Jonas Kaufmann is one of the most famous and successful tenors of recent years. He has a versatile and beautiful voice and is one of the hottest properties of the opera world at the moment. But he was not without his struggles, and his struggles and how he came through them could be really interesting for other singers.
Photo of Janus Kaufmann
© Gregor Hohenberg / Sony Classical
Hello, I’m Hattie Voelcker from Find Your True voice, and I wanted to talk to you today about singing like Jonas Kaufmann. I re-read an article today that was published in The Guardian in about 2012.
It was an interview with Jonas in which he talks about when he first graduated. He was working in an Opera House in Germany, and after about a year he realised something was wrong, and he couldn’t sing at all. The advice he was getting from people was that, because he was young, he should be singing with a light voice, and so he decided he needed to find himself a new singing teacher, and he found himself Michael Rhodes.
The advice he got from Michael Rhodes was, “You have to sing with your own voice, just relax and sing,” and the result was, as the article put it, the dark and burnished sound that is uniquely Kaufmann’s. The reason I wanted to talk about that is because I have young performers and singers talk to me about the pressure they’re so often under in terms of how they are being defined, or how they must define themselves. Whether it’s by fach, or by role; are they a leading lady, are they a leading man, are they not; are they mezzo, coloratura. There’s so much definition. Now I can’t talk about the use of that definition in terms of selling yourself through agencies etc, but I can talk about the intellectual impact of that pressure, because the pressure you can put on yourself to be something that you think other people want you to be, can affect how well you actually sing.
Now the irony is that The Inner game of Tennis, Tim Gallwey, would say that when you’re asked to perform in a way, to act as if you are a better performer, so he talks about tennis players. If a tennis player is asked to play like, for example in our generation, Djokovic, they will have the tendency to play better. I think this relates to Imposter Syndrome. So Imposter Syndrome is the theory that that there are some people who feel like they were always on the verge of being discovered as a fraud. I felt this for a long time. So I got a First Class degree in Philosophy, I had a very successful career in a large firm, I then decided to retrain as a barrister, I got one of the top scholarships from an Inns of Court to train, and then got pupillage and tenancy, and had a successful career, ten-year career, as a barrister; but every day I would feel like today’s the day that people find out that I’m not as good as they think I am, or I’m not as good as they think I think I am. In fact I knew a Court of Appeal Judge, who is now retired, but he said every day he thought today’s the day they’re gonna look at him and think why did we put him on the bench? So impostor syndrome is that belief that fundamentally we’re not as good as we or other people think we are, and that leads to a tendency to hide who we really are and pretend to be somebody else, and that, tied with the pressure of being somebody else or being a particular role, can put huge huge pressures on how we present ourselves and how we actually sing if we’re singers, or perform, because we’re always feeling like we’re having to pretend to be somebody else.
The reality is the best person you are at being is you. Jonas Kaufmann, when he was trying to be something he wasn’t, didn’t sing as well as he could, and you have a voice in there, and when you sing as yourself, with freedom, that is the best singer you can be. If you perform, showing yourself without that armour of trying to be something you’re not, then you will perform at your best you, will act at your best, and you will be your best. So in the end in one way it’s really not possible to sing as Jonas Kaufmann, because only Jonas Kaufmann can be the best Jonas Kaufmann. However you can sing like him in the fact that he sings as himself, and you can go and sing as yourself, and that will be the best version of you and the best you can be.
I also wanted to take this chance to remind you of an Opera Workshop weekend I’m running with Chris Cowell at the end of July beginning of, sorry end of June, beginning of July. Charles Kilpatrick will also be there the fabulous répétiteur. Details of that course, and also of the article I mentioned before are below.