OPERA NEWS - Diana Damrau: "Fiamma del Belcanto"
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Diana Damrau: "Fiamma del Belcanto"

spacer Arias by Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi, Puccini and Leoncavallo. Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino, Noseda. Texts and translations. Erato 0825646166749

Recordings Fiamma Bel canto Damrau Cover 915

The intelligent and musical soprano Diana Damrau captivates listeners with endlessly imaginative vocal colorings and her handling of text with seemingly natural ease. Now, as her voice matures, there’s extra warmth, with soft-edged contours. The brilliant gleam is still available, but the soprano revels in gentler vocal textures and more voluptuous phrasing in her newest recital, Fiamma del Belcanto, for which Gianandrea Noseda and the Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino provide dramatically alert support in Italian arias from Bellini to Leoncavallo.

Rosmonda’s Act I aria from Donizetti’s Rosmonda d’Inghilterra leads off the disc, and here one wishes the program booklet included less effusion from the singer and more informative work from the musicologist. But it’s another Donizetti piece, Maria Stuarda’s reminiscence of France, that really engages Damrau’s emotions and intellect. Every word in the opening recitative is measured, and it’s nice to hear a soprano voice detail the delicate rising line “O nube! che lieve.” When Maria’s rival, Queen Elizabeth, is announced, Damrau’s steely sound, bold chest voice and stunning high E-flat power the forceful cabaletta, “Nella pace del mesto riposo.”

In one of her signature roles, Violetta, Damrau paces the recitative “È strano” thoughtfully, then seems to go into a trance as Verdi’s courtesan imagines the possibility of love in “Ah, fors’è lui,” with its reflective second verse and Damrau’s slow cadenza extending the dreamy mood. Snapping back to reality, Damrau sings “Gioir” without the customary soft, syrupy repeat but with a determined shout before launching into a feisty and nearly manic “Sempre libera.” Joined by Piotr Beczala, who brazenly takes a high C in his offstage serenade, Damrau heads breathlessly to the finish line, using the fioritura and runs to paint Violetta’s urgency and desperation.

Damrau always goes beyond the obvious musical choices, and her readings bristle with lively thought and immediacy. In the finale of Bellini’s Sonnambula, Damrau adopts an entirely different vocal coloration — lighter, younger and more innocent — than she used as Violetta. “Ah! non credea mirarti” moves along without self-indulgence yet reveals Amina’s disturbed mind poignantly in subtle hesitations and lingering in the vocal line. “Qui la voce,” from I Puritani, pulses with aching innocence, and the soprano’s blurry vocal sound floats and dips easily, with the chromatics of the florid cabaletta descending like delirious sighs.

A special pleasure is Damrau’s exploration of the florid Verdi roles, whether for fun or as future projects. The role of Amalia in I Masnadieri, one of Verdi’s least performed operas, was written for Jenny Lind, and the entrance scene, with its sweet woodwind introduction, shows Verdi at his most delicate, with a dolorous cadenza leading to a pert cavatina. Damrau’s warm timbre and easy filigree make the most of this attractive piece, even if her trill is a bit wild. The blackmail scene from Luisa Miller, with Damrau’s husband, Nicholas Testé, as an imposing if somewhat opaque Wurm, showcases the soprano’s musical precision, as she uses the short notes and dotted rhythms to energize and propel the phrases of “Tu puniscimi, O signore.” Arpeggios explode into the final cadenza, “Non lasciarmi in abbandon,” extended with Damrau’s unerring sense of color and pacing. —Judith Malafronte

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