One of the world's top tenors, feted on opera and concert stages across the world, Kaufmann looks back on a quarter century of stellar singing — and shows no sign of slowing down.
Verdi's La Forza del Destino in London's Royal Opera House, March 2019: Jonas Kaufmann is "The Force of Destiny," embodied by the character Don Alvaro. In one scene, he bursts into a room and serenades Leonora, depicted by Anna Netrebko, with the words: "My beautiful angel...when I hold you in my arms, the world will rejoice with me."
Rejoiced the world has, most especially at Kaufmann's fame and glory. Flashy, high-profile and with a pervasive media presence, Kaufmann has brains and brawn, technique and charisma — and a characteristic husky tenor that goes to the heart.
His 50th birthday on July 10 is being marked in more than 200 movie theaters in Germany, Austria and Switzerland with "An Italian Night – Live from the Waldbühne," the film documentation of an enthusiastically-received performance Kaufmann gave at that Berlin venue in the summer of 2018.
With Kristine Opolais as Manon Lescaut in the opera of that name by Puccini, performing at the Bavarian State Oper in 2014
Two days later, he returns to the stage of the Bavarian State Opera in his home town of Munich in a production of Verdi's Othello. And on July 18, Kaufmann is scheduled to sing at the Palace Festival in Regensburg — for which fans have been trading tickets priced up to €600 ($670).
The busy schedule is nothing new for the star tenor. Twenty-five years on the stage and counting, Jonas Kaufmann mentioned in an interview with Der Spiegel: "If I didn't believe that deep down inside of me, I wanted to make an impact somewhere, I would not have worked so hard all those years. Even so, one can never really depend too much on success."
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From Munich to the world
Jonas Kaufmann may not be complacent, but he's among the biggest names in opera. A darling of the media, Kaufmann obliges interview requests with a fluency in various languages: Italian, French, English or German, the latter colored by a very slight southern accent.
Born in Munich in 1969, the Bavarian native initially studied mathematics but eventually found himself at the Munich Academy for Music and Theater. After graduating in 1994, he sang at the Saarland State Theater in Saarbrücken for two years, gaining extended experience in lyric tenor roles.
In the new millennium, Kaufmann gradually conquered the world's major opera stages, from Paris, Brussels, Milan and Munich to Salzburg, New York, London, Vienna and Berlin. Beginning with lyrical roles, he gradually progressed to the heroic tenor category: from Mozart and Verdi to Wagner — notably in his premiere at the Bayreuth Festival 2010 in the title role of Lohengrin. The previous year, his rendition of the role in Munich had earned him the title Singer of the Year.
Operatic singing requires endurance, and Kaufmann has shown great stamina over the years. In 2018 alone, he performed in Japan and the US, but not only there: His Italian Songbook tour took him across Europe from Germany, Austria and Hungary to France, Spain and the UK. He sang at the Life Ball in Vienna and the Waldbühne in Berlin, gave recitals in Moscow, a show at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and starred in a new production of Verdi's Othello in Munich.
It was a comeback with a vengeance: for several months in 2016, an inflammation of the vocal chords had put him out of commission.
A celebrity with a touch of humanity, Kaufmann speaks openly about how he feels adrenaline before every performance: "It's no real nervousness, just a little bit of excitement. And the blood pressure goes up a little bit, which helps you to get in character for the performance. Nothing to be worried about, usually!"
Once called "Mr. Elusive" for having cancelled three shows in New York due to illness and a desire to spend more time with his family, Kaufmann is generally excused for cancelling performances due to his consistently high singing quality. Newly married to the operatic stage director Christiane Lutz, his family, including his four children — three from a previous marriage – today live outside Munich.
Will Jonas Kaufmann's 50th birthday milestone mark a gradual reduction in his performance output? To date, nothing points to this singer's slowing down. And if Strauss, Verdi or Wagner were alive today, the much vaunted tenor might have been among their favorites too.