The German soprano Diana Damrau knows how to draw you in close, even from a great distance. On October 24, on the Met Stars Live in Concert series, her song will be circling the planet from the majestic Cappella Palatina, at the Royal Palace of Caserta, that latter-day Versailles constructed by and for the kings of Naples. Parachuting in from her home in Zurich, Damrau joins forces there with the tenor Joseph Calleja, a golden-age throwback from the microscopic Mediterranean island republic of Malta.
In the intimacy of Salzburg’s 800-seat, white-and-gold Mozarteum, Damrau has been known to lock eyes with a responsive listener and forge an instantaneous bond. But as she has proved time and again since her triumphant Metropolitan Opera debut, 15 years ago, her spell reaches clear to the top gallery and all those wonderful people in the dark.
Diana Damrau knows how to draw you in close, even from a great distance.
On that occasion, Damrau was acing the high-wire act of Zerbinetta, the minx in Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. Another calling card back then was Mozart’s vengeful Queen of the Night, in The Magic Flute, once described as a singing chandelier. Sure enough, Damrau’s Queen glittered in her wounded fury, diamond-bright all the way up to F above high C. In a later Met season, she alternated in the roles of the Queen and the Queen’s daughter, Pamina, paragon of integrity, love, and truth, conjuring pearls by candlelight. Since then, Damrau’s silvery gleam and elegant phrasing have enlivened the sitcom silliness of Donizetti’s Marie, in The Daughter of the Regiment, as memorably as they have the tragedies of Gounod’s Juliet, Massenet’s Manon, and Verdi’s Violetta.
In recognition of her charisma, the Met planned to present Damrau in an exceptional bill of non-operatic Rossini, Bizet, Wagner, and Richard Strauss last March, partnered on the piano by Sir Antonio Pappano, no less, the longtime music director of London’s Royal Opera House. But for the pandemic, that engagement would have put Damrau in an exclusive club, indeed. To date, the house—capacity 3,800—has presented a grand total of 16 vocal recitals on its main stage, beginning in 1981 with a joint appearance by Montserrat Caballé and José Carreras. The list of headliners since then is studded with box-office names such as Kiri Te Kanawa, Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti (three times), Jonas Kaufmann, and most recently Anna Netrebko.
Aufgeschoben ist nicht aufgehoben, the Germans like to say: To postpone is not to cancel. Here’s hoping the Met management keeps that maxim in mind when pre-pandemic-style programming resumes. Meanwhile, we wouldn’t dream of missing the grab bag of operatic goodies Damrau and Calleja are busy assembling. —Matthew Gurewitsch