With his whiskers well trimmed, Jonas Kaufmann really looks every inch the lion king of tenors as, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, he stares out from the cover of his album of Neapolitan songs, Dolce Vita.
But other big beasts are circling around, itching for their chance to become lord of the tenorial jungle.
Kaufmann is proclaimed as the world’s finest tenor but, as this album shows, his grasp of Italian idioms isn’t as secure as Juan Diego Flórez’s was in his Neapolitan-song CD.
Nor does Kaufmann’s voice have the heady, Italianate beauty of Joseph Calleja’s.
And the Italian Vittorio Grigolo will surely think he’s even more of a matinee idol.
There’s much to enjoy here in this 18-item, 70-minute programme. Old favourites – Torna A Surriento, Mattinata and Volare – are mixed with enticing rarities, several of which I didn’t know.
But on this evidence, is Kaufmann a master of Neapolitan song? I don’t think so.
Take that modern classic, Lucio Dalla’s Caruso, written for Pavarotti. I remember years ago hearing it emerging from a jeweller’s shop in Italy.
I was so desperate to find out what it was, I went in and affected an interest in coral jewellery. If I had heard Kaufmann’s version, would I have bothered? Probably not.
Nor does Kaufmann’s singing hold a candle to Pavarotti in Torna A Surriento. Here Kaufmann sounds especially baritonal and un-Italianate; there’s little sun or honey in his tone.
And he doesn’t sweep you away as Big Luci does. Kaufmann isn’t helped here by a relatively scrawny orchestra.
At one level this album is fine but these songs do catch Kaufmann out a bit. All too often he seems to be looking in from the outside. (David Mellor)