going, and to recover its popularity in this day and age of so much competition from multiple sources?

    JK - We should try to attract a new audience by using all those sources. For example, I’m very fond of presenting live opera performances in the cinema: when it’s exceptional high-quality like the HD performances of the MET, it does reach a wider audience. Of course you have to be very careful when and where to do it; when the opera houses are half empty because people prefer to see the performance in a cinema which is in a few miles distance to the opera house, something is wrong. Theoretically, in the age of the Internet there should be a chance to make opera become a part of daily life again – like it had been in the days of Caruso. On the other hand, the competition is much, much higher today: we have to compete with a vast offer of entertainment which didn’t exist 100 years ago.

    OL - What drove you to opera at a young age? Would you please tell us about your artistic path?

    JK - Well, my first impression of opera was my grandfather, playing all the Wagner scores at the piano and singing every part from Brünnhilde to Hagen. My father was a fan of classical music as well; he had a big record collection and he took us to concerts and opera performances.

    My first opera was a Sunday afternoon family performance of “Madama Butterfly” at the Bayerische Staatsoper in my hometown Munich. I was six or seven years old and was totally fascinated – it was awesome, I can still remember how beautiful it all was, and thrilling. Suddenly the lady who just had stabbed herself was standing in front of the curtain, right before my eyes. That was the first time I experienced that magic world which we call “opera”.

    As much as I didn’t like piano lessons, I loved to sing, even in the school choir. But although I joined the extra chorus of the Gärtnerplatztheater in Munich at the age of 17, I wasn’t sure if I should aim for becoming a professional singer. It seemed to be too risky, and my parents wanted me to learn something “substantial”, something that I could later use to get a job like my father, who earned a decent income at the insurance company and was thus able to provide for his family.

    I wanted a family, too, and it was just as clear to me, that professional singing was a pretty chancy business, especially because a singer is dependent on his health, and the slightest cold would render him unfit for work. Besides that, I had already met a few chorus singers, who would have loved nothing better than to have become successful soloists.

    I held out as a math student for a couple of semesters, but the certainty that I wasn’t born to be a desk jockey, weighed heavier and heavier. I tried auditioning for a slot as a vocal student, and I was accepted on the spot. It took a huge amount of courage to make the fateful decision and say good-bye to the security of life as a mathematician. And so, in the summer of 1989, I began training to become an opera and concert singer at the Academy of Music and Theatre in Munich.

    OL - How would you describe yourself, and what are some of your non-operatic interests?

    JK - I’d say that I’m a man who really enjoys all the good things life has to offer. Besides all sorts of good music, literature and movies, those are food and wine, coffee and sweets, electronics, driving cars, bicycling, football / soccer (I’m a big fan of Bayern München), sailing, and many more. But above all I like spending time with my family and friends.


    This is the trailer for the Bayerische Staatsoper new production of Parsifal, in which Jonas Kaufmann's singing is prominently displayed:

    This video-magazine features members of the production team and singers talking about the making of this Parsifal. It is in German and English, with subtitles featuring either English when the voice-over is in German, or German when it is in English.


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    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
      Ann Lander (sospiro) -
      A superb interview with concise and intelligent responses.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Indeed. Jonas Kaufmann is a very intelligent artist, always with interesting points to make.
    1. MAuer's Avatar
      MAuer -
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      I bumped into this clip of Jonas singing Una furtiva lagrima; I had not heard it with him yet. Very beautiful:

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