Tuesday, April 4, 2017 — Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864) was in many ways the most successful operatic composer of his era. A rival to Rossini in the 1820s, he went on to become synonymous with the extravagant splendours of Parisian grand opéra and a major influence on French composers and the two titans of Romantic opera, Verdi and Wagner.
In the course of the 20th century Meyerbeer’s operas became rarities on the world’s stages, although Les Huguenots – known in its heyday at New York’s Metropolitan Opera as “the night of the seven stars”' – achieved some renewed presence after 1960, as did Robert le Diable, Le Prophète and L’Africaine, Over the past five decades Meyerbeer’s operas have occasionally been seen at such major houses as the Metropolitan, the Paris Opéra, La Scala, Covent Garden, San Francisco, Florence, Barcelona’s Liceu and La Monnaie in Brussels. In recent years, particularly in Germany, they have entered the fringes of the repertoire, and Berlin’s Deutsche Oper mounted a new production of Les Huguenots in 2016. The same opera is scheduled for Autumn 2018 at the Paris Opéra.
As her extensive Erato catalogue demonstrates, the German soprano Diana Damrau, offers a fusion of brilliant coloratura, lyricism and dramatic power. These are precisely the qualities that enable her to rise triumphantly to the challenges conceived by Meyerbeer for the singers of his day, especially the virtuosic Laure Cinti-Damoreau and Julie Dorus-Gras. Damrau, whose repertoire encompasses Mozart, bel canto, Verdi and Strauss, has recently enjoyed major successes in 19th century French works at the Metropolitan Opera: “Ms. Damrau brings brilliant coloratura agility, radiant sound and charisma galore to the role of Leïla,” wrote the New York Times of her performance in Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de perles, while the New York Observer described “her silvery voice darting and swooping like a startled butterfly” in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.
The idea of a Meyerbeer album has been close to Diana Damrau’s heart since she first recorded for the label, some 10 years ago. She became fascinated by the composer’s music as a student in Würzburg, when she was invited to perform his cantata Gli amori di Teolinda. “I immersed myself in Meyerbeer’s world,” she explains, “and was excited by his multifaceted writing for the voice, by his orchestral colours, his theatrical instincts, the powerful and varied way in which he expresses emotion, his splendid melodies and, last but not least, his ability to capture precisely the right ‘national style’. If you compare his Italian, German and French works, it is like listening to three different composers.”
While Meyerbeer achieved international celebrity with his compositions for Paris, he was born (as Jakob Liebmann Beer) near Berlin and spent a lengthy formative period in Italy. Representing 10 of his operas, this album contains dazzling arias in French from Les Huguenots, L’Africaine, Robert le Diable, Le Prophète, L'Étoile du Nord and Le Pardon de Ploërmel (also known as Dinorah), alongside numbers from works written to Italian libretti – Il crociato in Egitto and Emma di Resburgo – and to German texts – Alimelek, oder die beiden Kalifen and Ein Feldlager in Schlesien. The last three operas named can truly be classed as exotica, and the two arias from the German works are here receiving their world premiere recordings. The score for the aria from Il crociato in Egitto was made available by the Venice-based cultural institution Palazetto Bru Zane, which specialises in French music of the Romantic era.
Accompanying Diana Damrau are the Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra national de Lyon and the conductor Emmanuel Villaume. No fewer than three distinguished singers make appearances in supporting roles: mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich, tenor Charles Workman and bass-baritone Laurent Naouri.
- 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