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 Recording of the Week  Handel and Strauss from Dessay and Damrau

I’ve got two superb sopranos to tell you about today. They are performing very different repertoire, but as their voices are really quite similar I thought I would group them together. Diana Damrau and Natalie Dessay are both coloratura sopranos – their voices are high and very flexible, capable of fast runs and big leaps.

Diana Damrau
Diana Damrau

For her fourth album on Virgin Classics, Diana Damrau focuses on a composer who has been an important part of her career to date – Richard Strauss. She has performed a number of his operatic roles to great success, most notably the role of Zerbinetta from Ariadne auf Naxos with which she made her Met debut in 2005. Here though she delves into the treasure-trove of the composers’ orchestral songs, which are every bit as glorious as his operatic arias – full of poetry, delicate orchestral colours, and soaring melodies.

It is a terrific recording, which I have listened to several times this week. She has a formidable technique and hits the high notes with pinpoint accuracy. Her dynamic range is equally impressive and in particular her quiet pianissimos allow Strauss’s wonderful orchestration to make telling contributions. She also has a richness and warmth to her tone which gives these songs the necessary sensual and emotional effect. The disc features favourites such as ‘Morgen’, ‘Wiegenlied’, ‘Allerseelen’, ‘Cäcilie’ and ‘Zueignung’ alongside more rarely heard numbers, such as all six of the Op. 68 Bretano songs. As collections of Strauss’s orchestral songs go, this is one of the best I’ve heard.

Natalie Dessay
Natalie Dessay

Natalie Dessay’s new recording features the arias written for the role of Cleopatra in Handel’s opera Giulio Cesare. It is a role that Dessay is about to take on at the Paris Opéra and is one of Handel’s most complex and multifaceted characters. First she uses her womanly guile to seduce Cesare and gain the throne of Egypt, and then falls genuinely in love with him. She subsequently loses a battle with her brother Tolomeo, is imprisoned and presumes Cesare dead, before being rescued by Cesare (who wasn’t dead after all) and is crowned sole ruler of Egypt.

This recording is an incredible achievement. Dessay engages with her character superbly and you can really tell what she is feeling in each aria. Dessay’s voice is crystal clear and devastatingly accurate and her coloratura is honey-toned and sweet. She is really well supported by Le Concert d’Astrée under Emmanuelle Haïm, and together they achieve some fantastically dramatic moments. I just wish I could make it to one of the performances of the whole opera in Paris next month!

Two great sopranos then on absolute top form. You can view short videos presenting each of the discs by following the links below.

Handel: Cleopatra - Arias from Giulio Cesare

Natalie Dessay (soprano), Le Concert d’Astrée, Emmanuelle Haïm

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

R. Strauss: Lieder

Diana Damrau (soprano), Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Christian Thielemann

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC