In general, I'm not fond of the recital format when it comes to hearing opera singers perform. However, I did go to hear Jonas Kaufmann in Berkeley Sunday because one can hardly read anything opera-related these days and not find people gushing about him like he's the Justin Beiber of the opera world. He didn't disappoint. In fact, I can say I've never heard German sung so beautifully by a male voice as I did on Sunday night's excellent and generous program.

Yes ladies, this man is an opera singer.

The first half of the recital featured lieder by Shumann- selections from Kerner Liedern, followed by Dichterliebe, to texts Heinrich Heine, both composed in 1840. Kaufmann sounded fantastic, though there were a couple of very brief moments when his voice sounded strained, the first coming in Stille Tränen. After the audience applauded after the opening Wanderlied, Kaufmann and his excellent accompanist Helmut Deutsch eliminated the pauses between songs to the extent they could, imparting a comme il faut air to the proceedings to great result, the two went through the brief pieces at a thrilling pace. I'd like to think it generous design on the part of Kaufmann to sing these particular works, as Deutsch's expressive piano work was an equal key to their success.

The lyricism of Heine's texts worked well for the non-German speaking contingent in the house (including yours truly). At numerous points during this segment an expressiveness or declaratory tone shone in Kaufmann's voice and when I would refer back to the translation it perfectly matched, for example, in Wenn ich in deine Augen seh' , one could clearly understand the emotion of "Yet when you say 'I love you!' I must cry so bitterly" without even knowing what words were being sung.

Adopting more of a baritone during Im Rhein, im schönen Stromme, I wondered if Kaufmann would ever take on Wotan. Vocally it may not be a good fit, but it made me long to hear him in the role anyway. This particular piece ended with impressive forcefulness coming from Deutsch and it would prove the first of many times during the recital where his contributions became equal to Kaufmann's- other notable examples being Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen,  Hör' ich das Liedchen klingen and especially during the final piece in the Schumann set, Die alten, bösen Lieder.

The second half was all Strauss, equally successful and expressive, full of wonderful touches such as Kaufmann gently looking upward while singing the last line of Die Frauen sind oft fromm und still, which translates into "I think that women, now and then, can still see heaven open wide" and opening up impressively high, clear notes at the close of Sehnsucht (Longing) when he sang "ich liebe dich (I love you)." To mention all of these would take quite awhile- suffice to say there were more moments like this than one could have hoped for and the effect on the audience was as expected- they ate it up.

As he did in Friday night's recital in LA, he graciously performed five encores, even though it looked like half the house had left by the last one. The encores on Sunday night were:

1. Breit uber mein haupt (Strauss)
2. Nichts (Strauss)
3. Wie Sollten wir gehein sie halten (Strauss)
4. Dein ist mein ganzes Herz (Lehar)
5. Montnacht (Schumann)

The concert was a co-presentation between Cal Performances and San Francisco Opera. SFO's General Director David Gockley, seated across the aisle from me, left after the second encore. Hopefully that can be read as a sign that he knows he'll be hearing more of Kaufmann soon, and not as indifference to the performer. I do think it likely Kaufmann will be onstage at SFO and LA Opera soon, since these two performances are the only two he's doing in the U.S.. Why make that very long trip for just a weekend in California? Regardless, the audience was certainly grateful he did- as was I.

After hearing him, I now have to get a copy of the Lohengrin DVD featuring Kaufmann in the role. If someone reading this who knows me personally has one (Patrick? Mary Ann?) please let me borrow it. I am also now looking forward more than ever to the Met's upcoming Die Walkure, since it will feature Kaufmann taking on Siegmund for the first time- a role his for which voice (and presence) seems like the most perfect of fits.