Jonas Kaufmann’s Tristan: first reviews and video

Jonas Kaufmann’s Tristan: first reviews and video


norman lebrecht

April 07, 2018

With Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony.

From Boston Classical Review:

Jonas Kaufmann and Camilla Nylund were each making role debuts as the title doomed lovers.

Both are prominent Wagnerians, having performed lead roles at the Bayreuth Festival, the Metropolitan Opera and in many of Europe’s major houses. And both, too, possess a warm tone that captured a sense of stirring humanity in Wagner’s lush score. The Liebesnacht featured the two singers in some of the most poignant moments of the evening as each delivered Wagner’s soulful duet with soft yet radiant lines.

Kaufmann, who has drawn critical acclaim for his performances of Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera, also sang with power and depth in the opening of the scene between the two lovers. Bold and ringing clearly, his voice brought a genuine heldentenor quality to the role.

In the portions of the act that demand powerful singing, Nylund, unfortunately, had trouble filling the hall. Her voice is rich and brilliant but it lacked the power and intensity to cut through Wagner’s thick orchestration in her opening scene.

From the Boston Globe:

Standing behind music stands on opposite sides of the podium, Kaufmann and Nylund sang their impassioned duet while facing the audience oratorio-style, and both of them relied heavily on their vocal scores. 

Within that scope Kaufmann delivered, despite a few less steady moments. Certainly when he telegraphed Tristan’s ardor with ringing tenorial power, or when he sang of night’s gentle charms with beautifully shaded tones that somehow combined tenderness and intensity, you sensed the winning Tristan he could eventually become. Nylund, who is also still finding her way into this daunting role, sang honorably and at her best moments, registered her character’s impatient ecstasies with bright vocal radiance. 

Photo: Hilary Scott/BCMR

Listen to a performance clip:


  • Caravaggio says:

    A friend who attended said Kaufmann and Nylund were stuck to their music scores and that there was zippo chemistry between them. Worse, that both were often covered by the orchestra. Zeppenfeld, who sang without score, however, is said to have walked away with the show.

    • Waltraud Riegler says:

      Zeppenfeld often performed Marke on stage, Nylund and Kaufmann made their roledebuts…………..

      • Martin says:

        So what? They performed in public, a certain preparation could be expected. For a passionate character of an opera that is to sing without a score. Especially in a place like this. This was not a try-out on Garry, Indiana.

        • Caravaggio says:

          In agreement. You do the sing-with-a-score business in the hinterlands, away from the limelight, but not for high profile and much publicized and anticipated gigs. It is lazy and inconsiderate, not least to their responsibility as artists to bring their assigned roles to life in front of a physical audience, let alone a worldwide audience of radio listeners. No singer can ever sound free and spontaneous with their noses on their music stands.

          • Waltraud Riegler says:

            Saw crowds of so called star-singers using scores. Why not at an role debut in a concert version?

            Conductors mostly appear with scores……………

            When Pappano conducted AIDA in Rome after the CD recording, all singers used scoes and noone blamed them…..

        • Olassus says:

          It’s Gary, if you are going to insult the place.

        • Maria says:

          A bit of a cruel statement! It’s not as if they’re singing Vivaldi’s Gloria for the first time and that Tristan is the only work they have! It was a concert performance and probably three performances at the most or even just the one. Pays to be kind to our singers and not keep slating them for the sake of it to show some kind iof pseudo-superiority from an armchair. You don’t understand the circumstances by the sound of it or the nature of the demands of the profession, made more and more difficult by mindless criticism. No wonder singers keep cancelling!

    • Andrew Powell says:

      Zeppenfeld has a wonderful voice but is a bore.

      Great expressive basses today: Groissböck, Bretz, Tagliavini, Tsymbalyuk. We live in rich times for this voice group.

    • MarikaB says:

      30 years ago the singers didn’t even act in a staged opera, 20 yrs ago nobody acted or showed chemistry in a concert. Today the audience is spoiled. In a concert, the quality of the music is important and that was outstanding, based on yesterday broadcast.
      Singing from the score: In Europe I was used concert soloists played their parts in piano or violin or other concertos without scores. Nowadays most of them have the music in front of them on a stand. So why not the singers?

    • Mahood says:

      They did sing with scores, much as Yo-Yo Ma played with a score the week before. Kaufmann was great. Your cantankerous friend may have thought their noses where in the scores the whole time, but they weren’t. They knew the music very well, and would only check the scores from time to time. I agree that Nylund was a bit less exciting.

  • Olassus says:

    “a few less steady moments”

    Does he mean “a few unsteady moments”?
    If not, what were they “less steady” than?

    • Terence says:

      Less steady than the steady moments perhaps?

      But I agree it’s poor journalism. Did the notes crack, or falter or fade …

      • MWnyc says:

        It means that “unsteady” seemed too strong a word by itself (people would take it to mean wobbling way off-pitch or off-rhythm) — and, more likely than not, that the extra letters in something like “slightly unsteady” would push the review over the space limit.

        Yes, it would have been good for Jeremy to be more specific about cracking or faltering or fading or whatever, and I’d imagine that Jeremy thinks so, too. But that kind of specificity often has to be sacrificed to get a review to fit into the allotted space in the printed paper.

        (And remember, more background about the piece being performed has to be included in a review for a general-interest newspaper than would be necessary on a classical-music/opera blog like Slipped Disc.)

        To wit if – obviously I don’t know that this is how it happened, but it’s a very typical scenario – the review has been submitted and is being edited, but it’s 20 minutes past deadline, the production people are tapping their fingers waiting for the finalized text, and the review is just 2 or 3 lines (say, 10 to 15 words) over length, words have to be shaved, and shaved quickly. So “slightly unsteady” (which was originally “slightly unsteady in pitch and rhythm” but was already cut once) becomes “less steady” — and that could be half a line right there.

        And yeah, you’d think that, these days, a paper could run an unshaven (as it were) longer review on its website and a shaven one on paper. I know of at least one newspaper where that was the policy in theory. In practice, most newspapers these days are so short-staffed that nobody has time to process two different versions of the same article.


    A nuanced review from the Boston Musical Intelligencer:

  • MacroV says:

    I know this is sacrilege, but who cares how they sang? How did the BSO play?

  • Stephen Owades says:

    The second Boston performance, on Saturday night (April 7), was live-streamed on, and will be repeated on Monday night, April 16 at 8pm Eastern Daylight Time (5 hours behind BST), for those who want to hear the performance of Tristan for themselves.

  • Mark says:

    The Cleveland Orchestra is performing the entire Tristan in concert in two weeks. Gerhard Siegel is Tristan. Not the star marquee name as Kaufman, but an experienced Tristan. Nina Stemme is Isolde.

    • Olassus says:

      He has been a Mime, I think. He might be good actually … . Also there is Ain Anger as Marke!

      • Tristan says:

        But a bore in the pit and sorry guys no comparison between Anger and fabulous Zeppenfeld – finally good diction for us German speaking. Ebery word Jonas and Zeppi sang was understood – the weak point was overrated Nelsons and he can’t match Thielemann or Petrenko the tow only great Wagner conductors around.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    I was at the concert Thursday night. Camilla Nylund did not make a strong case for being cast as Isolde. Kaufmann had a rough first half, but when the love duet came, his voice opened up and one could understand why he has such a reputation. But it was a wildly uneven performance from him, and one would not have walked away thinking that he is a natural Tristan. Neither Nylund nor Kaufmann made even a minimal effort at having a stage presence, and yes, their eyes were buried in their scores in front of them.

    Georg Zeppenfeld did steal the show, and Mihoko Fujimura as Brangane was also excellent.

    I love the BSO, and they have been playing at such a consistently outstanding level during the Nelsons era, but what was clear was that while they may have played the music, they were not inside it. Probably few of them had ever played Tristan before other than the Prelude/Liebestod, and it showed, not in any manner of sloppiness or coarseness, but a lack of finesse and nuance, which is what makes all the difference.

    Still, there were moments of real magic Thursday night. But they were not sustained, and they were intermittent. I enjoyed it, but it was far from a great performance all around.

  • Isabel Pato says:

    2nd performance, 07.04,2018.. Why not hear the performance, instead of commenting reviews of reviews ? Here you have the recording, Enjoy !
    click and download
    And you can also listen next April 16 at 8pm Eastern Daylight,

  • AnnaN says:

    Perhaps Jonas Kaufmann’s preparation for these Tristan and Isolde concerts was affected by the fact that his mother died.

    • Waltraud Riegler says:

      Do not think so.
      He works on Tristan for long. But as usual he is careful when he enters a new role and for that he uses a score, especially at a concert version, where it is possible.
      Staging and actin was not the purpose on that series of concerts.

  • Edgar says:

    Dear friends, greetings from Boston. I heard the performance yesterday, Saturday, April 7. Together with friends I had a seat in the back row, middle section, second balcony – as far as one gets to be from the stage at Boston Symphony Hall. Sadly, I need to report that not only Camilla Nylund but also Jonas Kaufmann had trouble filling the hall, especially when Wagner demanded a voluminous orchestra. Regrettably, the two singers were not placed next to each other to the left of Andris Nelsons, which, in addition to each holding on to their music stand and score, prevented anything remotely like passion to evolve. More troublesome was the fact that I, as a German speaker, was disappointed by the lack of clarity of diction by both protagonists. To Wagnerians’ delight, Mihoko Fujimora (Brangäne) and Georg Zeppenfeld (King Marke) saved the show and honored the Boston audience with deeply impressive emotional engagement and vocal splendor. Their disction was as clear and crips as one could wish for, and from where I sat I could hear and understand every single word. This was the absolute world-class Wagnerian art of singing . I wish Mrs Nylund and Mr Kaufmann well for their future venture(s) into Wagner, yet, they were not quite yet Isolde and Tristan during the performance I hear, which will have a repeat soon at Carnegie Hall. “Wer weisss, wie das wird….”

  • bulkley says:

    I was in the 8th row Saturday night. True that Nylund started shaky, but let’s remember that she and Kaufmann jumped into the 2nd act of the opera, in medias res, and not with the usual dress or stage blockings. Given that it was the uncut version, with Wagner spinning line after line, advancing and retreating, going on seemingly forever about night and day, dark and light, your name/my name, who lives, who dies, no wait! let’s start again and this time you be Tristan and I’ll be Isolde….well, it’s the hours that count, and it was electrifying. In the end, it’s how one connects with the audience, and that audience jumped to its feet immediately and clapped thunderously. Memorable performance. (Yes, Fujimora was fantastic; Zeppenfeld excellent).

  • Karin Gennert says:

    I wonder whose idea it was to place the two lovers apart from each other, with the very large (in a flowing garment) figure of the conductor, ever moving, bending, dancing, between them? No possible chance for chemistry between them in such a situation, and I am still somewhat resentful that I hardly saw Kaufmann at all, except for the final scene. Aren’t soloists usually placed well in front of the orchestra rather than practically embedded ? My real delight came with the recording in which Kaufmann’s clear diction and wonderfully nuanced singing came through. Zeppenfeld and Fujimura, on the other hand, became less exciting.

  • MarikaB says:

    Boston radio broadcast available on CD at Premiere Opera.

  • mannail888 says:

    Approximately a decade ago, they (big gun impresarios, international
    entertainment conglomerate specialized in classical music and so-called
    critics affiliated with mass media corporation) did it with that Mexican
    clown. Seeing that Mexican clown is throwing in the white towel after
    repeated throat surgeries, these people are trying to do it all over
    again by catapulting another under-par so-called singer into tenor
    superstardom. Of course the chosen one needs to be a cunning businessman
    who’s blessed with matinee idol bearing and the physique of a male
    model, one whose ambition in reaching the top takes precedence over
    everything, including the attainment of art, one who’s well versed in
    the art of prostituting art, but cares little, and probably knows
    nothing, about arts. He also needs to have a personality that is as
    affable as it is weird because he has to understand the fine art of
    boot-licking and abusing the hand (the fans) that feeds him all in the
    same time. Then, a star or more accurately, a pseudo opera star, is
    born. Kaufmann’s groupie and that Mexican clown’s are probably the most
    wretched people in the world because they choose a fate that’s more
    abhorrent than reveling in drenching themselves in a tub composed of toxins and human secretion (the unsavory kind): they choose to indulge themselves in something akin to committing necrophilia.