Meyerbeer: GRAND OPERA with Diana Damrau
This glorious new album finds Diana Damrau in sparkling, top-notch form. The exacting demands that Meyerbeer makes on the soprano voice are shrugged off by a diva in her prime.
Meyerbeer was German (Prussian) by birth, French by adoption, and Italian by formation; a true European. Born Jacob Liebmann Meyer Beer, his first name became ‘Giacomo' during his years in Italy, where he headed on the advice of Salieri after the poor reception in Germany and Vienna of his first two operas. Inspired by the music of Rossini – six months his junior – he embarked on a string of seven operas in Italian during the ten-years he lived there. The last of these was Il crociato in Egitto, which premiered in Venice in 1824. A year later it was performed in Paris, and the city opened its doors to him. His first French opera was premiered in Paris in 1831, and it launched him into the opera stratosphere: Robert le diable, his first ‘grand opéra'.
Until his death in 1864 he remained wildly popular. So popular and so wealthy as to rub his contemporaries up the wrong way; Wagner said he was “a Jewish banker to whom it occurred to compose operas”. Meyerbeer's operas on a grand scale gradually fell out of fashion in the latter part of the 1800s, and were hardly performed at all during the first half of the 20th century. The cost of large casts, the difficulty of Meyerbeer's virtuoso writing, and the banning of the Jewish composer in Nazi Germany and other countries, all effected their popularity. A 1962 production of Les Huguenots at La Scala (with Joan Sutherland, Franco Corelli, Giulietta Simionato, Fiorenza Cossotto and Nicolai Ghiaurov… Gianandrea Gavazzeni conducting!) jump-started a revival and, together with Robert le diable, Le prophète, and L'Africaine, Meyerbeer's grand operas are now to be found in in opera seasons the world over.
Damrau has been interested in Meyerbeer's music since performing in his cantata Gli amori di Teolinda as a student, and the idea for an entire disc dedicated to his arias has been on her mind for a decade.
Erato has treated her nobly with this album, Meyerbeer: Grand Opera, a recording featuring the Lyon National Opera Orchestra and Chorus under the baton of Emmanuel Villaume, together with soloists Kate Aldrich, Charles Workman and Laurent Naouri, which gives the excerpts their due importance. The 82-minute album was recorded in the summer of 2015.
Ten operas are represented, including the big four. Arias from his early opera Alimelek, oder die beiden Kalifen and a Singspiel from his later period called Ein Feldlager in Schlesien, have both been recorded for the first time.
Maybe the best-known aria included here is ‘Ô beau pays de la Touraine' from Les Huguenots, and even if it is impossible to cut the umbilical cord with Sutherland, Damrau makes it her own. She doesn't have Sutherland's warm top notes (who does?) but she gives more weight to the text both in clarity and interpretation.
Two operas written for the Opéra-Comique in Paris – L'étoile du nord and Le pardon de Ploërmel (known as Dinorah from when it was translated into Italian for its premiere Covent Garden) – allow Damrau to fire off her coloratura big guns, which she does with dazzling aplomb. However, she intelligently chooses to conclude not with vocal fireworks, but with the seductive, forlorn lyricism of ‘Adieu, mon doux rivage', an aria often cut, from Meyerbeer's last opera, L'Africaine.
A few months before he died, Meyerbeer wrote a prayer: “Preserve my artistic creativity… and ennoble my artistic fame,” he asked. Diana Damrau has done something towards answering that prayer.
Meyerbeer: GRAND OPERA on Erato (5 May 2017)
LE PROPHÈTE (1849): Mon coeur s'élance et palpite Berthe 4:05
ROBERT LE DIABLE (1831): Robert, toi que j'aime Isabelle 5:52 Robert: Charles Workman tenor
ALIMELEK, ODER: DIE BEIDEN KALIFEN (1814) Nur in der Dämm'rung Stille Irene 6:17***
L'ÉTOILE DU NORD (1854) Ah, mon Dieu !… C'est bien l'air que chaque matin Catherine 6:58
L'AFRICAINE (1865) Là-bas, sous l'arbre noir… Fleurs nouvelles Inès 5:34
IL CROCIATO IN EGITTO (1824) D'una madre disperata…Con qual gioia Palmide 9:20 Aladino: Laurent Naouri bass
LE PARDON DE PLOËRMEL (1859) (DINORAH) Comme cette nuit est lente à se dissiper !… Ombre légère Dinorah 8:20
EIN FELDLAGER IN SCHLESIEN (1844) Oh Schwester, find' ich dich!… Lebe wohl, geliebte Schwester Therese 6:53 Vielka: Kate Aldrich mezzo-soprano***
EMMA DI RESBURGO (1819) Sulla rupe triste, sola…Ah questo bacio Emma 6:38
LES HUGUENOTS (1836) Ô beau pays de la Touraine Marguerite 12:55 Urbain: Pei Min Yu soprano Coryphée: Pascale Obrecht soprano Dame d'honneur: Joanna Curelaru Kata mezzo-soprano
L'AFRICAINE (1865) Anna, qu'entends-je…“Adieu, mon doux rivage” Inès 8:34 Anna: Kate Aldrich mezzo-soprano
***World premiere recording
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.