‘Music, it’s nurturing for our souls’: soprano Diana Damrau promises ‘a goose bump evening’ for Hong Kong concertgoers
May 1, 2023
Acclaimed soprano Diana Damrau has spent more than two decades lighting up stages around the world. But life could have been very different for the German superstar, who nearly lost her voice early on in her career.
“I never had a ‘Plan B’ outside of opera but I love nature so if I wasn’t singing maybe I would have ended up in South America searching for medicinal plants in the Amazon,” says Damrau, who decided at the age of 12 that she wanted to become a singer.
“La traviata was the first opera I saw,” she says of watching Franco Zeffirelli’s 1983 film version of the Puccini work, which featured Plácido Domingo and Teresa Stratas. “It touched me so much that I wanted to learn how to sing that kind of music,” she says.
Damrau, who is based just outside Zurich, in Switzerland, will travel to Hong Kong for a recital on May 10 as part of an Asia tour.
“You will hear a bouquet of everything you can imagine, starting with Donizetti and getting more romantic with beautiful songs by Duparc and [Richard] Strauss, my favourite composer,” says the singer, nominated three times for a Grammy and a recipient of the Bavarian Order of Merit. She will round out her performance with songs by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, and Damrau promises “a goose bump evening”.
Joining her on stage in Hong Kong is her husband, the French bass-baritone Nicolas Testé, with Mathieu Pordoy on the piano.
I had to communicate by writing notes because I couldn’t speak for weeks – Diana Damrau on the intubation by doctors that damaged her vocal cords
“I come from the Queen of the Night [from Mozart’s The Magic Flute], so my voice is high, fast, clear. You have the opposite with my husband’s voice, who brings the depth, the big sound and the darkness and a lot of beauty to the programme.”
Damrau’s voice came very close to being destroyed when she was 22.
“I had an operation because they wanted to check if I have endometriosis,” she says of the disease in which tissue that is similar to the lining of the uterus grows in other places in the body.
The operation involved intubation, when a flexible plastic tube is inserted down the throat. The procedure damaged her vocal cords.
“I lost one-and-a-half years of my studies,” she says. “I had to communicate by writing notes because I couldn’t speak for weeks. Some doctors wanted to operate and I said no – this will heal by itself. It must. It was like a big blister.
“Being an optimist, I knew I’d be fine. I just needed time.”
Damrau also developed an allergic reaction to anaesthetics used during her long treatment. As a result, she turned to a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner in Germany.
“I had a cocktail of vitamins and herbs that caused acne on my back as the toxins came out of my body. But it healed my immune system,” she says, saying the experience cemented her faith in a holistic approach to health.
She says she is excited about her return to Hong Kong. Damrau last visited, twice, in 1996, a year before the handover.
“I might be surprised by how it’s changed but I’m excited to show my friends, family and kids places like The Peak and markets in Kowloon and Stanley. We’re only there for a few days but hopefully we’ll also get to Macau.”
The couple’s two boys, aged 10 and 12, are also travelling with them on their Asia tour, which includes concert dates in Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.
“Once a year, or every two years, we take them out of school, so we have to be teachers on the road … it’s wonderful to be able to show them this through our profession,” says the singer.
“They went to Asia four years ago but were young, so now they understand so much more. It will be magical because they love <em”>manga and Pokemon.”
Taking time to de-stress is important for Damrau when life consists of endless rounds of travelling, rehearsing and performing, as well as overseeing the children’s school work.
“After this tour we will have a 10 days’ break to get over jet lag and then I start work on a new album,” she says.
It’s hectic, but she wouldn’t change a thing.
“Music is the international language, we all understand this, we all need it,” she says. “Whatever kind of music, we cannot live without it. It’s nurturing for our souls.”