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The Colorful Diana Damrau

available at Amazon
COLORaturaS, D. Damrau, Münchner Rundfunkorchester, D. Ettinger

(released on January 12, 2010)
Virgin Classics 509995 19313 2 2
The opera on Washington National Opera's current season that most appealed to me was the company's first-ever production of Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet, coming up this spring (May 19 to June 4). Sure, the staging by Thaddeus Strassberger, brought from Lyric Opera of Kansas City, may not be all that exciting at first glance, and (Lord help us) Plácido Domingo will be at the podium. At the same time, this production features the company debut of German coloratura soprano Diana Damrau in a new role for her: Ophélie and her notorious mad scene. Although Damrau's disc of Mozart arias was not tops on my list last year, she has been impressive in the most demanding soprano roles in the repertoire, making it an exciting prospect to hear her confront Ophélie for the first time.

Damrau's take on A vos jeux, mes amis on this otherwise fairly unremarkable recital disc extends my hopes for the experience of hearing her in the role this spring. As noted of Damrau's Mozart disc, the voice can lose its sweetness and turn acidic in tone: there is an occasional pointedness to the legato line, increasing the sense one has that Damrau, known as an especially dramatic actress, is sometimes willing to sacrifice the beauty of sound to the emotional demands of the moment. This is a matter of taste for each listener, but my own ears would generally rather hear the most beautiful tone. The good news is that Damrau does not fall into this tendency with Ophélie's music, perhaps to preserve the character's innocent naïveté even in the throes of insanity. The many flights of melodic fancy, on a wild-eyed "Ah!" as she follows the trajectory of birds in the air, soar and dive with avian grace.

The other highlights are also longer scenas, Großmächtige Prinzessin! from Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos and No word from Tom from Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. (Imagine for a moment Washington National Opera's production of Ariadne, but with Damrau's Zerbinetta and Anne Schwanewilms's Ariadne. Also, the company should think about bringing back The Rake's Progress, not heard here since 1985, with Damrau as Anne Trulove.) The other selections are less interesting in terms of repertoire selection and quality of performance. The disc is not a must-buy, except for Damrau completists, a reservation furthered by an unfinished quality to the booklet: question marks from bad textual formatting are strewn through the liner essay by Andrew Huth (as if no one proofread the final version before sending it to the printer) and translations appear to be copied from a French version of the release (there is a French translation of Bernstein's Glitter and Be Gay but no translation of Ophélie's A vos jeux, mes amis, for example). In fact, the MP3 form of the album, released earlier this fall, is cheaper and had a bonus track, Musetta's Waltz from La Bohème.

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