Diana Damrau Emmanuel Villaume Meyerbeer Grand OperaMeyerbeer Grand Opera

Diana Damrau, soprano
Orchestre et Chœur de l’Opéra National de Lyon
Emmanuel Villaume, conductor
Erato, 2017

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Although Giacomo Meyerbeer is regrettably relegated to a second place in our days, he was the most successful stage composer of the 19th century and his French, Italian and German operas reveal his perspicacious understanding of the musical tastes and styles of the audiences to which he addressed his works.

Diana Damrau has been guided precisely by the consideration that Meyerbeer was a true “European” composer in the widest meaning of the word when she recorded the album Grand Opera, devoted to Meyerbeer’s six major French works (the four grand operas Robert le Diable, Les Huguenots, Le Prophète and L’Africaine and the two opera-comiques L’Étoile du Nord and Le Pardon de Ploërmel) together with the two early and rare German operas Alimelek, oder die beiden Kalifen and Ein Feldlager in Schlesien and the Italian operas Il crociato in Egitto and Emma di Resburgo.

Damrau confesses in the booklet notes that she has been charmed by Meyerbeer’s «ability to enter into the spirit of different national styles of music. If you compare his Italian, German and French works you would think that you are listening to three different composers instead of just one» and she would like to record his arias already at the beginning of her career, but her wish has been fulfilled only in 2017, eleven years after the release of her first album, Arie di bravura.

In Grand Opera as in Damrau’s previous recordings, the first thing that strikes the listener is her easiness in the most challenging coloratura and virtuosic passages and the luminous high notes, qualities that can be appreciated in the rapid series of thrills of Mon cœur s’élance et palpite (which incidentally is the first aria of Grand Opera and is the perfect introduction to Damrau’s powerful vocal means), in the long flute cadenza Ah, mon Dieu! from L’Étoile du Nord and in Marguerite’s long scene from Les Huguenots. Since this is a German, Italian and French album, it will not be superfluous to praise the soprano’s flawless diction in all the three languages, especially in consideration of the representation of Meyerbeer’s “Europeanism”, which perfect also from the linguistic point of view.

The soprano’s unmistakable, amiable temperament and smiling gentleness are carefully measured, as in the heartbreaking aria Robert, toi que j’aime from Robert le diable. The piece is sung with incomparable intensity and its end is enriched with brilliant and piercing high notes that are true expressions of sorrow and pain, but not even this can match the long scene from Il crociato in Egitto (D’una madre disperata). The tact with which Damrau makes the listener understand Palmide’s happiness is admirable for the attention to every single word that deepens the impression of bliss and joy, leading to one of the most shining finali of the entire album.

Among Grand Opera best moments it is worth remembering the long scene of Marguerite de Valois Ô beau pays de la Touraine (from Les Huguenots), which is a pearl both for virtuosity and interpretation as Damrau gives prominence to all the suggestions evoked by the «riant jardins, verte fontaine» («colourful gardens, fresh-green spring») and to the sensuality of Marguerite. The two scenes Là-bas, sous l’arbre noir and Anna, qu’entends-je are interesting because this is the only chance to compare two different types of nostalgic sweetness from the same opera, L’Africaine, that Damrau sings with different nuances and with a different gradations of hope.

The overall impression is that Meyerbeer has found in Diana Damrau his ideal interpreter and actually Grand Opera is one of the most perfect recordings released in recent times.

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