Tuesday 16 February 2016

Jonas Kaufmann: An Evening With Puccini


Photo: Gregor Hohenberg - The Telegraph
 My parents are huge fans of German tenor Jonas Kaufmann and his concert DVD You Mean the World to Me is often played in our house. Although until a few nights ago I was not too familiar with opera, I could tell his voice was amazing.

 So when last week Arts Alliance asked if I would like to see his new film, An Evening With Puccini, I was of course delighted. It was to be shown at, among many other places, the Odeon in the Printworks, Manchester, which was handy for me.

 Chinese New Year having just gone, Manchester city centre was a sea of red lanterns, setting the scene for an exotic and exciting night. I navigated the maze of escalators in the Odeon and settled down, ready to be enchanted.

 Before the concert we were treated to a brief interview between Kaufmann and Clemency Burton-Hill, in which the tenor explained how he chose to devote an evening to Puccini as the latter was so expert in conjuring up and playing with human emotion. They also hinted at a surprise to come.

 The film proper begins with Jonas striding purposefully through Milan to dramatic music, which could have been very cheesy but somehow works. He arrives at the La Scala opera house and is visually moved by its golden majesty, charged atmosphere and six levels of seating.

 He introduces the conductor, Jochen Rieder. The amiability and mutual respect between the two men is one of the strongest elements of the film. We meet the orchestra, who play a prelude, over which Jonas tells the life of Puccini. His love for the composer is very evident.

 Kaufmann then walks on-stage to rapture from the audience and performs his first aria. His voice is strong and confident, his acting solid and his joy at telling the story, of sharing something he loves, is radiant.

 The show proceeds fairly methodically: the orchestra will perform an instrumental piece, then Kaufmann will take the stage and perform an aria, then there will be another instrumental and another aria. However, methodical as it is, the evening feels very natural and rings with emotion.

 A range of operas are covered, with pieces from Manon Lescaut, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and La fanciulla del West.

 Of course, he has to end with Nessun dorma, which he performs with gusto. Having heard it many times, I was pleasantly surprised that his version made me feel something I hadn't previously. On the last notes of "I will win", I felt such a power and determination coming from his voice, from him, that it filled me with hope and the idea that maybe I could win, too.

 Finally, of course, come the numerous encores including the surprise hinted at earlier. While I won't spoil it, I will say I'm glad that it was left in the film and that instead of putting Kaufmann off as it could well have done, he embraced it and made it work in quite a positive way.

 The film ended quite abruptly but left me feeling like I had been transported to another place and time - to the point where on my way out, I honestly kept having to remind myself I was in Manchester and not Milan.

 It was a unique experience which has inspired me to watch and listen to more opera and to see more event cinema.

 Thanks for reading,

 Liz x

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