One of the highlights of Saturday’s ‘Last Night of the Proms’ was Jonas Kaufmann singing ‘Dein ist mein ganzes Herz’ from Franz Léhar’s operetta ‘The Land of Smiles’ (Das Land des Laechelns). Oh my goodness, what a song! So beautifully constructed, such clever and effective use of harmony, such an irresistible sweep. Its wide melodic compass brought home to me how small and unimaginative are many of today’s pop melodies, often gnawing away on just a few notes close to one another.
When it comes to admiring Jonas Kaufmann I’m up there in the front line. He has a commanding presence, he’s gorgeous to watch and his vocal technique is a thing of beauty, but as I listened to the Léhar on Saturday night I couldn’t help wondering if the song didn’t seem a bit … insincere? On the other hand, he was singing in one of the world’s largest concert halls, projecting to an audience of thousands and no doubt keeping in mind a worldwide television audience of millions, many of whom were hoping for Entertainment. How intimate could one expect him to be? The roar of approval at the end was my answer.
Afterwards I found that the song had stuck in my head and refused to go away. It niggled at me until I felt inspired to go and look up some other performances on YouTube. There are quite a few, ranging from Kaufmann himself to Domingo with Villazon and Netrebko in a sensuously theatrical trio. Thrilling vocal artistry and effortless audience appeal from all of them, but again the word ‘insincere’ hovered in the back of my mind. Surely the song isn’t meant to sound quite so … smug?
Then I came across a splendid recording by Fritz Wunderlich, still one of the most beautiful voices I know. This was much more like it!
And even better, to my ears, was a 1929 recording made in the year of the operetta’s Berlin premiere by a singer I’d never heard before, the Austro-Hungarian tenor Joseph Schmidt, who died in 1942 at the age of only thirty-eight. Here was a compelling interpretation which somehow preserved the music’s integrity while being perfectly in style; light yet heartfelt (and what delightful orchestral playing!) It’s a subtle thing, but it seemed to arrange the elements of the performance with a different sense of priorities.