The “legitimate” Puccini album,
released in September by Sony Classical, offers a few rarities alongside the mainstays of the tenor repertoire, with classic arias from Tosca and La Bohème presented alongside lesser-known arias from the earliest operas, Le Villi and Edgar, all culminating in a
Kaufmann-esque, characteristically heartfelt “Nessun Dorma” on the final track. Throughout the sixteen tracks, the orchestra and chorus of the
Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, conducted passionately if at times unevenly by Antonio Pappano, underscores the raw triumph and tragedy of
Puccini’s various operas.
In addition to the title track, the excerpts from Puccini’s third opera, Manon Lescaut, stand out by virtue of their placement as the
opening of the recording, made more significant by the fact that they are the only pieces to appear out of chronological order. (Perhaps Kaufmann’s
portrayal of Des Grieux at the Met Opera this season has something to do with this.) Kaufmann’s rich and plaintive “Donna non vidi mai”
effectively sets the tone for the recording, spotlighting the technical and intuitive strength of which Kaufmann is capable and snatching the
listener’s ears into the piercing warmth and lucidity of his vocal sound world. Three other selections from this opera drive home this impression,
especially the electrifying “Oh, sarò la più bella!”, the duet in which Kaufmann’s Des Grieux falls in love with the temptress
Manon Lescaut (here sung glowingly by Kristine Opolais). Indeed, Kaufmann states in the liner notes that the electricity he felt among the orchestra,
conductor, and Opolais was so strong that they “had the feeling from the opening bar: only one take needed!”
The dip back into the past after Manon Lescaut, with selections from Puccini’s first two operas, is most welcome. In “Ei giunge!…
Torna ai felici dì” from Le Villi, the orchestra’s whispers, which gradually turn into rumbles, eventually blend with
Kaufmann’s searing voice, which provides depth and variety to the occasionally syrupy phrasing during the orchestra’s later passages.
Throughout the similarly melancholy “Orgia, chimera dall’occhio vitreo” from Edgar, the blustering orchestra is balanced by
Kaufmann’s more delicate vocals and a sweetly lilting oboe solo. The inclusion of these two operas manages to hold the listener’s attention
after the gripping Manon Lescaut introduction, even managing to sustain interest through the more run-of-the-mill selections that follow. The expected
excerpts from Tosca and Madama Butterfly are fittingly triumphant, while “O Soave Fanciulla” from La Bohème
—another successful duet with Opolais, whose voice searingly overlaps and intertwines with Kaufmann’s—flickers with the incandescent hope
and warmth of Mimì’s candle.
But the strongest tracks are from the final operas: La Fanciulla del West, La Rondine, Il Trittico, and Turandot.
Despite imbalanced orchestra dynamics that flip-flop between overpowering and anemic, the two selections from La Fanciulla del West are still
quite moving; Kaufmann’s masterful renditions of “Una parola sola!…or son sei mesi” and “Risparmiate lo scherno…ch’ella
mi creda libero” refuse to get drowned out by their accompaniment. The passage from Gianni Schicchi, typically sung by a light tenor, feels
fluid and emotionally resonant in Kaufmann’s skillful hands, while the two final tracks, both from Turandot, kick the tragic overtones into
high gear and allow for a suitably robust close to the album. Despite the vague splotches of unevenness within the orchestra and conducting, the recording
proves an exemplary portrait not only of Kaufmann as a vocalist, but of the trajectory of Puccini’s artistic legacy.
Rebecca S. Lentjes
product_title=Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album (Deluxe Edition)
product_by= Jonas Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais. Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano, cond.
product_id=Sony 509248 [2CDs]