The many shades of soprano Damrau
With blond hair and blue eyes, 46-year-old German soprano Diana Damrau looks like a princess in a fairy tale, but since childhood she has always wanted to be a drama queen.
“I loved playing the evil stepmother when I was only 4 and in the kindergarten. It fulfilled my desire to be in the dramas,” says Damrau, who was recently in Shanghai for a performance at Shanghai Symphony Hall.
The soprano has been performing in operas and at concerts for two decades. Her vast repertoire spans both lyric soprano and coloratura roles including the title roles in “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “Manon” and “La Traviata,” as well as Queen of the Night in “The Magic Flute.”
Damrau says in her childhood she always looked forward to the weekly family concert where she charmed her audience with her dramatic performances. Yet when she saw “La Traviata” starring Teresa Stratas for the first time on TV, she had decided her future.
“Violetta was so beautiful and fragile as she looked into the mirror. When she started to sing, I was stunned,” recalls Damrau. “For a 12-year-old girl, it was the most beautiful thing that could ever have been created. I prayed to god to give me such talent.”
It was answered.
After completing her operatic studies with Carmen Hanganu at the Hochschule fur Musk Wurzburg, Damrau had her first operatic engagement in Wurzburg and later at the National Theater Mannherm and Oper Frankfurt. She went on to perform at venues like Vienna State Opera, the Metropolitan New York and the Royal Opera House London.
Although the soprano has performed more than 80 different roles, she still considers Violetta one of her favorite roles who bravely fought for her love that had a tragic end.
“Happiness, desire or hatred ... Emotion is always with us regardless of the time difference. Even though I am not Violetta and may make different choices in her position, I still feel connected with them emotionally. That is what opera does, making the emotion eternal,” says Damrau.
Rather than simply dressing beautifully on stage, Damrau feels it’s her responsibility to express the humanity and personality of the character in each opera.
Though Damrau was widely appreciated for her high notes as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” she considered the role as pretty simple.
“The high notes for Queen of the Night may be difficult, but I can easily manage it in my good status. If you ask me which one is more difficult, Queen of the Night or Violetta, I will definitely go for Violetta. She has to sing throughout the show, starting with coloratura, emotional in the middle part and dramatic at the end,” says Damrau.
Apart from devoting herself to one character, Damrau enjoys shifting herself among different roles within one work. She played both Queen of the Night and Pamina in different performance in 2007 and challenged herself by playing four heroines in “Les Comtes d’Hoffmann” in 2011.
At the Shanghai performance on November 4 with her husband, French bass baritone Nicolas Teste, she played seven different roles from different operas such as “Barbiere di Siviglia,” “Romeo and Juliette” and “La Traviata.”
“I am used to shifting among different roles. I have to make sure that I am not simply doing the arias with different vocal ranges from high to low, but also telling stories of different people with different characters.”
Being a mother is the biggest and favorite role of Damrau. She takes her two children with her on tour whenever possible.
“Singing and being a mother is all about my life currently,” says Damrau.
Both her children, aged 5 and 7, have shown early interest in music. Though they enjoy classical music, the children’s favorite musician is Michele Jackson.
“They are having so much fun dancing and drumming along with Jackson’s music. I will let them do what they like,” says Damrau. “Of course, if they choose music as I did, we will give them full support.”