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Forever: Unforgettable Songs from Vienna, Broadway and Hollywood
Diana Damrau (soprano)
Rolando Villazón (tenor)*
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Charles Abell
rec. The Friary, Liverpool, 9, 11, 12, 19, 20 December 2012; Emil Berliner Studios, Berlin, 29 March 2013
Sung texts enclosed, no translations
ERATO 6026662 [77:01]

Roman Polanski’s film The Ninth Gate from 1999 may be filled with horror - I haven’t seen it - but the Vocalise, which opens this wholly delightful disc is warm and beautiful. Wojciech Kilar, who died two days before New Year’s Eve, was a superb melodist. Those who get hooked are advised to search out the wonderful disc with his choral music that was issued just a couple of years ago (review).
 
Diana Damrau is in glorious form throughout the programme and she has few superiors at the moment in lyrical roles. This is a new niche repertoire-wise for her, at least on disc, and she justifies the choice by referring to Anneliese Rothenberger, who was a riveting Mozart-singer and also excelled in the title role of Alban Berg’s Lulu, but often indulged in lighter repertoire, not least recording a considerable number of Viennese operettas, often together with Nicolai Gedda. She comes into direct competition with her older compatriot in some Kálmán, Lehár and Strauss arias. Suffice to say that she is in no way inferior. She has true Viennese lilt. Most of these songs are well known, but Künneke’s Der Vetter aus Dingsda is rarely heard today. Once upon a time it was very popular, but tastes change. Strahlender Mond should definitely be dusted off more often. It may not be as memorable as the tenor’s Ich bin nur ein armer Wandergesell but it is good enough and as sung by Ms Damrau it is a gem too.
 
The Lehár excerpts are the predictable ones. Giuditta was the composer’s last success, premiered at the Vienna State Opera with Tauber and Jarmila Novotna, who brought the house down with Meine Lippen …. Diana Damrau would no doubt do the same. This is great singing indeed and just listen to the flair and precision of the orchestra. In Lippen schweigen Rolando Villazón joins her as Danilo. He is in mellifluous voice but he wouldn’t be Villazón if he avoided some ringing fortes as well - almost over the top actually.
 
The Fledermaus arias are always welcome. Though one has heard them hundreds of times they have preserved their freshness. Damrau here caresses them beguilingly and with a twinkle in the eye. In the czardas there are a couple of bars where she deviates from the standard edition.
 
Over now to the Broadway musical scene, and then it may come as a surprise that Damrau sings Wouldn’t it be lovely from My Fair Lady in German. The simple reason is that she once sang Eliza in Würzburg at the very beginning of her career, more than sixty times, she says in the notes. So she has the role in her backbone. I must say, too, that the German equivalent to cockney is “wundaschen” for a change. I could have danced all night is however sung in the original - and glorious it is. She takes some liberties that not even Julie Andrews did.
 
Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd probably also belonged to her early German stage experiences, which she claims were very important for her development as a Mozart singer - the Queen of the Night is her signature role - not least the importance of recitative.
 
Gershwin’s Summertime is for me for ever connected with Leontyne Price, but this foreshortened version is wonderful too. There is more theatre and gusto in the South Pacific song than in Kiri Te Kanawa’s otherwise superb recording, and Wishing you were somehow here again from The Phantom of the Opera is a grand reading. Superb.
 
Time and time again one senses what a good actor she is. Just listen to how well she characterises I feel pretty from West Side Story - and she sings it with a Puerto Rican accent. Her Over the rainbow is sensitive - no operatic over-kill. The Alice in Wonderland song is charming and in Arielle, die Meerjungfrau, she doesn’t fight shy of using her chest voice like a true musical singer. Very expressive it is, too.
 
She is a sensitive Snow White and in Mary Poppins - Julie Andrews repertoire again - she delivers simple, lovely ‘art-less’ singing. Howard Blake’s music for The Snowman has deservedly become a modern classic - I know, it’s more than thirty years since he wrote it - and Walking in the air holds its own against the established favourites on this disc. I am a little less convinced when it comes to Chaslin’s Wuthering Heights - too sugary for my taste - but the singing couldn’t be bettered.
 
If the repertoire on this disc appeals to you - don’t hesitate. You won’t find much better singing anywhere today.
 
Göran Forsling
 
Track listing
Wojciech KILAR (1932 - 2013)
The Ninth Gate:
1. Vocalise [3:55]
Emmerich KÁLMÁN (1882 - 1953)
Gräfin Mariza:
2. Höre ich Zigeunergeigen [4:11]
Eduard KÜNNEKE (1885 - 1953)
Der Vetter aus Dingsda:
3. Stralender Mond [3:25]
Franz LEHÁR (1870 - 1948)
Giuditta:
4. Meine Lippen sie küssen so heiβ [5:16]
Die lustige Witwe:
5. Lippen schweigen* [3:11]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825 - 1899)
Die Fledermaus:
6. Mein Herr Marquis [3:45]
7. Czárdás [4:47]
Frederick LOEWE (1901 - 1988)
My Fair Lady:
8. Wäre det nich wundaschen [2:18]
9. I Could Have Danced All Night [2:38]
Stephen SONDHEIM (b. 1930)
Sweeney Todd:
10. Grünfink und Nachtigall [2:57]
George GERSHWIN (1898 - 1937)
Porgy and Bess:
11. Summertime [2:54]
Richard RODGERS (1902 - 1979)
South Pacific:
12. I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy [3:21]
Andrew LLOYD WEBBER (b. 1948)
Phantom of the Opera:
13. Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again [5:04]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918 - 1990)
West Side Story:
14. I Feel Pretty [2:13]
Harold ARLEN (1905 - 1986)
The Wizard of Oz:
15. Over the Rainbow [4:43]
Sammy FAIN (1902 -1989)
Alice in Wonderland:
16. All in the Golden Afternoon [2:15]
Alan MENKEN (b. 1949)
Arielle, die Meerjungfrau:
17. Ein Mensch zu sein [3:22]
Frank CHURCHILL (1901 - 1942)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:
18. Some Day My Prince Will Come [3:26]
Richard M. SHERMAN (b. 1928), Robert B. SHERMAN (1925 - 2012)
Mary Poppins:
19. Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag) [4:33]
Howard BLAKE (b. 1938)
The Snowman:
20. Walking in the Air [4:01]
Frédéric CHASLIN (b. 1963)
Wuthering Heights:
21. Cathy’s Vocalise [4:46]
 


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