Damrau, Harp Away: A Liederabend Disappointment

28/07/2013

Strauss, Canteloube, Dvořák: Xavier de Maistre (harp), Diana Damrau (soprano), National Theater, Munich, 22.7.2013 (JFL)

R.StraussDu meines Herzens Krönelein op.21/2, Ich schwebe op.48/2, Leises Lied op.39/1, Die Verschwiegenen op.10/6, Befreit op.39/4, Schlechtes Wetter op.69/5, Traum durch die Dämmerung op.29/1, Winterweihe op.48/8, Heimliche Aufforderung op.27/3, Ruhe, meine Seele op.27/1, Kling! op.48/3
J.Canteloube: La bergère aux champs, Pastourelle, La-bas dans le limousin
A.Dvořák: Gypsy Songs op.55, B 104

Diana Damrau & Xavier de Maistre

A Liederabend in Munich’s National Theater is normally a compromised proposition: few singers have the voice—and fewer still the courage—to look into the vast round and still sing Lied-appropriately: light and naturally. Christian Gerhaher can do it, and I’ve heard Thomas Quasthoff do a Müllerin there in an I-can’t-be-bothered-kind-of-way that was at once insulting and splendid. But most singers flip into opera-mode and shout. Even superb (but Lieder-inexperienced) ones like Anja Harteros, who floundered at a Liederabend during one of the last Munich Opera Festivals. And Lieder shouted, no matter who does the shouting, are awful.

Diana Damrau is one of the few who have the voice, the wherewithal, the experience, and the confidence to pull it off… which made this Liederabend—full of promising Richard Strauss—one of the more attractive offerings of this year’s Munich Opera Festival. That it didn’t turn out that way was not primarily her fault, but it probably still had something to do with the choice (not her choice) of venue. It was primarily a matter of Xavier de Maistre’s harp accompaniment, which didn’t take well to the Strauss nor the venue.

Bereft of an acoustic in which its sound could nicely reverberate, the harp just pling-planged into nothingness; notes falling like dead raindrops on the floor. Above it Mme. Damrau cut through the space with her voice, but even that sounded a little harsh at first, and at least very much unsupported. Whether because of the acoustic or form that night, they never sounded together; there was no sense of unity, no sense of her voice being carried by the music, as it would be in these works’ orchestral guise or with the piano accompaniment (presuming an excellent pianist). For at least the eleven Strauss songs, Mme. Damrau was left alone, and de Maistre’s hard work amounted to little more than mildly annoying background jingle-jangle. In the third song, “Leises Lied”, Damrau developed the vocal warmth one expects in her sublime Strauss, and in “Die Verschwiegenen” operatic spunk, plenty dynamic—but surprisingly little expressive—nuance, which fit the overall acoustic (and ultimately emotional) dullness.

available at Amazon
Recital,
D.Damrau, X.DeMaistre
+ Documentary “Diva Divina”
Virgin DVD

A little harp interlude separated the first two sets of Strauss, in part to pretend that there was some egality among the performers when of course exactly no one had come to the National Theater to hear Liszt transcribed for harp. The audience was well-behaved, though, and they humored Xavier de Maistre’s admittedly amazing Le Rossignol by showing their appreciation for this little divertissement before the main act was back on stage. A diva would have used the time to change dresses, but Damrau (who could pull it off) is thankfully above gimmicks (not counting the harp-accompaniment as such). Singer and harpist continued to subtract from each other, instead of adding… most notable in “Winterweihe”, which was a shadow of its orchestral self in this version. This lasted until after intermission, when three songs from Joseph Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne (sung in French, while the program helpfully offered the Occitan text, which caused many a confused look among the audience) worked much better for this voice-harp combination.

This was over too soon, giving way to another solo harp interlude, this time a transcription of The Moldau from Smetana’s Má vlast… a proud river, reduced to a trickle of treacle. The undeniable element of awesomeness in mastering such a difficult transcription—even if Xavier de Maistre showed neither the technical panache of his student Emmanuel Ceysson or the musical touch of Anneleen Lenaerts—is a bit like admiring someone for carving a turkey perfectly with a nail clipper. Amazing, with overtones of daftness. It was in any case overtaken by Dvořák’s Gypsy Songs (now the program offered a very different German translation from what Damrau sang), which were not the last word in idiomatic Bohemian folk-ness, but very beautifully done—especially the evergreen “Songs My Mother Taught Me”. Then Damrau announced updates on the state of the royal baby and context-matched Strauss songs as encores, goading the audience into a self-celebratory frenzy with the “Wiegenlied”, “Morgen”, “Nichts”, and the acrobatic Eva Dell’Acqua “J’ai vu passer l’hirondelle” (from Villanelle).

Not a night to remember, but I’m looking forward to catching the program in the much more intimate and appropriate setting of the Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg.

Jens F. Laurson

Print Friendly

Comments

Comments are closed.

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • NEW! The Twelfth English Music Festival Coming Soon in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Kenneth MacMillan’s The Sleeping Beauty at the London Coliseum in June __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018/19 Birmingham Classical Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe Star in The King and I at the London Palladium __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 BBC Proms __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera Celebrates its 25th Anniversary with Nicolò Isouard’s Cinderella __________________________________
  • NEW! Pop-Up Opera’s 2018 Mozart Double Bill __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Let’s Dance International Frontiers (LDIF) 2018 Celebrates its Eighth Year __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Chess at the London Coliseum from 26 April for 5 Weeks __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Abandoned Liszt Opera Sardanapalo Premieres in Weimar in August __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! The London Orchestra Project’s Metamorphosen on 27 May at LSO St Luke’s __________________________________
  • NEW! MARKUS POSCHNER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Massenet’s Thaïs at the Cadogan Hall on 23 June __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Carly Paoli Sings for Chelsea Pensioners, at Cadogan Hall, and Signs for Sony/ATV __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • NEW! A First Charity Classical Music Concert at Finchcocks on 27 May __________________________________
  • NEW! MICHAEL SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! Trinity Laban Moves to Abolish All-Male Composer Concerts __________________________________
  • NEW! ARABELLA STEINBACHER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR LAURENCE EQUILBEY IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month