One last­ing voice and four sparkling hands

The Washington Post Sunday - - MUSIC - BY ANNE MIDGETTE anne.midgette@wash­post.com

The stages of a so­prano’s life, the old joke goes, are “bel canto,” “can belto,” “can’t belto,” and “can’t canto.” The joke is pred­i­cated on the idea that a woman’s voice will deepen and broaden as she ages. But not all do. Some lyric colorat­uras — they of the shim­mery float­ing voices — sim­ply get thin­ner and slightly more brit­tle. The won­der­ful Ger­man so­prano Diana Dam­rau has been singing on ma­jor stages for a good 10- plus years, and her latest al­bum, “Fi­amma del Bel­canto,” finds her com­pen­sat­ing, ever so slightly, for an in­stru­ment that, while not grow­ing greatly larger or darker, shows tiny traces of wear around the edges.

Dam­rau re­mains a very fine artist. The new al­bum fol­lows a chrono­log­i­cal arc through the Ital­ian reper­toire, from Donizetti (“Ros­monda d’Inghilterra,” a rar­ity) and Bellini to Verdi’s “La Travi­ata,” one of her sig­na­ture roles, through to Puc­cini’s “La Bo­hème” and Leon­cav­allo’s “Pagli­acci.” There are also a few Ger­man con­nec­tions: Donizetti’s “Maria Stu­arda” and Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” and “I Mas­nadieri” are all based on plays by Friedrich Schiller.

At her best, Dam­rau mar­ries ra­di­ant sound with in­tense dra­matic con­vic­tion, of a kind that works well in the house but can seem slightly overblown on a record­ing. Oc­ca­sion­ally, too, she strays over the fine line be­tween nu­ance — find­ing a quick ping of heart­bro­ken pain on a note in the ca­baletta of the “Luisa Miller” aria, then pulling back like a wounded an­i­mal — and man­ner­ism — the plush, in­dig­nant, ma­tronly tone she as­sumes in the “Follie! Follie!” sec­tion of “La Travi­ata.” ( The tenor Piotr Beczala makes a cameo ap­pear­ance as Al­fredo.)

The lim­pid­ity, flu­id­ity and elec­tric­ity of bel canto at its best come through in the se­lec­tion from “Maria Stu­arda,” the high­light of a gen­er­ally en­joy­able CD. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing her, Gianan­drea Noseda and the or­ches­tra of Turin’s Teatro Re­gio are per­fectly and un­ob­tru­sively ex­pert and vivid, although in a cou­ple of places (be­fore the “Vien, Diletta!” of Bellini’s “I Pu­ri­tani,” for one) Noseda’s pen­chant for draw­ing out in­ner voices leads to a sense of heavy-hand­ed­ness.

Some of the heav­ier se­lec­tions re­main largely cu­riosi­ties in her voice. In the aria of “Luisa Miller,” one of the heav­i­est se­lec­tions on the record­ing — in which she is strongly part­nered by her hus­band, the French bass­bari­tone Ni­co­las Testé — she tip­toes around her voice’s low register, rob­bing the piece of some of its im­pact. Then, abruptly, she hauls off and hits a solid chest note on the word “dis­onor” that al­most takes her into “can belto” ter­ri­tory, and makes one won­der whether a few larger roles do, af­ter all, lie in her fu­ture.

DIANA DAM­RAU: “FI­AMMA DEL BEL­CANTO.” Or­ches­tra Teatro Re­gio Torino, Gianan­drea Noseda, con­duc­tor. Erato.

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