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The passion of Jonas Kaufmann / The Australian interview

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Jonas Kaufmann is almost certainly the greatest tenor in the world right now, a dashingly handsome German with an extraordinary voice, whose career is reaching new peaks with each year, even month that passes.

In February, Kaufmann ­"provoked one of the greatest ovations in recent memory", according to the news agency Bloomberg, at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, for his interpretation of the tortured poet Werther in Massenet's opera of the same name. In April he sang Schubert's wonderful melancholic song cycle Winterreise to a full house at London's Covent Garden (the first singer to have been given a solo recital there in more than a decade; when he did the same concert at the Met it was the first time it had had a solo performer since Pavarotti in 1994). Covent Garden staged a new production of Manon Lescaut, an opera it hadn't done for 30 years, with Kaufmann as des Grieux – "the most difficult and challenging role for the tenor that Puccini ever wrote", according to Antonio Pappano, Covent Garden's musical director. And now he is preparing for his first appearance on our shores.

What makes Kaufmann great is that his voice is not only beautiful but uniquely versatile, which means he can do both the lighter tenor roles of Verdi and Puccini and much of the big dramatic singing demanded by Wagner (and a lot else between). This is partly because he is a linguist, fluent in four languages: English, French, Italian and German. And it is partly because his voice has an exceptionally rich lower register – yet he can also sing amazing high notes that, in Pappano's words, "blossom and shoot out and are big and generous". His talent is ­comparable to Plácido Domingo's. "There's been no one since Plácido that has the freedom and breadth of repertoire that Jonas has," Pappano says. There is also the fact that, like Domingo, Kaufmann is an instinctive actor. "He brings a protean talent in that he can shift and change," director Jonathan Kent points out. "We were rehearsing a very difficult scene [in Manon ­Lescaut] where the two lovers know they are about to be trapped… I'd ask the performers to do the chaos of panic, with people running round not knowing how to escape. Jonas brings endless invention to that and he can do it while singing. He can think on his feet. He can throw himself around the room and still hit the notes.' READ THE FULL Australian INTERVIEW.