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Zing went the strings

This DVD of a Diana Damrau recital (accompanied only by the harpist Xavier de Maistre) is sure to please her legions of fans. The  program is generous (86 minutes of singing, plus an hour-long documentary of the soprano). Damrau generously allows her harpist two solo pieces. Damrau herself looks glamorous in a strapless black velvet bodice, red silk skirt and matching stole. The song choices are not unusual (classics by R. Strauss, Debussy, Faure, and Schumann with Bach/Gounod’s “Ave Maria” as an encore), but they all showcase Damrau’s silvery voice and diligent artistry. Not once during the recital does she degenerate into diva recital schtick. The relentless closeups only reveal a singer extremely concentrated on the art of singing.  

The issue is that … well, it’s not very dynamic. One bizarre choice was to film the recital at the Festipielhaus Baden Baden. Damrau and her harpist are onstage, and the choice was to sit the audience members onstage as well, so the auditorium itself was empty. The arrangement is awkward and doesn’t allow for much interpersonal interaction between the singer and audience that often marks these recitals. In addition, the Damrau voice has always lacked a certain warmth in timbre and individuality in phrasing.

She deploys her vocal resources with skill and taste, but these art songs require that little extra uniqueness. The glory of her voice has always been her upper register — it is gleaming, shining, and secure, and the best parts of the recital are where she can let her upper register soar. The middle voice always has had this slightly hollow, shrill sound to it and it’s less noticeable in an opera house than a recital hall, when her voice is completely exposed without any accompaniment but a harp.

The first half of the recital is devoted to classic French art songs. In general she sounds better in the gorgeous, dreamy melodies of Faure and Debussy. The harp accompaniment fits these songs like a glove. A fine moment is Debussy’s “Apparition.” The second half of the program is less successful. The Schumann and Strauss lieder in my opinion need a soprano with a firmer, more substantial middle voice. They also in my opinion make their full impact with a piano accompaniment. She also can’t drop her operatic delivery in these songs, and as a result they lose their intimate, conversational feel. She’s back in her element in the Strauss chestnuts — “Wiegenlied,” “Die Nacht,” “Morgen” and “Standchen” are all gorgeously sung. She certainly rates an A for effort.

Afiicianados of the diva will not want to miss the documentary “Diva Divina.” Despite its pretentious title, it’s less fluffy than the usual “behind the scenes” documentaries that often get tagged into these videos. There are onstage clips of Damrau singing Queen of the Night, Donna Anna, and Rosina. We also learn that Damrau likes to ride around in a scooter.


  • Feldmarschallin says:

    I heard a similar Liederabend with her in July and thought it mediocre. The harp didn’t really work for me and neither did her reading from the notes which I find annoying. The voice sounded fine and the Strauss was the best but the whole thing didn’t work due to the harp. I certainly would avoid another similar one but would go again if she goes back to the regular piano.

  • Buster says:

    This looks gayer than it sounds.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    It is really boring.

  • MontyNostry says:

    Poison Ivy seems to feel about Damrau as I do: admirable in many ways — and clearly ‘eine gute Profi — but lacking vocal and interpretative magic. Diligent, indeed.

    • Maury D says:

      I generally feel the same, though I have to say her Traviata, in addition to being extraordinarily well sung, really worked artistically. Maybe she responded well to the production, I don’t know. It was a pleasant surprise because, yeah, she’s often a bit of a blank.

      • Poison Ivy says:

        I liked her in most of the operatic roles I’ve seen. I think in many operatic roles her technical agility and reliability make up for the lack of “interpretative magic” as Monty Nostry says. I’ve never really been truly moved by anything she sang though, and I think it’s due to the somewhat glassy middle.

        • Porgy Amor says:

          A tardy follow-up, but the most moving performance of hers I’ve seen (I only heard Violetta on the radio) was the Gilda in the Rigoletto directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff. She rose magnificently to the dramatic challenges of the post-rape scene and the entire final act. It showed what a difference a production can make, because what I saw more recently from the Met had nothing of that impact. One was a “well-worked-out” performance by someone who knew her role well and could hit all the right marks. The other one was inspired, immediate.

  • oedipe says:

    Damrau’s projects for the near future, as per a recent interview: Juliette et Leïla in Les Pêcheurs de Perles.

    • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

      Actually, Danrau is performing her latest role next Sunday: Moll Hackabout in the world premiere of Iain Bell’s “A Harlot’s Progress” at Theater an der Wien. The part was written for her, and apparently contains a wild coloratura mad scene brought on by tertiary syphilis. The basis for the story is a set of Hogarth engravings, another set of which provided the story for “A Rake’s Progress” (which opened Theater an der Wien’s season in mid-September). The cast also includes Nathan Gunn, Tara Erraught, and Marie McLaughlin. Donald Runnicles was to conduct, but he pulled out “for family reasons” and will be replaced by Mikko Franck.

      • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

        Did I really just type “Danrau?” Time for new glasses!

      • Rimma Civetta says:

        I will be there (13 Oct). I’m looking forward to it!

        • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin says:

          I’ll be there on Sunday as well. By any chance, were you in the house for the “Fanciulla” prima on Saturday? I’d like to compare notes with someone who was there, as opposed to people who only heard/saw the broadcast/telecast.

  • rgz says:

    While I am a big fan of Ms. Damrau — her QotN was what got me into opera — as I’ve developed my taste more I’ve grown less fond of her voice. It’s certainly rather unique, but the overly strident tone in her middle register tends to put me off a bit.

  • -Ed. says:

    I’ve never been able to decide which I dislike more, the harp or the French horn.

  • Camille says:

    While always admiring the incredible technical prowess she displays and intermittently liking her operatic portrayls, there is something faintly Stepford Wife-ish about La Damrau which makes me always a bit leery of her efforts. The recent Traviata sounded like a step in the right direction, one I hope she continues in.

    I remember the Liszt album which came out two years ago and which was on about the same level as this recital album. Something missing.

    Oh, and her Eurythmics thing drives me up a fricking wall: