What a terrific way to spend an early Monday morning!
I am talking about the webinar hosted by Sony Classical to announce the release of their new studio recording of Verdi’s Otello. While 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time is a rather ungodly hour for a press conference, I, like the other 114 journalists around the world in virtual attendance, was glad to be glued to the computer screen, eager to hear what tenor Jonas Kaufmann and Maestro Antonio Pappano had to say about their new recording.
On the screen we saw the smiling faces of the tenor and conductor, and that of the moderator Andrea Penna — Pappano joining in from London, Kaufmann from Munich, and Penna from Rome. I joined a few minutes early before the start of the formal session, and heard Pappano and Kaufmann talking about how artists and opera houses were coping with the current COVID-19 crisis. The tenor revealed that the Munich Staatsoper was enlarging the orchestra pit to give the musicians more elbow room, more of a fighting chance with social distancing.
Then it was down to business. Kicking off the proceedings, we were treated to a virtual performance of a choral snippet from Act 1 Otello, with all 56 of the choristers of the Coro dell’Academia nazionale di Santa Cecilia singing from their respective homes, stitched together. Pappano shared his thoughts on the challenges of recording such a celebrated work, with its excellent recorded legacy already in existence. Kaufmann spoke about the challenges of portraying a multifaceted character like Otello from both the vocal and dramatic perspectives, and the need to search for the meaning, the motivations behind Otello’s character. He particularly stressed the importance of not imitating or copying past great exponents of the role, and to remain true to his own voice.
Most interesting was Kaufmann speaking about the challenges of singing Otello versus Tristan, the two “Mount Everests” of Heldentenor roles. This happens to be the question I submitted beforehand, and I was happy it was answered. He was also asked about singing Peter Grimes, and it was revealed that this role is coming his way two years from now. Of course, an unavoidable question had to do with the future of opera and the performing arts in this uncertain time of the pandemic. Pappano spoke about the strange feeling he had recently, giving his first concert, with three singers and an empty hall. The bottom line — he, like everyone else in the music community, doesn’t know what the future holds.
Given the interesting discussions, 60 minutes went by in a flash. I just received my digital copy of the recording, and so far I like what I’ve heard very much. It really solidifies Kaufmann’s reputation as the Heldentenor of our time. I’ll have more to say about the recording after I’ve had a chance to listen in greater detail. Stay tuned!