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

12 June 2020, 16:42 | Updated: 12 June 2020, 16:48

Jonas Kaufmann speaks out in support of the arts
Jonas Kaufmann speaks out in support of the arts. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

German tenor Jonas Kaufmann calls for more support for the arts world, during its worst crisis in living memory.

There is a greater need than ever to protect classical music and the arts. The coronavirus pandemic has meant tours cancelled, arts organisations laying off their staff, and swathes of freelance musicians hung out to dry.

Two days ago, conductors Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Mark Elder wrote an open letter warning that UK orchestras “may not survive” after lockdown ends. Germany, along with Austria and Italy, is ahead of the UK in that live audiences are starting to return. But while no arts organisations can be sure when full audiences will return, and when they’ll be able to break even on tickets sales, the landscape is still worryingly uncertain.

In a new interview with the Financial Times (FT), German tenor Jonas Kaufmann has spoken passionately about the dire need to protect our arts world. The opera star launched a petition with baritone friend Ludovic Tézier in late April, to support those working in the performing arts sector. The petition calls for “a Europe which [meets its] duty to preserve the most beautiful legacy of its own civilisation: art.”

Kaufmann tells the FT: “We wanted to gather European culture-lovers together and put pressure on political leaders. What is Germany, for example, other than language, culture, art, architecture, music and… well, also football? This is the essence of our society. If you destroy that, what is left?”

Click here to donate to Classic FM’s emergency appeal for those hit hardest by coronavirus >

Touching on ‘social distancing double standards’ – as other opera stars have done before him – Kaufmann adds: “Of course, when people are dying, there are more crucial issues, but other parts of the economy which are no more important are getting support. If we cut back on culture now, when will there be money for it?”

With all concerts cancelled – including his December tour ‘Christmas with Jonas Kaufmann’ – the opera star is home in Munich. To fill his time, Kaufmann has been performing for charitable fund Saengerhilfe and taking part in Bavarian State Opera’s online concert series, which raises money for musicians.

He also has a studio recording of Otello coming out today, since making his debut in the title role of Verdi’s Shakespearean opera at the Royal Opera House in 2017.

Read more: ‘Orchestras may not survive’ coronavirus lockdown, conductors warn >

Kaufmann stars in The Royal Opera’s Otello
Kaufmann stars in The Royal Opera’s Otello. Picture: Getty

In the interview Kaufmann also touches on the German government’s funding for the arts, which is actually more generous than some European countries. Do the arts stand a better chance of surviving in Germany, than elsewhere in Europe? “The theatre infrastructure in Germany has been reliable for some time now, whereas in Spain or Italy cancellations can happen at the last moment,” he says.

Lockdown has had devastating effects on the music world. Kaufmann highlights the urgency of protecting this great industry; that if we fail to do so, we deprive the world of the next generation of great artists.

Read more: Culture secretary pledges bailout for UK arts industries >

“If we don’t have support, why would young people choose to become musicians?” he says. “People must show that culture and art are essential. If young people think society will not support them if times are bad, I am worried that there will be no singers. The future is being decided now.”