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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 10, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 23
Tenor Jonas Kaufmann spectacular in Tosca DVD
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Tenor Jonas Kaufmann spectacular in Tosca DVD

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

The main reason to see this generally better-than-competent Tosca DVD is the singing and acting of tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Beyond his movie-star looks, Kaufmann is simply the best lyric/dramatic tenor singing today. His utterly smooth use of the entire range of dynamics is unique among modern tenors, and it is always put to musical as well as dramatic effect. His sound is in itself thrilling & dark, baritonal, with plenty of 'squillo' in his loud tops; yet he can also sing a perfectly modulated piano, even on the top notes, so well focused that he can expand it smoothly to full volume if needed.

In his late 30s, he is in his prime vocally, athletic and compelling in appearance, and able to make scenes we have seen too often fresh and exciting. Dramatically, he is always into the role, and it's hard to take one's eyes off of him. In this live performance from Zurich, both of his arias are excellent and unlike any other tenor's. In the Act One duet, he begins the line, 'What other eyes could compare with your passionate dark eyes?' (English subtitles) very softly and slowly so that he can build the line in an utterly thrilling way that gives goose bumps. (We watched this DVD with 15 opera friends, and the most sophisticated of them whispered to me that he felt like he was hearing that line for the first time ever!)

Emily Magee (Tosca) has a big voice, and is much better suited to this role than Karita Mattila was in the Met Live in HD presentation. Magee may not be a great Tosca, but she is more than adequate. She handles the dramatic outbursts of Act Two very well, never pushing her big voice into screaming or, as so often happens with under-powered singers, into a big wobbling vibrato.

Thomas Hampson is the big surprise. He is a near-great Scarpia, never over-singing, as he did in the Met's Live in HD Thais. His is not a big Scarpia-type voice, but he succeeds by singing well and by crafty acting, never over the top but powerful. Scary. Mic work is well done at all times, which makes Hampson's voice perhaps bigger than it sounded in the Zurich opera house.

The production is mostly traditional. The 'Te Deum' that closes Act One has a visually spectacular finish. The large chorus is well recorded for an effective curtain. In fact the sound and picture in general are excellent for DVD. (No Blu-ray disc is available.) Paolo Carignani conducts the Zurich forces with idiomatic flair, and the orchestra is powerful without ever swamping the voices.

The all-important confrontations between Scarpia and Tosca in Act Two are effective, if less than memorable. Magee's 'Vissi d'arte' is fine too, although there are many who do it as well or better.

Kaufmann's rapidly expanding catalogue of opera performances includes Carmen, Lohengrin, and Werther, all highly recommended, as well as a Fidelio that I have not yet seen.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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