Jonas Kaufmann’s Tristan: first review

Jonas Kaufmann’s Tristan: first review


norman lebrecht

June 30, 2021

Robert Braunmüller in the Munich Abendzeitung acclaims the new Tristan und Isolde musically as the most impressive since Leonard Bernstein’s long-ago concert performance.

But he has reservations about Jonas Kaufmann in the male title role:

Jonas Kaufmann is not an ideal Tristan. The baritone colouring of his tenor suits the role. But after the duet in the second act, he became overly cautious… in the third act the singer didn’t risk anything… Kaufmann’s Tristan remains a test of courage: He passed it, but not with flying colors. In the interests of the rest of his repertoire, Kaufmann would be well advised to only sing the role as an exception


Read on here.

UPDATE: Süddeutsche Zeitung’s review is slightly wierd:

What a wonderful costume! Anja Harteros sings as Isolde in the Bavarian National Theater and wears wide black trousers with a yellow blouse. Later, the adored Tristan helps her – Jonas Kaufmann is always adorable that evening – in a black floor-length coat with gold brochures on a white background and a lining in magenta. What a color orgy!

In the second and third act of Richard Wagner’s brilliant love search opera “Tristan und Isolde”, Harteros then only wears red. That mixes wonderfully with her first outfit, which she still pretends to be an elegant lady of the world from which she soon escapes with her life-like Tristan.


  • A.L. says:

    Cannot imagine Harteros receiving a permit either to “grow into the role”, as it is said, with more engagements.

  • watraud becker says:

    Leberecht was busy to find a critical review……. He had hard work to do!
    Here Süddeutsche Zeitung: “….So kann Kaufmann die Sterbeszene nicht nur bewältigen, sondern singend überwältigend gestalten. Dieser Tristan ist kein Getriebener der Musik, sondern ein Partner des Orchesters. Dass das dennoch eine Grenzpartie ist, kann niemand überhören. Aber diese Grenzerfahrung setzt Kaufmann stimmig für sein Tristan-Portrait ein. Man muss in der Aufnahmegeschichte schon bis zu dem Kaufmann stimmlich und gestalterisch überlegenen Jon Vickers zurückgehen, 1973 live in Orange mit Dirigent Karl Böhm, um auf ein ähnliches Faszinosum der Charakterisierungskunst zu stoßen…..”

    • Don Ciccio says:

      Nonsense. Both Spas Wenkoff and Ben Heppner are better Tristans than Kaufmann.

      Neiter are exactly in the same class as Vickers, and perhaps Heppner should not have tackled the role – his vocal troubles that eventually ended his career started from that point. But while he sang, he was vastly preferable to Kaufmann.

  • Y says:

    Singing Tristan in a Eurotrash production is like wearing a tuxedo to McDonald’s.

    When will common sense and good taste return to our opera stages?

    • Ms.Melody says:

      Not for as long as “Director” and “Concept” are considered more important than music, conductor, orchestra and singers, in that order.

  • Robin Worth says:

    According to AZ, no decision has been taken yet as to whether or not it will be streamed
    If anyone knows, pass it on

  • Emilee says:

    Mama said if you can’t say anything nice, talk about their costumes.

  • Helden Sopran says:

    The Abendzeitung is entirely correct to single out the extraordinary Leonard Bernstein concert performance, from the same city, as the gold standard. It surely has stood the test of time, and likely never to be surpassed, most especially because of the magnificent Isolde of the great Hildegard Behrens. That is a gold standard secure in its 40-year span that has never been equaled, let alone surpassed. Since the extraordinary bluray release in 2018, the new generations can bear witness, in resplendent sound, to what glorious Wagnerian singing that era was still producing. And to think the whole staging “konzept” was a single painted backdrop, and some nice lighting effects. But the drama in that gloriously radiant soprano voice, that supersoprano as the NYTimes intoned, and the myriad facial expressions that mesmerized the senses was all that was needed. THAT was opera!

    • Don Ciccio says:

      Of what I heard, the Bernstein Tristan is surpassed by the versions of Furtwängler, Knappertsbusch, Karajan (Bayreuth) and Böhm.

      • Helden Sopran says:

        All of those recordings were from long before 1980 hence not an apt comparison, since the premise was “it has not been surpassed to date”. Having said that, I think Behrens as Isolde only rival would be Flagstad, but the Flagstad of the 1930s Met for example, and not necessarily the matronly and full of compromises Flagstad of that recording, what with high Cs supplied by Schwarzkopf etc. Dame Anne Evans was quoted by The Guardian in 2009 as saying something like [paraphrasing slightly] “there was Frida Leider and then Hildegard Behrens as Isolde…” so I assume I am not in bad company in my opinion.

        • Don Ciccio says:

          Point taken. But the scary thing is that the versions tha I mentioned are closer to Berntein’s performance than Bernstein’s is to today.

          In any case, I like Nilsson better than you do, though I do appreciate Behrens as well.

    • Sixtus says:

      As can be heard in the audio recording (widely available on the streaming systems) Bernstein is one of the seeming minority of conductors who perform the Prelude as Wagner notated it: with a progressive shortening of the pauses between phrases. The first pause in particular is regularly shortened to even out the gaps. In Bernstein’s slow tempo the tension created by that first silence is enormous. Wagner knew what he was doing with his notation.

      • Helden Sopran says:

        I hope you get to listen to the bluray version of 2018 Sixtus, the sound quality is just infinitely better than those heavily manipulated CDs of the 1980s. The bluray is the true testament to the splendor of those legendary performances

    • Helden Sopran says:

      I was just told by someone who is at the performance today that the immortal Hildegard Behrens’ portrait remains in the most prominent place in the first floor of the National Theater. Justly so, since the honorary daughter of Munich was a Bayrische Kammersaengerin and the recipient of the Bayrischer Verdienstorden.

  • Anonymous Bosch says:

    How can anyone even begin to judge a Tristan after his very first performance? Please remember that the role’s creator, Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, died at the age of 29 about six weeks after the premiere! And it’s not like Vickers was the “go-to” Tristan of his era: he sang the role a total of twice at the Met, and once at Wiener Staatsoper (and of course with HvK at Osterfestspiele Salzburg1972 – perhaps his first?).

    • Helden Sopran says:

      and at Orange and Buenos Aires at the very least, and with Karl Boehm

    • Helden Sopran says:

      and Chicago in 1980, and I also have a video from Toronto. And by the way, besides those two full performances at the Met, Vickers also sang a magnificent Act II with an aging Nilsson who simply could not keep up with him. Vickers still at the summit of his powers, Levine conducting. I will never forget that matinee

    • Jon says:

      Vickers also sang Tristan in at Covent Garden in 1978, returning again to further revivals in 1980 and 1982 (when I saw him).

      My recollection is that he was indeed the ‘go to’ Tristan of that period.

      • Helden Sopran says:

        Great info Jon. OK so I think we have established then that Jon Vickers was indeed the go to Tristan of that era! as you may have surmised, he was my only Tristan! and I believe I will never hear a voice like that again in my lifetime! I was lucky to see his Tristan in Chicago and the Met act II mentioned. And of course have worn out many copies of the Karajan EMI version. Vickers and Behrens sang many Fidelios together, including in London, and none more glorious than the single pairing with Tennstedt at the Met in 1984, another never to be forgotten evening, but what a tragedy they never sang Tristan und Isolde together, if only at least an Act II….