Can Belto

On the art of singing and those who practice it…

The art of the Coloratura…

I recently downloaded Diana Damrau’s new album, after seeing it on Amazon.com and waiting for iTunes to get their act together and offer a dowloadable version (I have some money to burn on my iTunes account). After her latest offering of mostly Mozart, I was eagerly anticipating this one, since it covers an area of the repertoire that Damrau is taking a claim to: the true and tested coloratura roles. I will have to say that I enjoyed the disc quite a lot, but I was also left with a sense of disappointment from her. In her desire to create a wonderful aural experience for the listener, I think she forgot her broad-stroke paint brush. What I mean is that she wanted to bring so many little details to her interpretations that I think she forgot that we, the listener, can (and should) add our own layers to what we are listening. Too many times sections are punched out and pulled appart that we do not get a sense Damrau can actually sing a legato line in which the music, and not her, take precedence.  I am going to go out on a limb and put some of the blame of this trend (no, Damrau is not the first one to do this on disk) squarely at the feet of Renee Fleming, whose bad habit of wanting to put her stamp on every little phrase she sings is apparently causing other artists to feel that is the way to go.

I do understand that a lot of this repertoire has been recorded, and sometimes quite good, but artists lucky enough to get a solo recording need to understand that we are going to buy their recordings, even if we own 30 other versions of an aria (or arias) already. Yes, there is a lot of competition, but by them distorting musical lines or exaggerating the punch line, the impression we get is not one of artistry but of a desperate act on their part, almost  like saying See? I got the joke here.. or See what can I do with this phrase, I bet [inset your favorite diva here]didn’t do this here. Artists, this is getting old and is actually turning us off your recordings and sending us right back at those artists you desperately want to make us forget. Time to trust the music and the text, kiddos; there is no need to all these nonsense show off that is ultimately not doing you any good; or in other words: Quit the fucking around and SING!

OK, now that all that is off my chest, lets do talk about the many good things this recording has to offer. For starters, the varied program (it is listed at the bottom if this review) . It offers Damrau an oportinity to give us a little bit of dreamy, a little bit of comedy, a little bit of resolve, an opportunity to hear what could have been and a whole lot of coloratura.

The disc opens with a effervescent Je Veux Vivre and continues with a Caro nome that doesn’t quite sparkles. I believe that Damrau’s personality might be too strong for some of these ingenue roles, even if her voice is perfect for them. While Juliette might seem just ideal, Her Gilda was a little too willing. Yes, she tried and in pure vocal terms she succeeds, but I was left with the feeling that this Gilda was not all that inexperienced, but remembering some heavy petting that might have occurred off stage. When the tracks reached Zerbinettas aria, I was looking forward mostly because it is not a piece that is usually  associated to heavier voiced coloraturas. I was hoping that Damrau being German would allow her do a lot with the text. Alas, I was left disappointed, not because she sang it poorly, but because the aria’s humor was delivered with a boxing glove rather than with a feather. In this aria more than in any other I wished Damrau would have taken a step back and allowed the music and the text to make the points rather than hear her deliver them in almost anal-retentive fashion.

The highlight of the disc, at least for me, was Anna Truelove’s aria from The Rakes Progress: Silently night…I go to him. In this aria Damraus does allow the music to flow naturally and by doing so she is highly effective in portraying Anne’s disappointment and eventual  resolution to go after the love she knows needs her. I will say that the other highlights of the recording come not far from the Stravinski, this time in the Oscar arias. Once again we get the effervescent way to sing, the smile and the joyeux de vivre that characterizes Damrau’s personality. She handles the staccatos in the  Volta la terra beautifully and the Saper vorreste is full of joy, teasing and (oh joy! finally!) some variations. How wonderful had it been had Damrau would have gone back to the time when coloratura sopranos made something of this aria by  way of ornamentation. Let’s hope that this is the beginning of a trend, since it has been too long since conductors have foolishly dominated the discussion on what proper Verdi style is.

The disc ends with a bang, with 3 numbers that are as famous and loved by coloraturas as Großmächtige Prinzessin. The O Luce di quest’anima starts in an immensely beautiful way; Damrau backs off the pressure that she sometimes puts of her voice and just sings, such simplicity of delivery is not something she is known for, but for a couple of pages she just shines.  I must admit I was not prepared for what I heard. I was expecting more pulling and punching, but what I got was truly beautiful singing, simple delivery, perfect for this aria.  I wish she had kept it up for all the aria, but even with the few times she did, I would say that those who will download single tracks from this disk should seriously consider adding this one to their list. This propably was the best singing of the entire disc. Ophelia’s mad scene from Hamlet finds Damrau in excellent form both vocally and dramatically and the Glitter and be Gay is fabulous in its ferocious intensity, all the way to an F# in alt, even if it is a tad overacted for the dizzy blond the character is.

In summary, the disc is a success, even if i would not call it a home run. Fans of Damrau should be very happy to add this disc to their collections while people who are getting to know her will ne happy to find tracks to sample her singing. Let’s hope that in future releases Ms. Damrau will back off a little from the extreme effects and give us a disc that shows more singing at the level of the O luce di quest anima.

Click on the image to purchase the CD

Roméo et Juliette: Je Veux Vivre
Rigoletto: Gualtier Malde…Caro nome
Ariadne auf Naxos, Zerbinetta: Großmächtige Prinzessin…
Il Barbiere di Siviglia: Una Voce Poco fa
The Rakes Progress: Silently night…I go to him
Gianni Schicchi; O mio Babbino Caro
Un Ballo in Maschera: Volta la terrea
Un Ballo in Maschera: Saper Vorreste
Linda di Chamounix: O luce di quest amina
Hamlet: A vos jeux, mes amis…
Candide: Glitter and be Gay

January 25, 2010 - Posted by | Recording Review | ,

2 Comments »

  1. I was at Damrau rendition of Grossmachtige Prinzessin at Carnegie last night, and I would say that the criticism in the second paragraph of the review held true. Certainly very well sung, but with unnecessary excesses of interpretation which really detracted from the pleasure of the performance. She wore the same dress as on the cover of the disk.

    Comment by Frank Hartin | January 25, 2010 | Reply

  2. Haven’t got the recording and won’t buy it. I’m sure you’re right though and I’m well aware of this trend. As a young singer who has studied with some well known conductors I have to tell you, they demand all this punching. We are expected to add all this phrasing. Singing a line simply is no longer enough for them who hold the baton. If you sing it the old way, letting the music do the job, you’re regarded boring, old-fashioned and basically you don’t get the job. Same with acting on stage. Out with the old, in with the hollywood acting. For some reason it sells and it gets you the job. Fleming, Damrau, Dessay, Di Donato…they’re doing what seems to sell well. I hate it but it gets them the contracts. Sad but true.

    Comment by SP | January 30, 2010 | Reply


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