Music Review: Tenor Jonas Kaufmann makes U.S. recital debut at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

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In recent years the opera world has obsessed over who qualifies as a “Barihunk,” a baritone so handsome that audiences yearn to see him sing with his shirt off. Tenors must have wondered what the big deal was. People have been swooning over these higher-voiced singers for ages.

The latest swoon-worthy tenor is Munich-born Jonas Kaufmann, who drove the audience nuts Friday at his U.S. recital debut sponsored by the Los Angeles Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Fans demanded no fewer than five encores, including one played by accompanist Helmut Deutsch from an iPad. O brave new world.


Kaufmann is tall, poised, curly-haired. He has chiseled looks and dramatic presence. His voice has a baritone’s dark coloring and weight, and he can use it for poetic effect. He knows that less is more, so he did not rely on extraneous gestures to punch up his program of lieder by Schumann and Strauss.

What’s not to like? Well, Kaufmann took a long time to warm up. He sounded most comfortable in mid-range. Moving up, his throat tended to tighten, making his upper notes -- unless super-powered -- thin and dry, and he did not linger on them long. When he did, they could be arresting, but they could also be harsh. One fears he may be living off his capital not his interest.

Kaufmann’s most telling moments came in Schumann’s “Dichterliebe” — lovely coloring in “Im wunderschönen Monat-Mai” and controlled intimacy in “Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet” — and more frequently in such personal Strauss songs as “Sehnsucht,” “Morgen” and “Cäcilie.”

Throughout, Deutsch was his sensitive collaborator.

Kaufmann’s career vaults forward: He sings his first Siegmund in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Wagner’s “Die Walküre” next month. The performance can be seen in a “Live in HD” transmission May 14.

— Chris Pasles