with Sonya Yoncheva (soprano) and Ludovic Tézier (baritone)
Bertrand de Billy, conductor
After German tenor Jonas Kaufmann recorded several album of German and Italian music, L’Opéra is his first recording completely centred around French music – more precisely, French music of the 19th century, a repertoire that is congenial to him to the point that it is incredible that he recorded just few arias in Romantic Arias before this. As a consolation, Kaufmann performs regularly roles as Werther and Don José on stage and not by chance L’Opéra includes the arias Pourquoi me réveiller and La fleur que tu m’avais jetée next to other significant pieces from popular operas as Roméo et Juliette and Les Contes d’Hoffmann and from less famous masterpieces as Mignon, Le roi d’Ys, La damnation de Faust and Les Troyens. There are also two duets, one from Les pêcheurs de perles and the other from Manon, that Kaufmann sings with Ludovic Tézier and Sonya Yoncheva respectively.
L’Opéra is perhaps Kaufmann’s best solo album of the recent years as neither Dolce Vita nor Das Lied von der Erde are completely satisfactory – as I had the occasion to explain in my reviews – because in the former Kaufmann seemed out-of-place in a repertoire that did not suit his voice and in the latter the experiment to sing both parts in Mahler’s work was (predictably) excellent in the “canonical” tenor songs but not really fabulous in the former mezzo/baritone part. L’Opéra is then the return to Kaufmann’s “normal” perfection and there is hardly something disappointing in this recording.
Kaufmann does not merely sing the arias of L’Opéra, but his voice seems to caress the music and conveys the deepest and the most intense emotions. It is enough to hear the exquisite Ah! Lève-toi, soleil! from Roméo et Juliette, a piece rightly chosen as the first track, to have an idea of his wonderful singing, a miracle that Kaufmann repeats more than willingly in the rest of the album too.
There are musical consciousness and abandon at the same time, something that makes possible the perfect blend between the enchantment made by a sound though unusual technique and the freedom of inspiration that the former allows. The original rendition that Kaufmann achieves in L’Opéra seems to originate from this and here there are the tenderness of Elle ne croyait pas (from Mignon), the vain dream from which Don José is unable to awake (La fleur que tu m’avais jetée from Carmen), the delicacy of Puisqu’on ne peut fléchir (from Le Roi d’Ys), the contemplation of Ô Dieu, de quelle ivresse (from Les Contes d’Hoffmann), the enchanted Paix marveilleux (from L’Africaine), but also the abnegation of Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père (from Le Cid).
The duets are also extraordinary, though to the formidable duo Kaufmann-Ludovic Tézier in Les pêcheurs de perles does not correspond an equally fine outcome in Manon as soprano Sonya Yoncheva contents herself to sing the right notes without expressing any other feeling except icy detachment. On the contrary, the conduction of Betrand de Billy is inspiring and emotionally affecting and provides Kaufmann with the best possible atmosphere.
The French repertoire has in Jonas Kaufmann a first rate performer and L’Opéra is definitely a sumptuous recording that deserves to be listened to over and over again – something that is nothing but a spontaneous action just after the end of the last track.