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Jonas Kaufmann: How do you take Schubert to new heights — and depths?

German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, coming to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, coming to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
(Gregor Hohenberg / Sony Classical)

German tenor Jonas Kaufmann will give a rare North American recital as part of the Broad Stage’s 2018 Celebrity Opera series on Monday.

He’ll be performing Schubert’s “Die schöne Müllerin, accompanied by pianist Helmut Deutsch — the same song cycle the duo recorded for Decca Records in 2010 to much acclaim.

Kaufmann made his Metropolitan Opera debut in New York in 2006 in “La Traviata.” He’s since distinguished himself as one of the world’s finest tenors, earning critical praise whether singing the title role of “Don Carlos” or taking the stage as Cavaradossi in “Tosca.”

The documentary “Jonas Kaufmann: An Evening With Puccini,” featuring rare footage of a performance at La Scala in Milan, was released in 2016. For this feature, we asked the singer to talk about the Schubert he’ll be singing in Santa Monica.

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What do you find compelling and interesting about the Schubert piece in the Broad Stage program, and what will you try to convey to the audience while you are performing it?

Compared with “Winterreise,” the other famous song cycle written by Franz Schubert, “Die schöne Müllerin” requires an entirely different approach of interpretation.

In “Winterreise,” the basic tone of depression is present from the outset. You can hear at the start how the story will end.

This is something you must avoid at all costs in the case of “Die schöne Müllerin.” It’s about a young man who is utterly carefree when he first heads out into the world but who then runs head-first into trouble. His unrequited love for the miller’s daughter is his first experience of pain.

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In order for this innocence to seem at all credible, the interpreter shouldn’t sound too mature. The early songs are the purest expression of a young man’s love of life, and that’s how they should be performed.

As he sets out on his wanderings, the boy is bursting with energy and self-confidence. The more successful you are in conveying this mood, the greater the fall and the bigger the gulf.

That’s also why I don’t agree with people when they say that Wilhelm Müller’s poems are just texts that Schubert has “improved” with his music. I believe that Schubert fully recognized that the apparent simplicity of the poems serves to increase the sense of distance that is traveled and to heighten the sense of dislocation between the beginning and the end.

Conveying this to the audience is a big challenge, and for me this cycle is one of the most demanding pieces in the entire repertoire of Lieder.

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jessica.gelt@latimes.com

@jessicagelt

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