Opera Daily 🎶 — Letting the voice do its thing
This week's Opera Daily features Tenor Jonas Kaufmann and what we can learn from craftspeople
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60 Minutes spent seven years following around German tenor Jonas Kaufmann.
Last Sunday, they aired their segment.
I loved hearing about his pre-show warmup and why it involves putting a towel in his mouth:
Sometimes the voice is there. You wake up and think, “Ah, it’s all ready”. And then comes another day and it just takes a while for the voice to wake up, and get rid of all the dust. So what do we do when we want to wake up our voice when we start warming up? We change things to make it sound like we want. This is wrong. We don't have the patience. But if we have the towel in the mouth, you don't hear that. You don't hear the difference.
You just let the voice do its thing. And once it's ready, it's ready.
Kaufman is not the first opera singer to be profiled by 60 Minutes. They (self-admittedly) have a soft spot for opera and have profiled Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, Tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Soprano Renée Fleming, and Bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green.
I have a soft spot for opera too, but I am equally obsessed with learning about the singer’s lives and how they got to where they are. How do they approach their craft? Who inspires them? What have they learned about themselves over the years? What does it take—mentally and physically—to be the best in the world?
The Jonas Kaufman segment reminded me why I love the Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table.
Yes, the cinematography is perfect, but it’s the storytelling that allows you to get to know the world of each chef, following them on their personal journey to self-discovery through their craft.
I recommend it all, but I was fascinated with an episode in Season 3 where they featured a famous chef and baker called Nancy Silverton. She spent years perfecting her baguette—by repetition, a thousand and a thousand and a thousand times, over and over again.
If you care about anything as much as Nancy Silverton cares about dough, you'll be successful.
Whether it’s Jonas Kaufman, Cecilia Bartoli or chef Nancy Silverton, the enduring work, their obsession with their craft, and their steady commitment to excellence make these artists great.
Let’s listen to Kaufman sing two roles he’s become known for over his 25+ year career.
"Ch’ella mi creda libero e lontano”, Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West
🎧 Listening Example: (2 minute listen): Jonas Kaufmann sings Dick Johnson’s Act 3 aria, “Ch’ella mi creda libero e lontano” from Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, The Metropolitan Opera, 2018, Giancarlo del Monaco (Production), Marco Armiliato (Conductor)
It’s 1849, and Dick Johnson is about to be executed for his crimes he committed as Ramerrez. Here he shares his final wish—that Minnie thinks that he was freed and never knows his actual fate.
Let her think I'm free and far away, on my way to a new life of redemption! She'll wait for me to return.. and the days will pass, and I won't return... Minnie, only flower of my life, Minnie, you who have loved me so much! Ah, you, the only flower of my life!
“Pourquoi me réveiller”, Jules Massenet’s Werther
🎧 Listening Example: (3 minute listen): German tenor Jonas Kaufmann sings “Pourquoi me réveiller” from Act 3 of the French opera Werther by Jules Massenet, Opéra Bastille, 2010
Werther has come back to see Charlotte (Sophie Koch), who is now married to another man. She shows him some of the books that they used to read together. One book in particular, a collection of Ossain’s verses, sparks Werther to ask spring to cease its gentle caresses upon him, for sadness and grief are now his fate (essentially foreshadowing his death).
Why do you wake me now, o sweetest breath of spring?
On my brow I sense your most gentle caresses, yet how soon creeps on the time
filled with tempests and with distresses!
Tomorrow through the vale, the traveller will pass, recalling all the glory of the past.
And in vain he will search for the bloom of my youth,
and nothing will he find but deep and endless sorrow.
Alas! Why do you wake me now, o sweetest breath of spring!
Thank you for reading (and listening),
PS. If you missed last week's selection, we listened to Philip Glass’s Akhnaten (and shared a behind-the-scenes look at how an opera gets made)
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60 MInutes also profiled Martina Arroyo, Beverly Sills, Maria Callas, Richard Tucker, Joan Sutherland, Birgit Nilsson, Sherrill Milnes that I remember too.
I came to my appreciation, then love, of opera as a voice student who was learning how incredibly HARD it is to sing like they sing. They're not sweating because the stagelights are hot. Always fascinated by glimpses into how individual singers approach their craft and how their training prepared them (e.g., Callas & Caballe on their teacher's demands for technical competency over singing roles).