|Goethe, with more brooding than this album provides (Tischbein, 1787)|
Once one gets beyond the cover design, with its font that could have been taken from a deliberately retro New York pizzeria, stereotype is less prevalent. Still, the album is not particularly adventurous. It doesn't explore uncharted territory. Reproaching any project for not doing something that it never set out to do may be a reviewer's cardinal error. But as a listener, I hope for more adventurous things from one of opera's biggest stars. It could be a great tool for opera evangelism. It makes great listening in the car, or while making dinner. Still. That Kaufmann is capable of melting sweetness, as in "Parlami d'amore, Mariù," is not, at this point, news. The same may even be said of twists of bitter irony, or almost savage resignation, as in the standards "Caruso" and "Core 'Ngrato." I did, of course, welcome these dark undertones in a repertoire usually marketed as the musical equivalent of sunshine and sparkling wine, both unlimited.
The virtues of this album, while not insignificant, fail to excite me. The smooth orchestral sound, and the responsive dynamic variation achieved by Palermo's forces under Asher Fisch, are both delightful. And I'd rather have heard them lavished on, say, an odd, neglected verismo opera--surely Kaufmann's captain in La Navarraise would be worth hearing. I was unsurprised that Kaufmann paid close attention to the Italian dialects represented on the album. But couldn't this linguistic ability be turned to, say... Russian? There's a long tradition of recording this repertoire, from Caruso to Pavarotti and beyond. Charles Castronovo's engaging album, reviewed here, is a more creative riff on the genre than Dolce Vita. It's not that Kaufmann's is a superficial contribution. And I recognize that it's a matter of taste that I prefer weird German orchestration and songs about bitterness and loss and death. But I can't help wishing that such an unusual talent as Jonas Kaufmann's might be dedicated to popularizing some more unusual repertoire. One of the most pleasing discoveries of the album was the agility and playfulness--musical and textual--in "Voglio vivere così." So, should Kaufmann wish to prolong his sojourn on the sunnier side of the opera and opera-adjacent repertoire, comedy would seem to be a possibility! At this point in his career, surely he could commission work, as well. But I hope he gets back to darkness, or at least chiaroscuro, soon.