Total Pageviews

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Jonas Kaufmann's Carnegie Hall Concert: Don't Ask Me Why

Jonas Kaufmann accepts bouquets
In 2014 Jonas Kaufmann released a recording called You Mean the World to Me. It was a delightful tribute to the operetta hits that made legendary tenor Richard Tauber so popular. I have that album downloaded on my phone and it's one of my favorite running/cardio playlists. The lilting waltzes get me in a groove mentally and before I know it I've ran 5k. In short, it's one of the albums I return to over and over again.

Therefore I had high hopes for Kaufmann's concert at Carnegie Hall. It was also titled "You Mean the World to Me" and promised an evening full of operetta hits. The positives first: he showed up? The cancellation-prone tenor I think now knows how antsy his fans are about his appearances, so his Instagram account even had pictures reassuring his fans that he did indeed get on a plane to NY. Can't believe this but this is the third time I've seen him this year. And I'll see him again in Fanciulla del West at the Met (fingers crossed).

The second positive is his voice seems to be in good shape. Stentorian when it needs to be, healthy upper register, good control of his vibrato. He ended "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" both times (one regular program, the other the last encore in English) with a ringing high note. Obviously singing Lehar standards is different from singing, say, Dick Johnson, but after hearing both Roberto Alagna and Aleksandrs Antonenko scream and shout for hours it was great to hear a tenor who can actually ... sing.

And now the negatives. Oh boy, where do I begin? First of all, the stage had huge boomboxes on the sides, as well as smaller amplification devices lined on the lip of the stage. Jonas sang into a mike. He explained that many of these songs were radio hits and meant to be sung with a mike. Fine, but from where I was sitting the amplification of the orchestra was so loud that these romantic, gentle melodies lost much of their charm.  Carnegie Hall is widely considered to have some of the best acoustics in the world -- I've heard many smaller voices sound actually LOUD at Carnegie Hall. The miking needed to be adjusted to accompany the acoustics of Carnegie Hall. "Girls Were Made to Love and Kiss" lost all its whispery sexiness with the over-miking. It was as if an intimate recital decided to have the same sound system as a Metallica concert.

How unnecessary this was was driven home when Jonas did 4 encores. All of a sudden the miking and amplification were dialed back around 100 notches, and all we heard was Jonas' voice and the orchestra in a very natural acoustic. Those were by far the best four numbers of the night -- the presentation had the intimacy and sweetness that these songs demand.

Another disappointment was how much of the concert was broken up by orchestral pieces (led by conductor Jochen Reider, who also conducted Kaufmann's studio cd). Overall there were six orchestral numbers and only 8 official solos by Kaufmann, which gave the concert a rather skimpy feel. I mean with all due respect to Reider and the Orchestra of St. Luke's but the sold out audience came to hear Jonas Kaufmann. The orchestral pieces were stuff like the Waltz from Merry Widow and overture to Land of Smiles. Very Viennese New Year's concert stuff.

Thankfully Kaufmann did supply four encores but many audience members were so upset that they didn't even bother staying for the second half of the concert. The sold out auditorium had scores of empty seats after the intermission. When Kaufmann came out for the second half you could tell he was surprised to see all the empty seats. I was also disappointed by a few omissions. I missed the sublime Marietta's Lied. I know it needs a soprano but couldn't they have found a soprano to do some of the famous Tauber duets?

But great opera divas/divos are often frustrating people. Just this morning Spanish diva Montserrat Caballé passed away. In her time she was known for her frequent cancellations and burst of giggling in the most serious operatic moments. But she had a great voice and to listen to Caballé is often akin to falling into a rabbit hole as that shimmering soprano has a drug-like effect and before you know it, hours have gone by and you're on your second bootleg recording of a Maria Stuarda. In one day.

Jonas is a frustrating artist. I was disappointed by the skimpy program, the over-miking, blah blah blah, but when he sang his third encore "Don't Ask Me Why" all those gripes disappeared. He seemed to be singing directly to the audience: "Don't ask me why I've leaving, don't ask me why/Don't ask me why I'm grieving, don't ask me why/I only mean to tell you I miss you so" ... The audience actually clapped after he said "I miss you so" as the legion of NY Jonas fans (of which I consider myself a proud member) have missed him so, and it is so wonderful to have him back.

And now, Caballe. RIP. This is a clip from her legendary Lucrezia Borgia from 1965:


Jonas:


18 comments:

  1. The mics and amplifictors were also used at his European tour 4 years ago. Seems to be part of the project. I know, that Carnegie Hall needs no amplification, but some of teh songs need a special sound, only possible by using that technique.....
    Great to hear that JK is in best shape. I heard himrecently at a Lied rezital in Europa and he was simply great. Looking forward to the HD Fanciulla!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I understand that but the acoustics of Carnegie Hall are very different. The orchestra sounds loud without amplification. Voices also seem to have their very own mike. They really needed to adjust the amplification as where I was sitting it really sounded like a rock concert.

      Delete
  2. I do hope you have sent your negative comments about sound amplification, mikes and so on to Carnegie Hall management...because this is not the singer's or conductor's business or fault...It only means that Carnegie Hall ' technicians did not do their job correctly and did not check up the volume of the sound before the concert...BTW, the conductor's name is Jochen RIEDER and not Reicher as you write and he is a great friend of Mr. Kaufmann...At last, I would like to point out that orchestral pieces are a rule in this kind of concerts and in Europe, they are generally considered as being a perfect link between the songs… So this concert cannot be considered as "skimpy" in no way, particularly when the artist offers four encores... Please, consider that this concert is a classical concert and not a song tour...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the correction about the conductor's name. I understand the formula of classical concerts very well. However in most concerts the sung pieces are much longer. These songs by Tauber are very short and thus the feeling was that we got a few minutes of singing broken up by very long orchestral bridges. It's very different than, say, the overture to Forza del Destino being followed up by the "Son giunta" scena ...

      Delete
  3. Really difficult to compare operas and concerts as far as orchestral pieces are concerned...An opera is a whole with its own development from the overture to the finale...In a concert, you have to find some kind of unity and coherence between the songs and this is what the orchestral pieces are meant for...Moreover, we must not forget that the orchestra (St Luke's, as it was...) and the conductor have their own part of the concert, they just don't accompany the singer only... What is the reason why,in your opinion,"many members of the audience" left before the second part of the concert...Would like to know...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The listed program only had three numbers listed in the second half. I think the audience was disappointed. I don;t think they knew he'd do four encores ...

      Delete
    2. Well, too bad for them...Ignorant people, they missed a great part of the concert, because Jonas' encores are always delightful…

      Delete
  4. I'm really surprised reading it - is it all about quantity and not quality? When Kaufmann sang this program in Europe in 2015, nobody complained that there were too few arias/songs. Besides, he usually sings 7 arias during a concert (4 in the first part and 3 in the second). Sometimes they are longer, sometimes similarly short (e.g. Puccini's arias are always very condensed). But what is the length of the aria if it is performed good/great/superbly? You have an ARTIST like Kaufmann in front of you and you count the minutes?... I would rather wait for a more detailed evaluation of his performances and for a comparison with how he sang the same repertoire 4 years ago (e.g on the mentioned CD)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Operawire had the same complaint:
      http://operawire.com/carnegie-hall-2018-19-review-jonas-kaufmann/

      Delete
    2. About the program and orchestral pieces ??? Sound amplification…???It does not mean they are right…! And complaints should be directed to Carnegie Hall, not to the artists !

      Delete
  5. I totally agree with your comment...What is quantity compared to quality…? Besides the length of the concert seems completely similar to what he usually does...I think there was a big misunderstanding about what was to be expected from this concert...What a pity…!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Any opera singer who uses amplification in Carnegie Hall is pretty much begging for criticism. I do not buy “radios hits meant to be sung with a mic”. Let’s not blame Carnegie Hall Technician’s. It is likely that he got exactly what he wanted.

    A few months ago he performed Act 2 of Tristan in Symphony Hall, in concert. He was fidgety and score-bound but in fine voice.

    Using a mic at Carnegie Hall is a way to avoid heavy lifting. In a way I cannot be too critical, a voice has a shelf life, he is trying to both preserve it and leverage it for the most revenue possible.

    I was not there, but if I were I would have abandoned ship at the first polite opportunity.

    Paul Ricchi

    ReplyDelete
  7. Would you like to hear a Sinatra song with full-bodied operatic singing?? Most of the songs are film songs (except Lehar and Tauber), intimate and charming, and therefore need a mic to do them in the right way, the mic opens up more possibilities in interpretation. In Vienna "Konzerthaus" the sound engineer was great, never too loud. The public understood and enjoyed. A great concert. So blame the Carnegie Hall technicians.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I understand all that. But if you've ever been in Carnegie Hall you'll know that the whole auditorium is its own microphone. By miking so heavily the balance between Jonas' voice and the orchestra was thrown off as the orchestra was so loud. If they wanted to mike they needed to do it way more subtly with the miking enhancing Kaufmann's voice. Instead what I heard was a relentlessly loud orchestra.

      Delete
  8. Jonas even explained about the amplification and joked that he's really not losing his voice, but that these songs were meant to be amplified. I enjoyed the concert, partly because it felt like an antidote to the dreadful two weeks we'd endured. But man the orchestra was loud! And bombastic, at times getting to be unbearable. Did not have to be like that, obviously.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Ivy, have been wondering for some time where you had got to! Just by chance came across your new moniker on another blog. Count on you for ballet news as well as opera. Delighted to have found you again.

    ReplyDelete