Jonas Kaufmann pays homage to a magnificent era of opera that defined musical splendor and elegance, in his new album of 19th-century French opera arias and duets. His selection of music for tenor spans this momentous period, starting with “Rachel, quand du Seigneur” from Halévy’s La Juive (1835), through two of Bizet’s greatest works, “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” from Carmen (1875) and “Au fond du temple saint” from Les Pêcheurs de perles (1863), by way of Gounod’s “Ah! lève-toi, soleil!” from Roméo et Juliette (1867) and ending with the latest aria “Pourquoi me réveiller” from Massenet’s masterpiece Werther (1892). Plus many more along the way.
“The French operatic repertory is very close to my heart,” says Kaufmann. “This fascinating music reflects a unique period in European culture. I didn’t want to choose only highlights for this album but also works and roles that have been key experiences for me. Wilhelm Meister in Mignon, for example, was my first major French role – I sang it in Toulouse in 2001. Carmen and Werther helped to open doors for me. The fact that I sang my first Werther at the Paris Opéra of all places, as a German surrounded by a French ensemble, was undoubtedly rather risky, but I had some excellent guides to help me: répétiteurs, colleagues, conductors and, not least, the recordings of the legendary French tenor Georges Thill.”
What can be heard on Jonas Kaufmann’s new album is the musical heritage of a time when Paris, newly created by Georges Eugène Haussmann, became the center of the modern world in the 19th century. At that time the opera houses of Paris were the places to “see and be seen”. Their large, luxurious foyers offered fabulous opportunities for the public to gather and socialize. Their opera productions presented the audience with unheard-of exotic locations and staged spectacles beyond compare – the premiere of Halévy’s La Juive reportedly involved more than a dozen horses on stage! At that time, the Parisian opera also fostered a creative exchange between German and French cultures. German composers such as Meyerbeer and Offenbach flocked to Paris and developed their international careers from there. Likewise, French composers were deeply influenced by German literary works – basing operas such as Massenet’s Werther and Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust on “best-sellers”; Kaufmann has selected scenes from both works for his new album. Often new operas would travel to German opera houses and beyond, after a successful run at the Paris Opéra.
This Franco-German connection is particularly appealing for Kaufmann: “Offenbach’s Hoffmann is, I think, an ideal symbiosis between German profundity and French imagination. And Jules Massenet captured the psychological depths of Goethe’s Werther with so many shades and hues that it’s beyond reproach. So in this respect I feel fully at home in it.”
This recording was made with Kaufmann’s award-winning “hometown” orchestra The Bavarian State Orchestra based in Munich, with whom he performs year-round, conducted by Bertrand de Billy who is an expert in the selected repertoire. Baritone Ludovic Tézier is Kaufmann’s duet partner in “Au fond du temple saint” from Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de perles, and soprano Sonya Yoncheva joins Kaufmann for two scenes from Massenet’s Manon.
Jonas recently was in Sydney performing with Opera Australia in Wagner’s Parsifal at the Sydney Opera House.
LP1 Side 1
1. GOUNOD · ROMÉO ET JULIETTE - “L’amour! … Ah! lève-toi, soleil!”
2 JULES MASSENET · WERTHER - “Traduire… Ah! bien souvent … Pourquoi me réveiller, ô souffle du printemps?”
3 AMBROISE THOMAS · MIGNON - “Elle ne croyait pas, dans sa candeur naïve”
4 GEORGES BIZET · CARMEN - “Je le veux! Carmen, tu m’entendras! … La fleur que tu m’avais jetée”
LP1 Side B
1 GEORGES BIZET · LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES - “C’est toi, toi qu’enfin je revois! … Au fond du temple saint”
2 ÉDOUARD LALO · LE ROI D’YS - “Puisqu’on ne peut fléchir … Vainement, ma bien-aimée”
3 JACQUES OFFENBACH · LES CONTES D’HOFFMANN - “Ô Dieu, de quelle ivresse”
4 GIACOMO MEYERBEER · L’AFRICAINE - “Pays merveilleux! … Ô paradis”
LP 2 Side A
1 JULES MASSENET · MANON - “Enfin, Manon, nous voilà seuls ensemble! … En fermant les yeux, je vois là-bas”
2 JULES MASSENET · MANON - “Toi! Vous! … N’est-ce plus ma main que cette main presse”
3 JULES MASSENET · LE CID - “Ah! tout est bien fini! … Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père”
LP 2 Side B
1 FROMENTAL HALÉVY · LA JUIVE - “Rachel, quand du Seigneur”
2 HECTOR BERLIOZ · LA DAMNATION DE FAUST - “Merci, doux crépuscule!”
3 HECTOR BERLIOZ · LES TROYENS - “Inutiles regrets! Je dois quitter Carthage!”