Dec 22, 2023
Operetta recitals by star soloists have a long, if patchy, pedigree. Now Diana Damrau steps up, and it needs to be said that the qualities that make her such a winning recitalist – the wit, the confiding tenderness, the sensitivity to the text – are all here in full. The result is a series of performances that wholly avoid the self-consciousness that mars some of these big-name efforts – the sense, as a colleague once put it, that Diva (or Divo) X is paying a state visit to this repertoire.
Pleasingly, the programme ranges far beyond Vienna. Messager, Lincke, Stolz and Oscar Straus are all represented, and it’s good to see a recital disc embrace revue-operetta, with numbers from Paul Abraham’s Ball im Savoy (a wonderfully bluesy ‘In meinen weissen Armen’) as well as White Horse Inn and Korngold’s 1931 Strauss adaptation Das Lied der Liebe (Jonas Kaufmann guests on these last two, but with perfect tact). Excerpts from Friederike, Paganini and Eva remind us just how imaginatively Lehár could shape a melody. (If only Erato had provided English translations of the texts!)
The natural clarity and sweetness of Damrau’s soprano is a huge asset here. She has no trouble floating a melody over an orchestral climax (though Theis and his Munich orchestra play with alert, unforced warmth). Her lightness of touch is delicious; in numbers such as Messager’s ‘J’ai deux amants’ she brings a playfulness – a sparkle in the voice – that sets her apart from her grander colleagues. These are performances that you could imagine seeing on stage. At the same time, Damrau instinctively knows how to darken or tighten a phrase, bringing out the expressive potential of music that is far too readily dismissed as fluff. The results touch the heart as well as ravishing the palate: it’s early days, but I wonder if I’ve already found my record of the year?