The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: It is Wagner Week with the Middleton Community Orchestra tonight and the Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD” production of “Parsifal” with German tenor Jonas Kaufmann this Saturday. | February 27, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

It almost seems like Wagner Week in Madison, a good time to start this year’s bicentennial celebration of the birth of the still controversial and larger-than-life composer.

Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will perform two well-known excerpts: “Elsa’s Procession” from “Lohengrin” and “Siegfried’s Funeral Music” from the last Ring opera, “Gotterdammering” or “The Twilight of the Gods.”

Admission is $10 adults, student are free. For information about tickets and joining or supporting the orchestra and about the program, visit:

Middleton Community Orchestra by William Ballhorn

Then on this Saturday, the next production of “Live From the Met in HD” will offer Wagner’s last opera “Parsifal,” in an acclaimed updated staging by Francois Girard for the Metropolitan Opera, at the Point and Eastgate cinemas.

Much of the music by Wagner (below) is hauntingly beautiful — I love the Prelude — though at 5 hour and 40 minutes, it will be a long, long afternoon, starting at 11 a.m. and ending at almost 5 p.m.

Richard Wagner

The title role of the innocent Knight of the Round Table who quests to find The Holy Grail will be sung by the young Munich-raised, German tenor Jonas Kaufman, which is pronounced “Yonas KaufmaHn.” (Below is a preview of his Kaufmann’s performance in “Parsifal” from a video on YouTube.)

And here is a review by senior critic Anthony Tommasini who calls the new production “brilliant”:

Here is a link with more details, including a synopsis (if you can follow it) and a cast list as well as a video:

Perhaps like me, you last saw Kaufman last season in the Met’s latest production of Wagner’s “The Ring.”

This young singer (below) seems to have everything. He is handsome and trim, so he is visually believable in both heroic and romantic roles on stage. He acts well. He sings superbly and beautifully. And to top it all off, he is smart and very articulate.

jonas kaufmann leather coat

Decca has just released a terrific album by Kaufmann simply called “Wagner” (below) that includes music from all the major periods, early to late, of Wagner’s amazing artistic output. The music includes excerpts from The Ring and other operas as well as the early “Wesendonck Songs.”

Now, I am not a big Wagnerite, or a Wagnerite at all, really. Small doses do me just fine. I love his orchestral overtures more than I do his entire operas, which sit with me much like a 15-course dinner. For me, Wagner suffers from opera gourmandise.

But I am enthralled with Kaufmann’s Wagner, and think his album, in which Kaufmann is partnered with Donald Runnicles conducting the German State Opera Orchestra and Chorus, is a great candidate for a Grammy next year, much like Renee Fleming’s CD of French songs, which won this year.

Kaufmann Wagner CD

Why do I like Kaufmann’s Wagner’s singing so much? Well, he always seems pitch-perfect, and I love his big sound and rich tone coupled to relative lack of vibrato. He never shows a sense of strain or exaggeration, which you cannot say of many Wagnerian Heldentenors.

Kaufmann’s talent seems so comprehensive and total. To me he is the perfect and natural blend of the Italian and German opera styles, of the lyrical and the profound. He should have a very great future. Perhaps Jonas Kaufmann is the German Pavarotti.

Jonas Kaufmann face

I am especially impressed by an interview he recently did on National Public Radio to promote his CD and the upcoming opera appearance. Kaufman recalls how he came to Wagner in his youth and in his family; but he also understands and does not shy away from the anti-Semitism of this great composer or how Hitler’s Third Reich used and abused Wagner. I like his candor, and his appeal to let the music speak for itself apart from the composer.

Here is a link to that interview:

I think Jonas Kaufmann’s time has come. The Ear predicts that this year or next, he will break out into The Really Big Time — and maybe even superstardom.

What do you think of Jonas Kauffman?

And of Wagner?

And, of course, of Jonas Kauffman’s new recording “Wagner”?

The Ear wants to hear.

1 Comment »

  1. “A Wagner Celebration” original music (NOT transcriptions) based on the RING, TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, and RIENZI by the highly acclaimed composer pianist DANIEL ABRAMS. Written in the style of the composer, as if Wagner had written the operas as piano music. Hear excerpts from “Musical Portraits on Wagner’s RING (Brunnhilde & Siegfried) on YouTube

    Comment by sonia sudak — February 27, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

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