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CD Feature/ Diana Damrau: "Arie di Bravura"

img  Tobias

Diana Damrau will always hold an essential advantage over 90% of her equally renowned colleagues: Unlike many other (and undoubtedly talented) singers, she hasn’t swiftly shot to fame on the wings of lavish marketing budgets and aggressive PR campaigns. Her current status as one of the internationally most sought after Sopranos is the systematic result of more than a decade of persistent and persistently praised performing and “Aria di Bravura” only her first true solo album after several collaborational releases and integral operatic projects.

The delay has paid off: In October of this year, Damrau will replace pregnant Anna Netrebko at New York’s Metropolitan Opera for seven nights of "Lucia di Lammermoor". That opera is not part of the program on “Arie di Bravura”, yet one can be sure that the worldwide success of this disc has been an important factor attributing to the nomination: The album has entered the Top 10 of Billboard’s classical charts and grabbed up the prestigious “Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik”, while generally being endowed with unusually unrestrained acclaim.

The message, therefore, is clear: Diana Damrau is one of the ladies to watch these days. A former insider tip who has risen from the depths of the underground, slowly securing first engagements at Würzburg’s State Theatre, debuts at the Salzburg Festival as well as Royal Albert Hall, signing an exclusive contract with EMI/Virgin Classics in passing through, she combines the demands of artistic integrity by purists as well as more popular requests for the essentials of opera’s renewed mass appeal: Great melodies, virtuosity and a feast for the ears and eyes alike.

As such, “Aria di Bravura” captures her personality in a remarkably precise, high-resolution snapshot without doing so in a trivial or overly obvious manner. Her take on two of the “Zauberflöte”’s luminous arias is the only open reference to her past, the Queen of the Night a role she has made her own in numerable performances worlwide. Mozart, one could say in general, is under-represented on this disc when considering the seminal importance of the Austrian composer for Damrau’s career. Salieri and Righini, meanwhile, are awarded remarkable supremacy, as the German Soprano seamlessly connects pearls from “Cublai, gran Khan dei Tartari”, “La finta scema” and “L’Europa riconosciuta” (Salieri) with extracts from “Il natal d’Apollo” (Righini).

The concept of the CD, omitting a few notable exceptions and defying the sometimes rather sombre outlook of the lyrics, revolves around joyous and upbeat musical material, spirited thematic developments and energising harmonic progressions. It is almost as if Damrau were trying to cope with bitter realities, convincing herself that the world is a good place while singing about fear, despair, alienation and “the sorrowing shade of my beloved”. Without paying closer attention to the words, her program constitutes a wirlwind of liveliness, a torrential tour de force which encompasses the plaintive hope of “Ombra Dolente” and the festive majesty of “D’un insultante orgoglio”.

As spectacular as this approach may be most of the time, the conscious concentration on a few select works also lends “Arie di Bravura” a slightly monochromatic dramaturgy – not necessarily a disadvantage, though, when compared to some of today’s thematically and timbrally incohesive “Greatest Hits” programs. Part of the effect is also offset by the orchestral performance of the “Cercle de l'Harmonie”. Instead of providing mere accompaniment, it makes for a veritable musical partner, the French ensemble leading, following, echoing, prompting and entering a fruitful dialogue with Damrau, who gladly accepts the invitation. Even though her voice still takes center stage, it does so completely naturally and without the usual egoism.

Early fans may bemoan the absence of Mahler and of the “Lied” in general. It also goes without saying that this album is much more commercially oriented than anything Diana Damrau has ever done before. But you have to understand: “Arie di Bravura” is a logical step forward for a singer who is ascending the ladder of success at her own speed. She has managed to avoid cutting the ties with her past completely and added a plethora of new connections, associations and fresh points of departure. The first solo album on a major label is a difficult and decisive step for every singer. Damrau has certainly used it to hold her lead over most of her colleagues.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Diana Damrau
Homepage: Virgin Classics/EMI Classics

Homepage: Cercle de l'Harmonie 

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