Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Diana Damrau/Julius Drake @ Wigmore Hall, London

4 November 2008

Diana Damrau/Julius Drake@ Wigmore Hall, London, 4 November 2008
4 stars

Diana Damrau
Diana Damrau
A judiciously chosen programme for her Wigmore Hall debut recital and plenty of glorious singing cemented Diana Damrau’s position as Germany’s leading lyric soprano. The Zerbinetta of choice for most opera houses, few have bathed in such unstinting praise, or risen to such meteoric heights in what is a relatively short space of time.

She holds the remarkable accolade of having sung both Pamina and the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflte at the New York Met in the same season, and it came as no surprise that there wasn’t a seat to be had for her Wigmore Hall debut.

Having been blown away by her Zerbinetta at the Royal Opera a couple of years ago I was intrigued to see how her artistry had developed in the intervening years, especially as she appeared to migrating away from her usual fach of coloratura roles to focus more on the lyrical repertoire for the soprano voice. For her eagerly-anticipated Wigmore Hall debut she could easily have rested on her laurels and gone for a tried and tested programme, but it was testament to her musicality and depth of artistry that she presented a wide range of songs both stylistically and linguistically that also included a UK premiere.

She began the evening with a wonderfully introspective reading of Berg’s Seven Early Songs, teasing every possible nuance out of the opening song, Nacht (Night), and producing such an evocative pianissimo, always supported by rock-steady breath control and intonation, that as a listener one was immediately drawn into the singer’s world. Indeed it was a privilege to hear such a poignant and deeply-felt rendition of these songs, the range of emotion and palette of vocal colours at her disposal was breathtaking and the sense of abandonment of the final song, Sommertage (Summer Days) was palpable.

Barber’s Mlodies passagres (Fleeting Melodies) showed off her idiomatic French whilst she plumbed the emotional depths with a wonderfully restrained account of Tombeau dans un parc (Tomb in a park).

She followed this with a no-holds-barred performance of Ian Bell’s Daughters of Britannia which was written specifically for her. Five legendary women from Britain’s history lend their names to each of the songs: Boudicca, Maid Marian, Morgause, Guinevere and Lady Godiva and whilst Bell’s idiom may not be revelatory he certainly knows how to write for Damrau’s voice as she progresses from Valkyrie-like maiden (Boudicca), via lyricism (Maid Marian) to the coquettish Lady Godiva. Her English was faultless, as were the few notes she played on the piano at the end. A most beguiling song cycle that deserves repeated hearings.

The second half was made up of Richard Strauss lieder and here she was at her most relaxed, elegant and opulent. Few singers are able to sustain such beautifully supported pianissimo singing as she can, and all her powers of interpretation fused together for quite exquisite interpretations of Wiegenlied (Cradle Song) and Muttertndelei (Mother-talk), whilst she saved flashes of her incomparable coloratura technique for the fiendishly difficult Amor (Cupid).

Julius Drake was, as ever, an exemplary accompanist throughout. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.

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