Diana Damrau: "Forever: Unforgettable Songs From Vienna, Broadway and Hollywood"
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Abel. Original texts without translations. Erato 50999 60266620
When Diana Damrau crows "I'm as corny as Kansas in August / I'm as normal as blueberry pie," you believe her totally. For most of the songs on her new album, Forever, Damrau sounds like someone who grew up in Ohio singing along with Disney films and musicals her mom popped into the VCR. Yet the prodigiously gifted Bavarian soprano brings authority and affection to Viennese operetta selections as well. Add in a posh and clipped British delivery of "I Could Have Danced All Night" and a snappy Latino "I feel pretty," and we're listening to an operatic Meryl Streep.
Damrau's wild imagination and vivacious personality are all over this CD, from the selections to the program notes, and her suggestion to hit "random play" is well taken, if only to break up the string of operetta selections with identical splashy, flashy conclusions. Künneke's ardent "Strahlender Mond" and Lehár's "Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss" highlight Damrau's sturdy, focused and golden sound, but Rolando Villazón's harsh vocal attacks fail to match the soprano's smooth, silken delivery in the duet "Lippen schweigen." "Mein Herr Marquis," from Die Fledermaus, reveals a hint of bite under the controlled charm and peals of laughter as the dressed-up chambermaid Adele confronts her suspicious boss. Yet in "Klänge der Heimat," Rosalinde's party czardas from the same work, some worrisome vocal wildness mars the top notes.
During her galley years in Würzburg, Damrau sang Eliza in My Fair Lady in repertory, which explains the comfortable light belting voice and lusty, low-class delivery of "Wäre det nich wundaschen?" (Wouldn't it be Loverly?). In fact, the soprano claims her opera roles, particularly Mozart's Queen of the Night, benefitted from the specific acting and diction work she put into the Lerner and Loewe musical. The beautiful, breezy simplicity and shimmery high notes of "All in the Golden Afternoon" (from the 1951 Disney film Alice in Wonderland) and "Some Day My Prince Will Come" (from Disney's 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) bear this out.
In spite of Damrau's intelligence and virtuoso versatility, there are a few near-misses. Her sunny sound can turn syrupy and spread, or become brassy, as in The Little Mermaid's "Part of Your World" (sung in German). The soprano's optimistic, youthful sound provides a lovely, simple start to "Over the Rainbow," but the arrangement turns bombastic. It's no fault of Damrau's, but if you ever needed proof of Andrew Lloyd Webber's flimsy, trite writing, see how the ballad "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," from Phantom of the Opera, holds up in the company of Sondheim (a German version of Sweeney's Todd's "Green Finch and Linnet Bird"), Gershwin (a slinky "Summertime") and Richard Rodgers (a fun, bold "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy," from South Pacific).
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