The Charlotte resident talks about his first principal role with Opera Carolina, his heavy metal history and not being superstitious – unless his team is playing

Jonathan Kaufman won’t have to travel far to be part of Opera Carolina’s Macbeth (Nov. 7, 9 and 10). He and his wife, Stephanie (a timpanist and percussionist), have called the Queen City home for four years.

He was raised in a suburb of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital city, and music was always a part of his family life. His father played blues harmonica, his mother played piano and he jokes he used “the grandeur of bathroom acoustics” for his own music-making.  

Kaufman further jokes that his career began at the age of 5 when he recorded Burl Ives’s “Lavender Blue” for his mother on a boombox recorder. Fast forward a few years, and he was accepted into the voice department of Millersville University, which is where he discovered his operatic voice.

An opportunity to relocate to North Carolina and study with renowned international tenor
John Fowler led to debuts with Little Opera Company of Charlotte as Alfred in “Die Fledermaus” and Pinkerton in “Madama Butterfly” with Opera Experience Southeast.

Last season, Kaufman debuted the role of Rodolfo in a summer production of Puccini’s “La Bohème” with Little Opera Company of Charlotte, reprised the role with the Opera Theatre of Central Piedmont Community College in the fall and again with Opera Wilmington (N.C), this summer.

He spoke to us about his role as Malcolm (elder son of King Duncan and heir to the throne) in Verdi’s “Macbeth” and several other topics.

Have you performed Malcolm before? Where? What do you love most about this role?

I have! My debut in the role was with Toledo Opera in October.

What’s your history with Opera Carolina? 

This will be my seventh appearance with Opera Carolina, but my first principal role. Past seasons saw me having loads of fun in the chorus. I love Opera Carolina and Charlotte. Opera Carolina constantly churns out amazing productions with incredible talent, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

What are you doing to prepare for your role? 

For some reason, I hung onto a “Complete Works of Shakespeare” text book from college that also has pages of information before each work. It’s 6 inches thick, and I swear it’s like 20 pounds. I’ve been reading this beast of a book as well as some online resources regarding Malcolm as a character.

In Shakespeare’s interpretation, I find Andrea Varney of the British Library says it best: “The final scene … signals balance after excess, kingship after tyranny and calm after conflict … As a character, Malcolm serves as a benchmark by which we can judge Macbeth as a ruler … he helps us weigh conflicting ideas about manhood, family, royal duty and ‘vaulting ambition.’”

What’s your favorite role you’ve ever played?

So far, it’s been Rodolfo in Puccini’s “La Bohème.”

What’s your dream role?

How do I choose? Sheesh. Being a spinto tenor [spinto is a vocal term used to describe a voice of a weight between lyric and dramatic that is capable of handling big musical climaxes in opera at moderate intervals], I feel like I’m spoiled with all the good roles already! If I have to choose, I’d have to pick a role that is a few years down the road for me: Verdi’s Othello.

I know, I know. Typical, right? Yes, and for good reason. It’s amazing.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an opera singer?

Remember that scene in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (the 2016 fantasy film) where a Boggart turned into a desk for Newt? Same. I’d have to find another way to be involved in the music industry somehow, so since part of my undergrad was learning live sound reinforcement, I’d probably get back into that.

You don’t have to travel for this role, but when you are on the road, what’s your favorite self-care ritual?

Other than my arsenal of tea, ginger, Ricola and the like? It’s rest and relaxation. That means plenty of sleep and either reading or Netflix. 

There’s an old superstition that no one is supposed to say “Macbeth” in the theater. Do you plan to honor that? Or do you think it’s silly?

Even though I think this pertains to the play, I’m all about honoring traditions. So, why not apply it to the opera? Although, if I’m feeling particularly wicked, I won’t put it past myself to walk by a crowd of people and yell “Macbeth!”

Are you superstitious? About what? 

Not at all. But if my team is down, I’ll always sport a rally cap. I prefer the shark fin over inside-out cap.

What’s one fun fact about you? 

I used to be the lead singer in a classic metal cover band covering the likes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Metallica and more. I’ve since retired save for the occasional “Holy Diver” by Dio at karaoke.

What’s your superpower?

Whew. Loaded question. But thinking about it, I’d have to say empathy. On all levels. I am a sponge when it comes to picking up on the emotions and energy in a room. I don’t necessarily reflect those, but I can definitely feel them. Ultimately, it allows me to help shift an atmosphere if necessary. I found this is super helpful on stage, especially in a role like Rodolfo in “La Bohème.”