‘Can’t hear you!’ they shouted at Jonas Kaufmann

‘Can’t hear you!’ they shouted at Jonas Kaufmann


norman lebrecht

January 14, 2019

The good burghers of Hamburg are not universally renowned for their sweet nature and delicate manners but some of them went way over the top at Jonas Kaufmann’s Saturday concert at the Elbphilharmonie.

There was a steady drift of early leavers, accompanied by shouts of ‘can’t hear you!’

Other audience members are said to have wandered around looking for a better seat.

More here.


UPDATE: Kaufmann ‘may not sing again’ at Elbphilharmonie.


  • Caravaggio says:

    No, not the hall’s fault but the singer’s. The crooning and false pianissimi, in other words, the mannerisms have taken a toll.

    • waltraud becker says:

      Have You ever sat at Elbphilharmonie behind the singer AND THE MAHLER ORCHESTRA? Stemme and a lot of other singers had the same “prolem” in that hall……

      • Jean says:

        It’s not only in that hall, it’s evefyhrere : when you seat behind the singer and orchestra, it’s not exactly a surprise that the acoustic is not that great…

        • Tamino says:

          well, apparently it’s a surprise for people who order and pay 800 mio. Euro for such a design…
          Did anyone say ‘idiots’? I didn’t, or did I?

    • waltraud becker says:

      I have been at the two previous performances of Das Lied von der Erde in München and Nürnberg, no problem at all……

    • Stella Maria Krazelberg says:

      There is no crooning or false pianissimi required in “Das Lied”. The first and third song for the tenor are, for the most part, full of forte bursts of vocalism.

  • Kaufmann ! says:

    oh, you really do not like him ? he is a great singer – don t treat him like this. the places behind the orchestra in the Elbphilharmonie : you here only Horns and doublebasses, if there is an organ involved you will be deaf afterwards, impossible to follow the singer – soloists. that s it . apart from that the hall is great. Kaufmann is great, as well.

    • Tamino says:

      ‘apart from that the hall is great’
      haha, made my day.
      It’s all horse manure, but besides that, it’s a product of a 100% vegetarian diet, so it’s “great”.

      • Kaufmann says:

        don t get me wrong, the hall has great things to offer: for complex orchestral music of the 20ths/21st century AND for chamber Music or smaller groups. it s not a hall for a warm romantic sound if it isn t a really great orchestra and conductor .

  • Tamino says:

    Clearly such halls are to see, not to hear.
    You get what you ask and pay for.
    In this an architecture of a concert hall, that puts 2/3 of the audience in a seat that is in a bad position to hear a solo singer. (unlike a traditional horse shoe shaped opera house, or a shoebox concert hall, which allows for almost all seats decent sound of the singers)

    Probably they asked very high prices for the tickets behind the singer as well. I would be angry too, if I was charged premium prices for the privilege of looking at Jonas Kaufmann’s backside and hairdo.

    Concert impressarios in Hamburg: For solo voice go to Laeiszhalle. Not to this circus maximus in Elbphilharmonie.

  • Paul says:

    I am a huge Kaufmann fan but some time ago stopped attending his recitals (as opposed to his opera performances) because I simply could not hear him. For decades I had no trouble hearing singers like Ludwig, Fischer-Disakau and others from the top seats in Carnegie Hall, but Kaufmann was another story. His first Carnegie Hall recital was just inaudible. I can certainly understand that as a serious artist he did not want to bawl lieder like it was the end of Di quella pira. Fine. But his head was down, he was singing to the first few rows on the main floor as if they were in his living room. (A friend sitting in the first row said it was marvelous.) But upstairs we could only hear an occasional mumble. Had he raised his head and sung softly to us we might have gotten some sound. But he didn’t and we didn’t. After the concert I mentioned this to a friend in the music business and he said it had been the same at Kaufmann’s Met recital. “Upstairs we couldn’t hear him at all.” I asked why didn’t someone TELL him that he needed to raise his head and project up and into the hall. My friend just shrugged.

    • arioso says:

      Perhaps it again raises the possibility of amplification in the opera houses ?

    • waltraud becker says:

      I remember the Liederabend at Carnegie Hall in February 2014. I sat at the top of the hall, nearly the last row possible and heard him as if he was singing closely in front of me. In Nürnberg last week I had the joy to sit in the first row and of course heard him wonderfully too. Where is the problem? Its in that type of hall like Berliner Philharmonie, Elbphilharmonie and similar halls. Not only Kaufmann but most singers + orchestra concerts have the same result. Now, 2 years after “praising” Elphi it is time to say the truth.

      • Mark Oliva says:

        In the first row it may have been good. In € 129,- seats in Row 18, the Nürnberger Meistersingerhalle produced an acoustical horror that perfectly matched the description of the Hamburg fiasco. That, of course, is the reason that Franconian politicians are arguing if München is getting a new acoustically acceptable concert hall, Nürnberg should get one too. I second the motion while quietly not mentioning that Franconia already has Bavaria’s acoustically finest concdert hall in the Joseph Keilbert Saal in Bamberg.

  • AMetFan says:

    Did no one in the artistic administration sit in various places in the auditorium to listen during rehearsals? That is pretty much standard operating procedure in most theaters.

    • Tamino says:

      to what effect? can’t hear the singer from the many seats behind him? now what? move to Laeiszhalle? have him turn around half of the time, to the dismay of the people in the other half of the hall?

  • Rottweiler says:

    The most overrated singer of our time. And what a stupid comment. The Berlin Philharmonie seemed like a hopeless case when it was opened back in 1963. It is much too early, still, to give a fill comment on the acoustics of this hall.

    • Cubs Fan says:

      But haven’t they rebuilt the stage several times, raising the height? And added sound reflectors to the ceiling? Many players have commented on how hard it is to get used to the sound. And recording companies have had real trouble getting it right.

    • Maximien says:

      And what a stupid comment.

  • Maximien says:

    If you know the Elbphilharmonie you know there are parts of the concert hall you should avoid. Like section B at the Philharmonie in Berlin. – It was hard labour to bring some good acoustic art to the Elphi! Stop whining!

    • Tamino says:

      It was hard labour and a still birth you mean? What is good about the acoustics of Elphi? (sure it cost A LOT of money, so nobody close to the matter or even depending on its success can admit defeat ever.)

  • Karl says:

    I’ve never seen a hall with so many seats behind the orchestra. It’s an interesting place to sit for orchestral concerts, but terrible for hearing singers.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    You’re not as loud as when I crank you up to listen to you on my i-Phone!

  • John Daszak says:

    Jonas’s voice is not the problem here… the Elbphilarmonie is not an ideal acoustic for every piece! I’ve sung there twice and fortunately big chorus in both pieces, so most of the area behind the Orchestra was taken up with chorus. Das Lied is a piece for Orchestra and soloist/s, as such the soloist/s would usually perform in front of the Orchestra… if you are seated behind or (to a lesser extent) at the sides, you aren’t going to hear much voice unfortunately. The human voice is directional!

  • Helen Jayne Dutton says:

    I have heard Jonas Kaufmann sing a few times live in London at various venues. None of which are regarded as particularly wonderful acoustically. However I heard him perfectly even when singing pianissimo. I am sorry that he had such a poor reaction in Hamburg. But even sadder that so much money has been spent for a hall that doesn’t seem fit for purpose. These grandiose designs are sadly often end up as “white elephants”!

  • Edgar says:

    I could not entirely hear Kaufmann’s Tristan when he sang Act Two in Boston’s Symphony Hall last year, and I had a seat in the middle of Second Balcony, last row…..