Photo by Franz Johann Morgenbesser from Vienna, Austria (Diana Damrau, Sopran) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Welcome to our series on the best German opera singers!
If you google “Best German opera singer,” Diana Damrau is one of the very first search results. In fact, she is the second search result behind Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who is arguably one of the greatest singers of all time. And let’s be real, I would put Damrau on that list too. I promise I’m not just saying that because we are both coloratura sopranos!
Born in Günzburg, Germany, Diana Damrau attended the Hochschule für Musik Würzburg. In 1995, she made her opera debut as Barbarina in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro at the State Theater in Würzburg. In 2003, she gave one of her most famous performances as the Queen of the Night at the Royal Opera House in London. (Seriously though, if this video doesn’t make you want to kill Sarastro, nothing will). And in 2005, she had her Metropolitan Opera debut as Zerbinetta in Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos. Since then, she has performed every year at the Met, including in their Live in HD movie theater series.
Damrau received the title of Kammersängerin from the Bavarian State Opera in 2007. Kammersängerin is an honorific title for distinguished opera singers in Germany. Think of it as knighthood status in England. Not to mention, in 2010 she was awarded the Bayerischer Maximiliansorden. This is the highest recognition for artists awarded by the State of Bavaria. This recognition is limited to only 100 living recipients of this award. The awards don’t stop there. If you look at her biography, she has won numerous ‘blank’ of the year awards, which include ‘singer’, ‘star’, and even ‘rose’ of the year.
Aside from opera performance, she is also known as an excellent interpreter of art song, performing recitals and concerts all over the world. In interviews, she has spoken about loving the challenge of songs because oftentimes multiple characters/personalities are displayed in one song recital. There are quicker changes and more colors. Usually, there are many more emotions in one song than there are in one aria.
Damrau has released multiple CD’s through EMI/Virgin Classics and Warner/Erato. You’ll definitely want to listen to her newest one, “Meyerbeer - Grand Opera,” which was released in May of this year. She has made many appearances on DVD as well, including productions at the Met, La Scala, and Covent Garden.
What I love about Damrau is that she has such an incredible understanding of character development. When you watch her performances, even recorded ones on YouTube, her acting is so fantastic that you forget you are watching opera. It just seems like real life is happening right in front of you, no matter how ridiculous the character or scene. Excellent acting does this. Diana is so good at this aspect of performance because she really takes time to think about the characters she plays. When you listen to her speak about characters in interviews, you can tell that she has truly taken a mental walk in the character’s shoes. She knows their motivations and what makes them tick. She probably has even figured out what her character likes to eat for breakfast. Along with character development, you can tell she has a true understanding of what her character is saying and what other characters are saying onstage. She always has a deep understanding of the text and carefully crafts each line.
Diana Damrau is also so genuine when she interviews. She does not brag or boast. When asked about accomplishments, she speaks succinctly and from a perspective of being thankful. She has compassion for the characters she plays. She seems to respect all her colleagues and sing their praises. She’s a team player!
I am very envious of her range. In performance, she has sung from a Bb3 to a G#6 and everything in between! That is pretty incredible to not only have those extremes of notes in the first place, but to be able to sing them well enough to perform them. It’s not just a grumble on the low end and a squeak on the high end.
Of course, Damrau is not all serious all the time. She has performed fun and silly roles like Cunegonde from Bernstein’s Candide. Who doesn’t love a little Glitter and be Gay? It takes extreme versatility to be able to make you laugh, then to sing something else and make you cry.
Besides her incredible ability to interpret classic, well-known opera characters, she has a knack for creating new characters as well. She sang the title role in the world premiere of A Harlot's Progress, an opera written for her by composer Iain Bell.
Damrau is married to French bass-baritone Nicolas Testé. They met singing in a German church. Now, they have two children together. With such crazy performance schedules, the children are homeschooled and travel with their parents. They haven’t formed a von Trapp family gig yet, but Testé is singing on tour with Damrau in Asia this summer.
If you want to see Damrau sing, you have many opportunities! She is singing everywhere all the time and her performance schedule is planned for out for the next five years! The trick is to see her when she is performing close to you. Keep tabs on her schedule.
We will be writing about more singers here on your favorite German opera blog. (If it’s not your favorite, pretend it is.) Tell us why you love Diana Damrau and which singers you want to learn more about!
By Franz Johann Morgenbesser from Vienna, Austria (Diana Damrau, Sopran) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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