Headshot of La Cieca

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Oh, signor Johnson

La Cieca is going to go out on a not very long limb here and say that Dick Johnson in La fanciulla del West is a great role for Jonas Kaufmann and may well turn out to be one of his three or four greatest. The evidence is all there on YouTube. There is one odd thing, though.

Did the director think Nina Stemme was playing Giorgetta in Il tabarro?

78 comments

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    I can’t find it now. I tried. I won’t ask what the link is now, I don’t want to jinx you all. I recommend it. I watched it complete and enjoyed it, in spite of the less than feminine Minnie on the first act, how can one conceive of that appearance being all the miners’ sweet heart? Today I wanted to see Jonas in key scenes, and “Addio mia California” on a balloon again. It is sort of a nice Oz like touch. I think all wrong. The West is horses, ask John Wayne. But what can you do, directors want to do things. And you get the voice of Jonas from up high. Also they made a big to do about the nostalgic miner singing on the radio in the first act. Well, I think his singing there in person is more appropriate. Still, I did not mind too much the updating in this production. All it needed was a miner in some corner playing on a slot machine. I’ll try youtube every now and then, hope I can catch it again.

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    I loved this Fanciulla, but if I were to take only one clip from Fanciulla to a desert island, I would take Tebaldi in it. I was fortunate to see her. She was certainly something. I would take her even over Jonas. Love her.

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    I love Jonas, and I would madly like to see him in this. But do you all remember Bergonzi? He and Tebaldi would make this Puccini opera be the best in the world.

    • antikitschychick says:

      I Luvs me some Corelli! Such a beautiful and thrilling sound…I like Jonas too and I think he has finally hit his stride. He is sounding pretty fabulous in the Italian Spinto rep…and we get to see him in Werther this season.

  • Foreign Princess says:

    “Thank God for Jonas,” yes you are right! So many of the tenor who was supposed to be the next great tenor, and it did not happen. They did not know how to sing, or maybe have personal problems, which is true it is very sad, and then the voice goes. We have waited 25, 30 years as one after another fell! Cura, Alagna, Licitra, Villazon…but in Jonas, there is voice, artistry, good acting, the intelligence also, and he leads his life as a mature person. It is always when you hear about him, about the singing, not getting into fights with the theater, not body building, not about romances or hitting women. Always doing new things at the right time, not too much too soon. He can sing in a perfect style German, Italian, French. When such a singer should appear, it is like the musical promise that is coming true, when you had given up.

    • La Valkyrietta says:

      Foreign Princess,

      Yes, wonderful. Love Jonas. Better than Cura, Alagna, Licitra, Villazon…Jonas does deliver, wonderful, and he has endured. I just hope the Met gets more of him in the right things. Am I too flattering if I say he is the XXIst century Corelli? Maybe the phrase is absurd. But Jonas is something the Met ought to pursue and cultivate. He is good!

      • Porgy Amor says:

        I had been a quasi-doubter in the Italian rep, but that Johnson sounded to me as though a new phase had begun since I checked in last. The singing was direct and unaffected in a way that his Cavaradossi was not, to my ears (I heard him only in the Carsen production at Zurich with Magee and Hampson). It was the best tenor singing in Fanciulla I have heard since prime-time Domingo.

      • antikitschychick says:

        well, he’s pretty much a Met regular isn’t he? On his personal website he attributes his rise to fame to his Met debut as Alfredo in La Traviata so he has good rapport with the company.

        And I’m sure they’ll book him for Otello when he finally gets around to singing it, if they haven’t already.

        TBH though there is a huge scarcity of good dramatic/Spinto tenors today which also adds to his profile (I mean who can sing Otello well besides Johan Botha and Antonenko?). IDK what has happened on that front but I really hope we get through this rough patch soon.

        • Porgy Amor says:

          I wonder what the record is for first-rate active Otellos at a given time, though. Bearing in mind that every Otello from the first one has had detractors, and there are people who don’t think Domingo was first-rate, don’t think Del Monaco was first-rate, and so on…if the sole criterion for our purposes is someone who has sung it to widespread acclaim (which would get PD, MdM, McCracken, Vickers, Vinay, et al., into the club), how many at one time is a reasonable expectation? I think this is always going to be one of those “There are so few/no good ______” roles, like Norma in the other thread. Giulini persistently avoided the opera because, in his estimation, there was no suitable Otello voice. He had heard Renato Zanelli, and no one measured up, and he was going to wait for another Zanelli or not do it. Quite a powerful tribute to Zanelli, considering the long life and career Giulini had, and the famous ones he surely heard (and worked with in other operas).

          I do get it, though. That really is the best voice I have heard for it, in the excerpts we have.

          • antikitschychick says:

            But weren’t all those tenors you mention contemporaries of each other more or less? Giacomini was another great one too.

            But point taken about resisting the urge to over-generalize.

            Wish I could watch the video, but I shall have to wait til I get home from work.

            • Porgy Amor says:

              But weren’t all those tenors you mention contemporaries of each other more or less?

              Yes and no. They (Vinay, Del Monaco, McCracken, Vickers, and Domingo) all were singing professionally for a time in the 1960s, but not as Otello. Vinay had made the switch back to baritone by the time Vickers started singing it live; Del Monaco had set it aside before Domingo took it up (and Domingo had set it aside before Antonenko took it up), et cetera.

              There would have been a period of overlap for Del Monaco/McCracken/Vickers from about 1963 through 1972, and one for McCracken/Vickers/Domingo later, but it gets back to the point — we never have an abundance of the “front-line” Otellos. So if Botha, Antonenko, and Kaufmann are all doing it at the same time at some point, we may be doing pretty well, at least in raw numbers.

              I wasn’t criticizing you for a generalization; just musing. It’s a beast to cast.

            • antikitschychick says:

              Ok I see what you mean, thanks for the explanation.

              Otello is a definitely a beat of a role to sing. Totally agree with you there.

            • antikitschychick says:

              *BEAST of a role darn typos!

          • Clita del Toro says:

            I saw all three as Otello, MdM, Vickers and McCracken (and Uzunov). Each was outstanding in his own way. Then came Plamingo, a forced, non-Otello, IMO, and that was it for Otello and me. So until another comes along besides Antonenko or Fatso (I did see a pretty good DVD of Cura in the role) ta-ta OTELLO.

            • Porgy Amor says:

              I, on the other hand, never got the appeal of MdM, and I probably should refrain from comment on McCracken, having heard him in performances that may not have been the best guide. I loved both Vickers and Domingo, and I have seen or heard more of the latter than any others. Botha…not for me. Antonenko may yet get there. It has come up here before, and what I have heard strikes me as promising but dramatically skin-deep (or makeup-deep, as it were). He has not been the outstanding element in the two performances I know.

          • antikitschychick says:

            finally listened to the recording you posted Porgy. Alls I have to say is WOW. What a voice and WHAT an interpretation! Thanks for sharing that.

      • oedipe says:

        La Valkyrietta,

        Your sweeping statement that “Kaufmann is better than Alagna” (just like that, in everything, no contest!) reflects your personal likes/dislikes, it is not an absolute truth.

        Can you give a list of all the roles in which Kaufmann is/has been better than Alagna? (As a reminder, or in case you don’t know it: Alagna has sung over 40 roles in his career.)

        • La Valkyrietta says:

          oedipe,

          Thank you for the comment. I do have a tendency to word my preferences as general truths and that is absurd. But to be fair, I was just replying to Foreign Princess and agreeing with her. Actually I prefer Alagna and Villazon to Cura and Licitra whom I would place last in that group, but that is my personal preference. In NY I would tend to see anything by Jonas and only would go to an opera with Alagna if there is another motivation, such as the opera, the production, the soprano, etc. I grant you, it is my personal preference. I have never seen Alagna in the role that captivated me to Jonas, his Siegmund.

        • Feldmarschallin says:

          Oedipe there are such sweeping statements that can be made. I can also say that the French fashion is the best in the world. I indeed have many books on designers and histories of design houses going back to the House of Worth. The only exception I make and he showed in Paris was Valentino. Take all the German, American and even Italian designers (except for Valentino) for one Dior, Balenciaga (born in Spain yes but it was a French house) or Lanvin. I have heard Alagna in various roles and I will take Kaufmann who is the whole package and can sing Italian, French and German roles equally good over Alagna anyday. But Crespin is without rivals in Troyens. :)

          • oedipe says:

            Feldmarschallin,

            Again, this is YOUR taste -though not MINE- and not an absolute truth!

            I have heard both Kaufmann and Alagna in several roles, and I can “state” that Alagna has no equal in most of the French roles he has sung, because of his UNIQUE MIX of a timbre that’s perfectly adapted to the French rep, his intonation and attention to coloring every word he utters, his idiomatic “ligne de chant” (Kaufmann ALWAYS has a German intonation in French); all this combined with a very Latin intensity and commitment in incarnating and acting his characters. Besides, he is not exactly the most unattractive man I have seen on an opera stage!!!

            I also prefer Alagna to Kaufmann in a number of Italian roles (Cavaradossi, Manrico, Maurizio), because of his unaccented Italian, his idiomatic Italian style, his Latin temperament and the fact that his voice has a lot of squillo.

            Alagna has never sung a German role, so no comparison is possible there. But just for good measure (unlike some of the JK groupies here) I’ll state I very much liked Kaufmann as Siegmund, I thought he was a great Dick Johnson, and I LOVED his Lohengrin.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              I agree with you Oedipe, I find Alagna a far more appealing artist than Kaufmann, and a better singer, actor and stylist as long as he’s in an appropriate role (things like his Radames really did just seem like too much for him, and his response was just to shout and bawl all evening).

            • oedipe says:

              Cocky, I agree with you that Radames is not a good role for Alagna. But…all is relative!

              And I take this as an opportunity to kvetch:

              The Paris Opera is in the middle of a completely-sold-out run of Aida, an opera which hasn’t been seen here in 45 years. Don’t ask why it’s been so long, I have no idea!

              Without even beginning to touch on Olivier Py’s production (which is creating a big fuss, unsurprisingly), let me talk about the casts: there are 2 alternative casts, both unsatisfactory. The Radameses are (sort of) OK -Alvarez and Dean Smith-, but the Aidas and Amnerises are quite poor. The first cast has Dyka (atricious!) and d’Intino (whose middle register has become very worn); the second cast has Garcia (who is slightly better than Dyka, but that’s not saying much) and a certain Borcheva (who?), very bad, apparently. Where are Monastyrska or Moore, or He when one needs them?

              But it can be worse! Yesterday I watched a few minutes of the Vienna Aida with Kristin Lewis and Giordani. Don’t ask…

              So, what are the available choices for Radames these days? Alvarez, Dean Smith, Botha (who at least can sing, rather than scream, the notes); or worse: Giordani, Berti, Todorovich…No wonder Alagna gets so many offers to sing Radames, considering the available alternatives out there!

            • kashania says:

              45 years?? Good lord!

              Agreed about the scarcity of tenors capable of a good Radames. Kaufmann could probably do it very well but there’s only so much of him to go around. Botha can sing it well but lacks the Italianate tone and is a lump on stage. Berti (whom I’ve only heard as Calaf) has the voice but is a dull singer.

            • la vociaccia says:

              Well, Carl Tanner was a pretty decent Radames. The instrument isn’t glamorous but he’s a tasteful singer and didn’t fall into any spinto-traps (bawling, bleating etc.) Other up and coming spintos like Massi and Montsalve have great voices but very precarious technique.

              Maybe Kaufmann, but I think he would actually sound great if he went back to some Mozart. Dick Johnson sounded pretty good but it seems like he has to spend a lot of voice to get through it. I’d rather hear him as Tito than a voice like Polenzani (Chicago’s Tito this season)

            • Bluevicks says:

              What impresses me with Alagna as well is his projection. In the theatre his tone may be not particularly big but it could be heard with great clarity in almost all corners of the opera house (according to my experience at the very least).

    • la vociaccia says:

      Before oedipe jumps in I’d like to point out that Alagna, in French music, completely delivered on the promise, and in that respect has not fallen. Heavy italian spinto rep? Maybe not, but I wouldn’t put him in the “disappointment” category

      And bringing up Licitra is a bit untasteful…

      • Foreign Princess says:

        la vociaccia,

        Licitra is the saddest of all. No one was more than me wishing him the best success when he sang Manrico and Cavaradossi in the beginning, and he had so much to give. The voice had the “ping” and real Italian tone, and so maybe not the best actor, but neither was Pavarotti, and they were always right in it and could get you to care. But what happened then? If you hear the recordings and see him later, like Forza and Calaf at the Met, it was as 25 years had gone when it was not 10. Even the New York Times critic who says good of EVERYBODY, he writes “over the years he has squandered his talents.” That was years before he died. This was all I mean when I say he disappointed.

        Now he is dead, and that is much worse than singing badly. If he sang well or not well, he would still have died in the same way. But we cannot say, Oh Licitra, he was going from just one great success to another and then the accident took this top tenor from us. That is to be sentimental. Even obituaries say he had a great beginning and went wrong somewhere. Maybe you see him one time and he was not bad, another time you wonder why he even went on the stage.

        • manou says:

          “Now he is dead, and that is much worse than singing badly. ” Not necessarily -- for some Parterrians anyway.

          • Porgy Amor says:

            Ha! That broke the somber mood.

            I watched the upload of the Muti Trovatore a while back, when that opera and one of the singers in it were being discussed here. At the time the Sony recording was released, I had thought it was a good but not world-beating cast and that the main selling point was the Scala forces in very high-energy form, as well as the opportunity to hear the score note-complete in a very “clean” edition (none of the time-honored shenanigans on which Muti frowns, such as the tenor horning in on the soprano’s last line in the convent scene). While my 2001 assessment of the cast probably holds up vis–à–vis all Trovatore casts on records, they impressed me on the revisit. Everyone sounds good, and Frittoli, Urmana, and Licitra were rarely better or as good in years afterward. Actually, if I were ever making a case for Urmana and Licitra for someone turned off by her soprano excursions or his uneven later singing, that performance would be Exhibit A.

        • Clita del Toro says:

          One tenor who Licitra kinda reminded me of— and one who was much better, was Flaviano Labò. They have been recently mentioning him on opera-l. His was a big, gorgeous spinto voice in a small, cute guy. I only saw him early in his Met career.

          • Porgy Amor says:

            I believe Labò holds the distinction of singing Don Carlo in the first five-act (but significantly cut) commercial recording, conducted by Santini in the early 1960s and quickly eclipsed by the Solti/Decca.

            http://www.amazon.com/Verdi-Version-Christoff-Cossotto-Bastianini/dp/B004W7GP4W

          • Batty Masetto says:

            Gosh, Flaviano Labò. Yes, lots of voice in a small, attractive package. I saw him only once, many years ago in a Turandot with Anita Valkki. (We were disappointed she wasn’t Birgit, but no doubt would kill to hear her today.) But I don’t remember him having anything like Licitra’s now-you-hear-it-now-you-don’t inconsistencies.

            Both of the principals, however, were totally overshadowed by the Liù, a young soprano I’d never heard of named Teresa Stratas.

            • Clita del Toro says:

              Well, the Turandot was in ’66. I first saw Labò in 1957 in Forza. I don’t know how his voice sounded nine years later in the Turandot.

            • Batty Masetto says:

              I liked him, though, Clita. It’s just that Stratas kind of dazzled the two of us who went that time.

      • oedipe says:

        La Vociaccia,

        Thanks for being the lone voice of fairness in this groupie fest.

        But do you find this not-so-veiled hint tasteful?

        It is always when you hear about him, about the singing, not getting into fights with the theater, not body building, not about romances or hitting women.

        • Batty Masetto says:

          getting into fights with the theater, not body building, not about romances or hitting women

          Yes, thank goodness we never hear about Bobby A. ever getting into that kind of nonsense.

          Oedipe, mon vieux, the broken record is getting tiresome even for this Alagna-admirer and francophile. Yours is not a voice I would like to tune out, but I’m starting to find myself doing it all the same.

          • oedipe says:

            Batty,

            That sentence should never have been written, and is totally out of place in a post meant to glorify Kaufmann:

            1. At least one (probably two?) of the items on that “factual” list is nowadays in the hands of lawyers and could be prosecuted as libel.

            2. Why do Jonas groupies feel an irresistible need to launch personal attacks against Alagna? Do they really believe this will make Kaufmann look better?

            3. It not “always about the singing” when it comes to Kaufmann: a few years ago, when Gheorghiu was spending more time with Kaufmann than with her husband, the French grapevine was abuzz with talk not related to his singing.

            I am surprised you don’t see the problem. Unless you approve of the bashing -both personal and professional- in that post (which would explain your lashing back at me); but then, you shouldn’t call yourself an “Alagna-admirer”.

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    Licitra’s terrible death is a sad thing. I feel badly for him and lament he had the end he did.

    Death is something that will happen to all of us, not just tenors.

    Here we always discuss singers and their voices, regardless of whether they are dead of alive. Some live to their seventies, or even over a hundred, good for them, I guess. Others die young. Licitra lived to be 41 which is young for a tenor. Björling lived to 49, and that was also young. Some have died even younger than Licitra. Wunderlich died at 36.