Jonas Kaufmann’s Tough Roles Fueled by Water, Gummi Bears
Jonas Kaufmann is at the top of his game.
The world’s greatest Wagnerian tenor, he goes onstage tonight in the title role in Francois Girard’s new production of “Parsifal” at the Metropolitan Opera.
Kaufmann, 43, has no trouble with the grueling 5-plus hour stint as the holy fool who resists temptation, defeats the evil sorcerer and saves the Knights of the Holy Grail.
The hard part for him is standing still.
Sporting a crisp blue shirt, his signature curls mussed, Kaufmann radiates quicksilver energy. We spoke in an aerie at the Metropolitan Opera.
Lundborg: How do you prepare for a long night like “Parsifal?”
Kaufmann: I had some problems with low blood pressure years ago -- dizziness on stage -- so I drink a lot of salted water, which helps keep the mineral level up.
I also like Scottish shortbread.
Lundborg: So, a bread and water regimen?
Kaufmann: Plus Gummi Bears. I love Gummi Bears.
Lundborg: What’s the toughest thing about a role like this?
Kaufmann: Of course, you need to have the right technique, you need to know how to sing these phrases, you need to memorize it.
You also need to keep concentrated for all these hours -- I’d say this is more challenging than singing it all through. If you add it up, my singing lasts about 30 minutes: The waiting time in between the phrases is what makes it so difficult.
I compare it to being a goalie who is waiting for 85 out of 90 minutes and there’s not one shot to the goal -- it’s so difficult to keep 100 percent on power level without having anything to do.
Lundborg: In the second act of this production, there’s a big red cave, the floor running in blood, entered through a slit. Where are you?
Kaufmann: The projections at the end of the first act are skin -- it looks like a desert but it’s skin.
And then in Act 2, the stage opens and it’s actually the wound. You could call the Flower Maidens the bacteria infecting the wound, and I’m the right antibiotic to kick them out and heal Amfortas.
Lundborg: You’ve been singing for two decades -- what’s the most fun for you now?
Kaufmann: I’m a quick learner, thank God, so I’m not spending so much time in the studio to learn the music or the words or in the rehearsal room for the staging.
What I really like is the performance because you’re actually free to really act and slip into the character -- be that person and live the life of that person.
It’s never exactly the same. I treat the words that I’m singing as fresh and new and out of that moment. And you can influence your colleagues and they can influence you -- it’s like a game.
Lundborg: What’s happening with Tristan?
Kaufmann: Tristan will sit in his box for quite a while. It’s not that I’m frightened of that part. I know that the third act is extremely demanding.
I believe I could sing it now because my voice is very solid, sustainable. I can sing for a long, long time without getting tired or stressed.
Tristan is also very low, and tenors often tend to force their voice in the middle register to be heard enough. That is also not necessary because I have a very long voice -- I can sing almost the bass register till Sarastro.
Lundborg: So, why not do it?
Kaufmann: When you open this Pandora’s box of Tristan, you’ll never get back to normal parts. All the houses will force you to do it, and that’s what will kill you.
Lundborg: How do you pick and choose what you do?
Kaufmann: I want to know who the director is, the conductor, the other singers. I actually make suggestions myself, whom I want to direct, conduct, sing with -- it makes life much easier and increases the fun factor onstage.
Many general managers have realized that when they give me the possibility to be part of the process, it’s actually also my baby that we’ve created. It’s my heart’s blood, my ideas which are in that as well, so it’s a guarantee for them to keep me attracted to the project.
Lundborg: Are you going to go on as long as Placido Domingo?
Kaufmann: No, I think there’s life after opera.
Lundborg: What will you do -- run an opera house? Direct?
Kaufmann: I don’t want to say, “Never, ever.” Many times my colleagues say I should be a director because I have so many thoughts about these things.
But as long as I’m having fun onstage, I’ll keep doing it.
Lundborg: On your new Wagner CD, did you pick your favorite bits?
Kaufmann: Yes, especially the Wesendonck lieder. Wagner has written them for a female voice, but I love those songs so much.
He set his girlfriend’s poetry, but she was talking out of his heart and soul.
Why not give Wagner a male voice to express his feelings?
“Parsifal” runs through March 8 at the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center. Information: +1-212-362-6000; http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/index.aspx?
For more information: http://www.jonaskaufmann.com/en.
(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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