Superstar tenor’s Lehár brings down the house as well as the underwear at the famous Last Night.
Jonas Kaufmann has made Proms history by becoming the first German to sing the British patriotic anthem Rule Britannia at the BBC Proms. That statistic in itself is interesting enough to generate a column inch or two, but in a gift to press gallery the world’s media were treated to behaviour more reminiscent of a Tom Jones bash. Yes, in return for offering a packed Albert Hall arias by Puccini and Lehár, a couple of over-excited Prommers responded by throwing their knickers at the superstar tenor.
The famous Last Night is always an excuse for classical music to let its hair down, but with Kaufmann fielding lingerie (and at this stage it’s unclear whether the garments were worn or fresh), and conductor Marin Alsop whipping out a selfie stick to snap herself on the podium with the crowd as backdrop, viewers might be forgiven for thinking they were at a middle-aged rock and roller gig.
The evening started sedately enough with young pianist Benjamin Grosvenor (due in Australia this November) delivering a bouncy rendition of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 2 followed by James P Johnson’s Victory Stride and Percy Grainger’s arrangement of Gershwin’s Love Walked In. Australian-American soprano Danielle de Niese sang Delibes’s cheeky Les Filles de Cadix before leading the audience in a singalong medley from The Sound of Music.
Kaufmann’s contributions included textbook renditions of Puccini – Recondita armonia from Tosca, Donna non vidi mai from Manon Lescaut and the inevitable Nessun Dorma – before offering an encore of You are My Heart’s Delight (in German and English). It was after the Lehár that a couple of audience members let down more than just their hair. The grinning tenor bent down to pick up a lacy black thong followed by a pair of white silk knickers, giving them a spirited twirl before carrying them off presumably to his dressing room. Returning in the garb of a 19th-century German ambassador, he proceeded to offer a sterling rendition of Arne’s Rule Britannia before lobbing a pair of Union Jack boxer shorts into the crowd.
Alsop conducted her second Last Night (to date the only woman to lead the event) and took the opportunity to make an impassioned plea for gender equality and arts funding from the podium. “When I was last with you for this amazing and wonderful celebration, I shared how proud I was to be the first woman to conduct the LNOP,” she said. “What excites me is that now is that we’re going to see the third, the fifth , the tenth, the one hundredth woman to follow me because we have to work towards a more just and equal playing field for women. I think it’s clear that inequality is one of the greatest challenges facing us today – whether it’s gender, racial, economic or ethnic inequality. Now music is not going to solve these issues, but music has the power to change the hearts and minds of even the most hardened dissenter.”
“I’m not going to pretend that music alone can change the world but, here tonight in this incredible hall with all of you here, I feel the power of music to unite us and to bring out the best that humanity has to offer. We have to reach out to those people who are struggling to be heard today. Let’s bring the sound of our voices together so that it reaches out to people everywhere to all of our brothers and sisters. That is the great power of music.”