ALBUM TITLE: Grand Opera
WORKS: Arias from Le prophète, Robert le diable, Alimelek, L’étoile du nord, L’Africaine, Les Huguenots etc
PERFORMER: Diana Damrau (soprano); Orchestre et choeurs de l’Opera national de Lyon/Emmanuel Villaume
CATALOGUE NO: 9029584899
To his contemporaries Giacomo Meyerbeer was an artistic giant, yet his music subsequently fell from favour to a point not that far from oblivion. Recently there have been renewed signs of life, and this ample and wide-ranging collection of soprano arias demonstrates his range and quality.
Ten of his operas are sampled. The programme starts with Alimelek, a Singspiel revised from a German-language dialogue comedy premiered in 1813, and ends with his final work, L’Africaine, a vast French-language grand opéra left incomplete on his death in 1864. In addition to French and German operas there are extracts from two of his Italian scores, written during an extended stay that preceded his years of Parisian triumph.
Diana Damrau here tackles with pretty consistent success all the vocal difficulties Meyerbeer threw at his heroines – and some of his mature works were written for the leading singers of the day. She’s assisted by singers taking on the small interjections from secondary characters, and well supported by the fine Lyon orchestra under the skilful baton of Emmanuel Villaume.
Linguistically Damrau is least at home in the French arias that dominate the disc. There are times when the result feels distanced and dutiful: in the mad scene for Catherine in L’Etoile du Nord, in which Meyerbeer characteristically has to go one better than other composers and employ not one but two flutes, or the beautiful melody of Isabelle’s aria from Robert le diable. But in Marguerite’s aria from Les Huguenots and Inès’s two numbers from L’Africaine, she and the composer are both at their considerable best.