Orchestra del Teatro Massimo di Palermo
Asher Fisch, conductor
Dolce vita is an absolutely clear title for the collection of songs of the Italian folk tradition by tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who adds his contribution to a repertoire that had attracted other distinguished colleagues, of whom I remember only Juan Diego Florez with his album Italia. Dolce vita, however, is not a recording that allows you to enjoy the Mediterranean sun and alternates rather light and shade, because you feel that a beautiful tenor voice of unusually dark timbre was forced in a repertoire that does not belong to it.
This is a problem that is evident from the first song, Caruso. Here I noticed that something was not in the right place and, after I listened to it to the end and made the point about what I had just heard, I was unpleasantly surprised by the sense of discomfort for all those high notes which had given the song some anxiety. It is evident that the problem is in the writing of Caruso, which is not ideal for Kaufmann’s voice. The same impression, though less markedly, will be repeated in the next tracks, Mattinata and Parla più piano.
At the other end of Dolce Vita, I observed the opposite phenomenon. The tenor’s voice seems strained in Con te partirò as if the part is too low for it and also the final pianissimo, which is one of Kaufmann’s strengths and one of the finest things that he usually achieves, here sounds forced.
I could go on with this kind of examples, but I think those just offered are more than sufficient. I want to conclude with some of the positive aspects that Dolce vita has to offer, otherwise I will not justify the definition of “lights and shades” I gave at the beginning and I may convey the impression that this recording is a complete disaster. It is absolutely not the case, because, despite all the limitations, Kaufmann does not sing bad at all, but in every song you recognize the artist’s effort to imprint his own personality and, to a certain point, that is, as far as the incompatibility of the repertoire allows it, the tenor succeedes in it: I remember for example Voglio vivere così, sung with an original liveliness. Here as elsewhere, therefore, Kaufmann has the full capacity to show his great temperament that, in this case, is the only thing that does not spoil the album, alongside with the direction.
I will end with a brief consideration about the conductor. Asher Fisch conducts the Orchestra del Teatro Massimo di Palermo creating a sparkling accompaniment, giving full light to these joyful or melancholic melodies, and never forgets the lightness that makes them charming. For this part of the Dolce Vita, I do not express any objection.