Last night I ventured forth to experience another way of presenting “opera” at the cinema. It was a film called Jonas Kaufmann – An evening with Puccini and was based around a recording of a concert Herr Kaufmann gave at La Scala last year with the Filarmonica della Scala conducted by Jochen Rieder. The full program is here.
The film, directed by Brian Large (apparently still alive), started off with a pretty interesting interview with the man before a short documentary setting Puccini in context. Then it was on to the music. The program contained seven arias from works ranging from Le Villi to Turandot interspersed with orchestral stuff; preludes, intermezzi etc. And lots and lots of applause. Finally there were the encores; three more arias plus a somewhat Horlixed reprise of Nessum dorma and even more applause. If one breaks it down I’d say we got 15 minutes of interview/doco, 35-40 minutes of Kaufmann, maybe 45 minutes of orchestral stuff and close to half an hour of applause, entrances and exits. It felt short on the singing.
So what was it like? Kaufmann is good. Very good in fact in this material. He can do delicate to the biggest high C since The Three Tenors. Even hampered by the problem of arias out of context he manages as much emotional range as one can expect from Puccini. The film almost manages to catch the excitement of hearing this kind of voice live but even with the volume cranked up the impact is simply not as visceral as in an opera house. I don’t understand the acoustics of this but even the best recording loses something of the human voice and it hits Italianate tenors and dramatic sopranos hardest. The constant tectonics from Star Wars 3D in the adjoining theatre didn’t help. Thus, it was hard to be as engaged as the La Scala audience clearly was.
The most interesting of the orchestral works was the Preludio Sinfonica written while Puccini was still at the conservatory. It sounded like it could have been lifted from Lohengrin. The rest of the pieces sounded like they had been lifted from Puccini operas, as they had been. It’s not music I’d choose to listen to in concert.
Camera work was very much what one would expect from Mr. Large. Lots of close ups. In this case it’s hard to knock that as there isn’t a whole lot to see but at this point I reckon I know Mr. Kaufmann’s dental chart better than his dentist. Sound quality is what it is. A really good cinema like TIFF can get a bit closer to reality than a Cineplex Odeon but still, I think, wouldn’t quite get that true Italian tenor experience.
One for serious Kaufmann fans and Puccini fanatics I think. Should you feel so inclined it’s being shown again at a wide range of cinemas on 20th March at 12.55pm.