Cher Public

Lieder of the pack

La Cieca is always happy (if a little envious) when another critic expresses exactly how she feels about a musical event (such as Jonas Kaufmann‘s recital last Sunday at the Met) because that means she doesn’t have to blather on and on about it.  Instead she can simply reply, “Check out what Zachary Woolfe has to say in the New York Times.”

  • Tristan_und

    I was there and although the hall is obviously not ideal for lieder, I thought he was FABulous and apparently most of the audience did too (hence the FIVE encores). I was surprised that the Times criticised Kaufmann’s diction, which to my ears was as clear as could be. He is a major artist with an important career ahead of him. The dogs bark, the caravan moves on. In other words, some queens are never happy!

  • tancredipasero

    Kaufmann is a major artist, definitely the best Siegmund at the Met since Vickers, and one of the most positive presences on the scene today -- but Woolfe was basically right about the recital. The diction is strange, even though it’s his native tongue (especially the weird “ah” vowel), and the communication was pretty generic until almost the very end (the encores were by far the best part). I’d also add that he sings softly quite a lot, but not in a beautiful way -- it comes across as compliance with a musical requirement (definite credit for not just bellowing his way through, in song or on stage), but it doesn’t bloom. It’s an oddly “held” sound.

  • FaustinaHasse

    After having wasted many happy hours following the friendly exchanges on Parterre box without ever participating, as a native German speaker I feel the urge to comment on the topic of language and diction in lieder singing. Most of the time one can spot a nonnative singer by the way he or she over brightens the vowels and spits the consonants out of fear of not sounding “German”. Sung vowels will always sound differently from spoken vowels, depending on the voice type, the combination of vowels and consonants, something native speaker will have no problems with as long it is done in the service of the vocal line. There is one seemingly under appreciated quality of Kaufmann’s artistry namely his unparalleled diction in lieder singing. Very few other singers with that ability come to my mind, Gerhaher for instance and Fischer-Dieskau.
    Now to Mr. Woolfes impression that Kaufmann seemed earnest but remote. He should have seen Fischer-Dieskau in concert! I attended DFD’s farewell liederabend in Carnegie Hall. The program consisted of a collection of very sad autumny songs some of them by Hugo Wolf. Mr. DFD’s performance was so remote that my Italian born husband forever forsake lieder afterwards! I didn’t have this impression during Sunday’s performance and I sat a little farther back than Mr. Woolfe. Could it be a cultural thing that I prefer someone who stands still and doesn’t pretend that he is on the opera stage?
    About the lack of subtle mix of emotions:
    This reminds me of my younger years when I found anybody who didn’t produce that impression in me to completely lack refinement and artistry. I went all out for the Bostridge type of genteel emoting. Now that I am older I take the songs for what they probably always were intended to do, namely to express happiness, sadness, anger…………But maybe I am coarsening up after all those years of refinement.
    By the way, when my husband, a language aficionado par excellence, first heard Kaufmann’s Verismo arias, he commented right away on the beautiful Italian pronounciation and phrasing…. So much for Kaufmann not being “italianate”……
    And my husband heard Schipa and Gigli in concert as a youngster!

    • I felt the Fischer-Dieskau parallels too… Even something about the timbre of his voice reminds me of DFD a little -- and (silly thing) he uses a similar ich-laut, right?? -- but mostly the similarity I feel is that there is great passion manifest often in subtle ways -- isn’t that ideal in Lieder? I sat fairly close -- maybe the intimate expressiveness I saw and responded to so strongly didn’t carry to the farther seats so I can’t speak to that…. But I thought his personality warmed up through the night and that overall he made a beautiful connection with the audience. Gosh there is so much obsequiousness/tackiness that passes for “expression” in singing…. Jonas Kaufmann’s performance had an elegant simplicity -- and great earnestness which I admired very much. I liked his diction. Subjectivity’s a bitch! But I think the greatest proof of his success that evening, and of his communicativeness, was the thrillingly good feeling amongst the audience members as we left the house. No one can deny that the house was very alive at the conclusion of the performance. And he (and the wonderful Mr. Deutsch) did that -- so how badly could he have done?? I felt that I was part of a group that had been (well, a majority of us at least) deeply moved and uplifted by the performance and the generosity of the performers, which the five encores really brought home, of course…. Around the fourth encore I believe, a man in the row in front of me turned around and said, “It’s like a Bruce Springsteen concert!” Of course it was a joke -- but in truth, there was a bit of a feeling like the one I usually have in great rock concerts where the audience has been galvanized and INCLUDED in a special way, which far less frequently is achieved in the opera house -- demographic differences notwithstanding. I think it’s even more deep that he did this WITHOUT uttering a word (mentioned in a complaint I saw somewhere among these comments). Anyway didn’t most of us already know what the encores were? Also -- I’d give him a break for being a little careful at the outset, pacing himself perhaps, after having had that surgery so recently. In short: I loved the recital and it made me feel inspired and great to be alive!! So you haters can all suck my proverbial hooded— well— That’s all I have to say about that!!

  • imelda

    I’d imagine that it would be very hard to get the communication “balance” right in a venue like the MET. (We are “taught” that Lieder and Opera are two different things,(I beg to differ somewhat)but the underlying issue is communication.) Do too much? You’re an “opera” singer that doesn’t understand the subtleties of lieder. Do too little? You’re remote and cold. What will work in a smaller venue (i.e. Wigmore, Musikverein, Tully etc.) could be lost in a larger one. There is also the strangeness of singing in a venue that you know well in one medium, and when faced with a different medium, can throw you off completely. How much voice should be used? These are “lieder”, but this place is HUGE. How can I do the subtle things in here that I usually do when singing these lieder? Should I even try? It could feel very uncomfortable. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with the review or commentary as I didn’t have a chance to hear Mr. Kaufmann, (Damnit!) just throwing out a few thoughts.