Jonas Kaufmann: ‘The trouble with Anna was, the director didn’t speak English’

Jonas Kaufmann: ‘The trouble with Anna was, the director didn’t speak English’


norman lebrecht

January 05, 2015

The tenor has been explaining why Anna Netrebko (who speaks little German) pulled out of their Manon Lescaut in Novmber.

‘There were communication problems,’ he reveals. ‘Hans Neuenfels does not speak English and that became part of a really tedious rehearsal process. At times I, too, was getting desperate.’

Full interview here (auf Deutsch).

kaufmann netrebko


  • anon says:

    I could see that being frustrating for Russian musicians who already to have to learn English, but — isn’t she an “Austrian” citizen? …

    • Simon S. says:

      Yes, she is. Austrian law states that the government may concede citizensip without any preconditions for special merits.

      In other words: Some fellows hoped for some Netrebko glamour to shine on Austria. And the diva gladly accepted a passport which (unlike the one of her home country, which she retains of course) grants her visa-free travel througout the western world. That’s it.

      • Gertrude Forstner says:

        I’m a German language teacher, and I know how difficult our language is. Did you ever think of how difficult it is to sing in French, Italian, Russian and she also sings German songs, you cant expect her to master the language perfectly – I know a lot of people who have by far less on their schedule and time plan and are still battling. As an Austrian I feel priviledged to listen to her in Salzburg and Vienna live. She is such a great artist and she brings sparkle into our city. She brings a lot of revenues to this country – people from abroad come, just to listen to her. I wish we had more expatriates like her.

  • Jenny B says:

    I watched Jonas on Arte-tv last night, singing, or rather crooning, songs from 1930 Berlin. I thought he looked ill, thin and strained. Why is he doing this horrible stuff? Is it for money?

    • sdReader says:

      Define “crooning” – but exactly!

      I bet you cannot.

    • Jeroenw says:

      Ever since I first noticed Jonas a few years ago I’ve been amazed at his voice and his inclination to pick really annoying material to sing. I’ve loved him in some of the bigger productions, I really dislike the things he picks out for himself.
      Matter of taste of course.

  • Anon says:

    This being an Italian Opera and both experienced pros in the opera biz, couldn’t they use Italian as lingua franca?

  • Max Grimm says:

    Neuenfels was born before it was customary for us to start learning English as early as Year 4 (and it being a requirement for many to most occupations) and considering that he hardly if ever works outside of the German speaking realm, I don’t find his inability to speak much English shocking at all.

  • David Freedman says:

    I think it is perfectly legitimate for a director in a German speaking opera house to expect to direct a production in the German language. It is the artist’s responsibility to be able to speak the language of the country in which s/he is working or for this issue to have been addressed prior to signing the contract.

    • Anca Nitu Balinisteanu says:

      Hi! I’m an opera singer – actually I’m a flutist,but I study canto till 6 years and I want to be a good singer 🙂 Well,I think is to much to know all the languages in the world!! It’s already very difficult to pronounce and learn operas in other languages,you know,it’s a lot of work!!! I don’t want to have the responsibility to know all the languages from all country’s ill sing,that’s crazy :))) but,anyway,I don’t have to worry-ill never sing on the big stages in all countries :)))) Nice to meet you here 🙂

  • Anon says:

    I know that very well. But if they couldn’t agree on English, they should both be able to fall back to Italian, shouldn’t they? This is opera after all…

    • Max Grimm says:

      Those days are long gone. We are living in the age of opera companies and orchestras being labeled as jingoistic or even xenophobic for demanding that those seeking employment be able to speak the language of the respective institution’s country.

    • Gerhard says:

      Do you seriously expect Mr. Neuenfels, who apparently has no command of English, to be able to conduct a rehearsal in Italian? He is a stage director which in our days doesn’t mean that he necessarily has to have any relation to opera at all.

      • Anon says:

        I’m serious… he is staging an Italian libretto. It’s impossible to do it professionally without grasping also the linguistic nuances and subtleties of the libretto. Now define “professionally” when it comes to stage direction in opera, I know…

  • Robert Holmén says:

    So much for “music, the international language”

  • Will Moseng says:

    Mr. Freedman: utter nonsense. Many German theaters are well equipped to handle various levels of proficiency in the language. Or none. Directing assistants can virtually jog find jobs in larger German theaters, and are often doubling as interpreters, as do staff musicians and conductors. Also, as an internationally renowned soprano, Netrebko isn’t required to learn the languages of every country she sings in. She isn’t a Fest singer. However, 40 years ago, most international conductors could work in multiple languages. A few embarrassing exceptions ( I heard Levine rehearse the Vienna a Philharmonic in English! So much for his cred in the German repertoire!) do not make the rule. Neuenfels should be able to work in other languages. Although Robert Carsen usually rehearses in English…….

  • kitty says:

    Looking at a few clips of his productions – he doesn’t care about what composers thought or wanted nor does he care about libretto. All he cares about is showing his half-baked “concepts”.

    Search youtube for Nabucco Bees. Maybe regie-trash fans could explain what are the exact “concept” there is?

  • ..... says:

    My question is: If she knew she was going to work with a German conductor, didn’t she know if he could speak english? I mean, if she knows she doesn’t speak german and she is working with a German conductor, at least she could have asked if the man could speak english. How did she think she was going to work with someone she can’t even communicate with? That’s insane….perhaps she thought it was not a big deal, but in the end she even had to withdraw from the production. Poor Jonas must have been the translator between Anna and Neuenfels and that must be really frustrating.