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Jonas Kaufmann was born in Munich, Germany, in 1969. He grew up listening to his parents' collection of classical music and attending operas in Munich with his older sister. In other words, it wasn't necessarily an unnatural development for him to do a major in music at school and be a part of various choruses from primary school onwards. What may have been more of a surprising turn was his decision to study mathematics after he was advised by his parents to do something sensible to fall back on to support a family. He did as he was told but soon realised that numbers wasn't really his thing and made the decision in 1989 to take the chance and study singing at the Academy of Music and Theatre in Munich.

I can't imagine him ever regretting that decision.

OPERAFOCUS caught up with the highly esteemed tenor to talk about "Don Carlo", "Otello" and his anticipation of an offer for a soccer stadium debut. 

What are your thoughts on "Don Carlo" as an opera?

- You know, I prefer those anti-heroes like Carlo and Don José by far to those “real heroes” who are always strong and who always succeed. The part of Carlo doesn’t have a “big” aria – unlike most of the other Verdi tenor roles – but I really love to sing it. There are so many facets and nuances in that role, in terms of singing as well as in acting, and I love to sing all those duets, trios and ensembles!  So, it’s not by accident that I will participate in three “Don Carlo” productions this year: First in London, then in Munich and at the Salzburg Festival, in a new production directed by Peter Stein.  

What do you think of this particular production by Nicholas Hytner?

- I like this ROH production very much and Hytner’s work does justice to the characters as well as to the music. And with colleagues like [Anja] Harteros, [Mariusz] Kwiecien and [Ferruccio] Furlanetto – and Tony Pappano in the pit – what more can you ask for? If most of the opera productions where like this, there wouldn’t be any complaints about the “decline of standards”.

The ending has been a big question for many people - including Verdi himself:

"Charles V being alive has always jarred upon me. If he is alive, how is it the Don Carlos does not know it? Moreover...how can Philip II be an old man?...We must decide whether it is suitable or not to omit this monk who is half ghost and half man; or whether instead it might not be better to transform the monk into an old colleague of Charles V, long since dead: a monk who could come to pray at Charles V's tomb."

Many directors have had many interpretations of it. Some let Carlo live, some have him pulled back into the tomb – one production had him beamed up by a space ship.

Do you have a preferred interpretation? What's your take on the ending? 

- I’m afraid I can’t give you a satisfying answer this time. It’s really a problem. Since “Don Carlo” is a family drama, I like the idea that Carlo’s protected by his grandfather at the end. For me this interpretation seems be more emotional, or more “operatic” in a good sense. Generally, if I had to choose between “historic realism” and “dramatic energy” I’d take the last one. As for the ROH version, there is a very dramatic and fast music, where Hytner was getting him ready for a fight with guards. But you can't find a musical equivalent for Carlo’s death. So as unrealistic vanishing into the tomb may seem, to me it’s more convincing than sudden death in the last lines of the opera.

Considering this opera is based on an actual, historical character – how has this influenced the way you've approached the role? Have you studied the play? What's been your process of "becoming Carlo"?

- I’ve studied some sources about the historic background and the characters - as well as Schiller’s Drama of course - but I don’t think that this had a big influence on my process of becoming the character. I mean, you should definitely know much more than only the opera, but let’s face it: for creating the role onstage, you concentrate on the music and on the text - not only of YOUR part of course: the reactions of the other characters are essential, especially in this drama.

With your first "Otello" looming, what are your thoughts on this big role? This has been a role you've expressed enormous enthusiasm for in various past interviews - can you talk a little about what makes this such an exciting role for you? Do you know a where and when?

- If you look at Verdi’s oeuvre, “Otello” is something unique, it's a step into a new world, something that reaches far into the 20th century. “Otello” is the link between Verdi and Puccini. It’s so modern, with harmonies unheard of some years before – and still it’s so much the “real Verdi” who always knows how to grip his audience.

- When I studied Otello’s monologue “Dio mi potevi” and rehearsed it with my répétiteur this was like a dream coming true! Otello is one of those parts I’m really longing to do. I mean, tell me the tenor that won’t! It's one of the most exciting, most complex and most beautiful parts you can imagine. And at the same time one of the most demanding and most dangerous ones! This high emotional impact can be tricky. If you lose control and allow yourself to be carried away, you are lost. That’s the reason why I haven't approached this part on stage so far.

- Many conductors and directors have asked me when I will finally do it. After the monologue rehearsal I’m tempted to say: As soon as possible! But I have to be patient and wait for some more years.

Out of curiousity; is there a particular reason why you've steered clear of "Nessun Dorma", an aria "every tenor does", as a part of your concert repertoire? Waiting for the role debut [in "Turandot"], perhaps?

- I love this aria very much, and at the beginning of my career I felt it was just too precious to be ruined by an unfinished voice and its vocal leaks. Then it became so popular and was sung by everyone, and I didn’t want to swim with the crowd. Nevertheless I’m sure I will sing it in concert one day. Maybe in this case I should wait with my debut till I get an offer to sing in a soccer stadium! [laughs]

So, who’s going to provide Jonas Kaufmann with a soccer stadium? :)

Meanwhile, you can see Jonas Kaufmann in "Don Carlo" at the ROH on the 18th of May in London – then in Munich in July and Salzburg in August

Read Operafocus's review of the opening night

Read Operafocus's interview with Eric Halfvarson

Read Operafocus's interview with Ferruccio Furlanetto