Who is Jonas Kaufmann, the German opera singer often called ‘the world’s greatest tenor’?

29 November 2023, 16:08

Jonas Kaufmann, world-leading German tenor, performs at Sydney Opera House in 2023
Jonas Kaufmann, world-leading German tenor, performs at Sydney Opera House in 2023. Picture: Getty
Classic FM

By Classic FM

Meet leading German tenor Jonas Kaufmann – one of today’s best-loved and most in-demand opera singers.

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Jonas Kaufmann is an internationally beloved opera star, often billed as ‘the world’s greatest tenor’.

Known for his astonishing vocal versatility, the German tenor has performed in many of the world’s top opera houses, with over 70 roles under his belt.

He is just as at home on the concert platform, appearing with leading orchestras and conductors, from the Vienna Philharmonic and Cleveland Symphony Orchestra to the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle.

Ahead of his performance at the UEFA EURO 2024 final tournament draw in Hamburg, here’s all you need to know about opera star Jonas Kaufmann.

Read more: ‘If you destroy the arts, what is left?’ tenor Jonas Kaufmann’s message to political leaders

  1. Where was Jonas Kaufmann born?

    Jonas Kaufmann was born on 10 July 1969 in Munich, Germany.

    His mother was a kindergarten teacher and his father worked in insurance, and while neither were musicians, music was at the heart of the Kaufmann household.

    Young Jonas grew up listening to his father’s records and attending children’s concerts at the Bavarian State Opera. He took up piano lessons aged eight, although didn’t much take to it.

    But after years of hearing his grandfather play Wagner’s opera music at the piano while singing the various parts, Kaufmann’s lifelong love for opera was born.

    Read more: 25 best opera singers of all time

    A young Jonas Kaufmann sings in concert
    A young Jonas Kaufmann sings in concert. Picture: Getty
  2. How did Jonas Kaufmann’s singing career begin?

    Kaufmann’s love of music was nurtured in primary and secondary school, where he performed in school choirs. At university, on the advice of his parents, he began a course in mathematics, but soon realised it wasn’t for him and dropped out after two terms.

    His formal music eduation began when he secured a place at Munich’s University for Music and Theatre. During his time as a student there, he would also perform in local opera productions. After graduating in 1994, Kaufmann started performing in operas around Germany, and in 1997 sang abroad for the first time – in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, in Milan.

    He then returned to Germany, and began a musical partnership with pianist Helmut Deutsch, performing art songs and lieder, and touring and recording albums together.

    In 2000, Kaufmann began a permanent engagement at the Zürich Opera, and the following year he performed in the US for the first time, singing Cassio in the Chicago Lyric Opera’s production of Verdi’s Otello.

    His big break arrived in 2006, the year of his debut with New York’s Metropolitan Opera where he sang Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata to an ecstatic audience. Stardom ensued for the German singer, and the international offers began to flood in.

    Jonas Kaufmann - Turandot, Atto III: "Nessun Dorma"

  3. What are Jonas Kaufmann’s most famous roles?

    In the mid 2000s Kaufmann started out with many of the most famous tenor roles in opera, like Alfredo, and Don José in Bizet’s Carmen. But it was in Puccini where he made his mark, with acclaimed performances of Cavaradossi in Tosca and Chevalier des Grieux in Manon Lescaut. Andréa Chenier by Umberto Giordano, is another iconic opera role of the German singer.

    Since 2010, Kaufmann has been singing much more Wagner, showcasing the full heft of his voice. He has played the title roles in both Lohengrin and Parsifal, and appeared in the heroic roles of Tristan in Tristan and Isolde and Siegfried in The Ring Cycle. In 2022 at the Vienna State Opera, Kaufmann made his debut as Peter Grimes in Britten’s much-loved opera of the same name.

    Away from the opera stage you’ll also find Kaufmann giving Lieder recitals, and celebrating that much-loved German song genre. He’s also turned his hand to show tunes, and as a seasonal treat for the 2020 pandemic days, released a Broadway version of Mariah Carey’s seasonal staple ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’.

    Read more: The painfully funny alto part of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’

    All I Want For Christmas Is You

  4. What voice type is Jonas Kaufmann?

    Jonas Kaufmann is what’s known as a ‘spinto’ tenor – meaning his voice has the usual sort of range as a regular tenor, but with a much weightier sound. People often remark that Kaufmann sounds almost like a baritone, but singing in a tenor register.

    Spinto literally means ‘pushed’ in Italian, and these tenors are suited to big, dramatic roles, particularly in Puccini and late Verdi, with sonorous lines above a full orchestra and roaring high notes in a show-stopping aria like ‘Nessun dorma’.

    In recent years, and as his voice has developed in his 40s and early 50s, Kaufmann has branched out into ‘heldentenor’ tenor roles. It’s a natural successor to the spinto but turned up a level, with an even bigger sound needed to power over some of the biggest orchestras in all opera.

    Jonas Kaufmann performs at the TCBO Gala Concert in Bologna, Italy in 2020
    Jonas Kaufmann performs at the TCBO Gala Concert in Bologna, Italy in 2020. Picture: Getty
  5. Is Jonas Kaufmann married and does he have children?

    Kaufmann has been married twice, first to the mother of his three eldest children, mezzo-soprano Margarete Joswig.

    After Kaufmann and Joswig divorced, Kaufmann married opera director Christiane Lutz in 2018, and the couple welcomed a child soon after.

    Read more: Andrea Bocelli’s children: Who are Matteo, Amos and Virginia?

    Tenor Jonas Kaufmann, his wife Christiane Lutz and their son Valentin at a concert in Munich, 2022
    Tenor Jonas Kaufmann, his wife Christiane Lutz and their son Valentin at a concert in Munich, 2022. Picture: Getty
  6. What languages does Jonas Kaufmann speak?

    Kaufmann sings in German, French and Italian, and obliges interviewers by speaking in the same range, including English.

    The tenor has dual German and Austrian citizenship, and currently resides mainly in Salzburg, Austria.

  7. What albums has Jonas Kaufmann released?

    Kaufmann’s most acclaimed albums are Verismo Arias (2010), The Verdi Album (2013), Nessun Dorma – The Puccini Album (2015) and Dolce Vita (2016).

    In recent years he has branched out into the mainstream with a Christmas album, It’s Christmas! (2021), and a film release The Sound of Movies (2023), which includes an operatic rendition of ‘Now We Are Free’ from Gladiator.

    Jonas Kaufmann - Nelle tue mani [Now We Are Free] (From "Gladiator")