Tag Archives: Joyce DiDonato

BBC Proms, a branding disaster

21 Aug

BBC PRoms 2013It is this time of the year when eager press releases accompanied by expertly Photoshopped images start coming out of the Beeb’s press office. They concern the now regular Proms in the Park format that is happening concurrently with the actual last night at the Royal Albert Hall. Over time they have stretched the meaning of classical to breaking point by inviting musical stars and entertainers. This year a pair of old timers return, Miss Jenkins and Mr Boe. They endemically crop up as the star attraction at one of those arena classical pap nights and it still makes me wonder if the Proms brand means anything for the BBC.

They keep promoting it as the premier classical summer festival (this year with an execrable campaign using the RAH as a glorified egg cup, see below) and then they contradict their own promotion by inviting popera stars to head those outdoor events.

It is a very contradictory statement by the Proms bosses and it opens them up to questions of good management of a valuable brand that is slowly losing its hardwon reputation and meaning. There is always a discussion of what the programming of the season has to contain and how it should embrace the real world outside the classical bubble. By inviting Boe and Jenkins the BBC organisers are essentially making a statement of non trust to the very genre they promote. In the past they had no issues selling out the Hyde Park event with either Angela Gheorghiu, Bryn Terfel and Placido Domingo headlining. Now it seems they depend year after year on popular entertainers as if admitting defeat that bona fide classical stars can’t sell out the large outdoor venues.

Ultimately isn’t the Proms brand about promoting and disseminating classical music to the widest possible audience, why do they feel the need to call on to people without the training or essential credentials? Boe and Jenkins will claim to have performed for the Proms without ever having to step on the platform of the Royal Albert Hall, a veritable own goal by the Proms bosses. 

When singers like Joyce DiDonato, who is singing for the RAH last night, do so much to bring a new audience to classical music and opera, an organisation of the size and influence of the BBC is seen as cowardly and predictable.

Scotland 0 – Rossini 1 / La Donna Del Lago / Royal Opera House – 27 May 2013

2 Jun

ROH DonnaLa Donna Del Lago is the opera that comes round every couple of decades when a performer can command its staging. In the 1980s it was June Anderson who sang the role and now Joyce Didonato has been the compelling Elena of our times that has managed to sing the part since 2010 in Geneva, Paris, Milan and now good ol’ Covent Garden. This was meant to be a co-production with La Scala and the Opéra but as the artistic director of the Royal Opera deemed it a disaster area and commissioned a new production (with a limited budget) by John Fulljames. The awful chain mail costumes that weighed down the singers may have gone, but what replaced them?

Fulljames took the second default setting of a contemporary opera director, after the 1950s…to set the piece in the era it was written. Not too silly a suggestion trying to take away any medievalism left in the work and make it look more polished. The set resembling a gentlemens club covered in wood panelling and complete with four small balconies on the sides for the onstage band to play from. The lady of the lake becomes an object of posh scientific fascination as Edinburgh’s high society (the chorus) dressed in tails and top hats peruse her in a glass case accompanied by cases containing a model boat and another one with the regalia of Scotland. And then the naffest thing happens since the invention of time travelling productions…Walter Scott and Rossini show up on stage and remain on for the duration.

Repurposing the parts of Albina as Rossini and Serano as Walter Scott did not propel much the story it just seemed to have been his way to demonstrate he really had a solid concept behind the show. The main irritation from having Rosini and Scott on stage was their use as decorative additions in the extremities of the stage pictures adding very little interest and mainly spending the evening opening the panelling centre stage to reveal the revolving staircase that stood in for Elena’s house. And later on, the king’s palace. It is never made clear how the scientific specimen of La Donna gets reanimated, was this some secret knowledge society that had cryogenically preserved her, only to wake her up or were we just seeing a miracle making our leading lady mobile and singing? If you want to propose a thesis about the work’s very nature better work out the transitions in a smoother fashion.

Having a performer of Joyce DiDonato’s calibre treated like the famous singing fish must be immensely frustrating for such a physical actress. Thankfully when she comes out of the dreaded case she inhabited the role with such depth of feeling and ownership it was simply ravishing. The second victim of this production was Daniela Barcellona who was costumed in the frumpiest travesti way possible…ill fitting costume, ugly make up, terrible wig. If we need to be convinced she is a man there are simpler more elegant ways to achieve it. Thankfully a truly spectacular singer like her sang through this crap to deliver round tone, killer chest register and staggering volume alongside her measured acting.

Colin Lee was turned into a ridiculous comic book character complete with silly wig and costumed for a provincial production of Norma. All of his warriors were equally ridiculously costumed to drive home the obvious distinction between the townies and the highlanders, it was simplistic as it was crude. Flórez clearly must be good at saying no to the wig department as he was wearing his own hair and looked all the better for it. Mind you he was not spared a comically oversized crown that wouldn’t look out of place as a stripper’s prop and of course the final appearance as the king with acres of imitated ermine and bright tartan making him look like a cushion ready to match the curtains of the palace. His singing was unfailingly elegant but somehow he was outshone by most of his co-stars, notably Colin Lee who was much louder and much more attractively voiced on the night.

The one moment in the first Act I lost total faith in the direction (aside from the inexplicable reanimation of the cased heroine) was the dreadful rape scene which was a largely pointless addition and made no sense in 2013 where we do not need to see sexual violence portrayed as entertainment especially when the story does not need such diversions. It felt gratuitous and the deafening silence in the auditorium signified that I was not the only one to be appalled by this thoughtless addition. Fulljames deserves the scorn he receives on this aspect as it was utterly indefensible.

The chorus delivered some top class singing with very impressive volume and well drilled choreography. A show like this makes a big asset of the chorus and creates the only ebb and flow in a rather tension-free Rosinian romp. So credit to them and the chorus master for adding excitement and fabulous support to the soloists. The orchestra put in some juicy playing despite the very stop/start conducting for my liking. Mariotti must have ironed out a lot of problems that were reported from earlier in the run but somehow he doesn’t seem to grasp the ideal of a sinuous bel canto line for the singers and the orchestra.

If you read my ramblings from time to time you will know by now how much I enjoy Joyce DiDonato’s singing, She may not have the most colourful, most enchanting instrument on the planet but her deployment of her gift is so generous and exciting it is impossible not to be won over. The way she floated Rossini’s high lying phrases all night with such robust support was the stuff of legends.

Her command of the stage was magisterial and the final 20 minutes possibly amongst the best live singing I have heard in my life so far. From when she utters Tanti Affeti in the most delicious hushed pianissimo to the final felicità she gave an unrivaled lesson on elegant use of legato for expressive means, sheer glamour and utter triumph at the top of the cabaletta. A more exuberant expression of on stage happiness is surely difficult to come by.

This opera may not be even in my top 20 operas but a stunning performance of such virtuosity elevates it to an evening never to be forgotten. Yes everyone, I am as smitten with Joyce as I have ever been and cannot wait to see her repeat this magic on the last show on the 11th of June. The performance of the 27th was streamed live in cinemas so expect it in your Christmas stocking for 2014 in Blu-ray and DVD…it will be worth the wait. An additional joy was that Janet Baker was in the audience and congratulated Joyce after the curtain fell.

Some tweets from the evening

ROH Donna List

Artifice and astounding virtuosity / Joyce DiDonato, Drama Queens / Barbican Hall, 6 February 2013

10 Feb

Joyce - Drama QueensThe world of baroque opera is a much maligned milieu with detractors from many directions. Many people can’t bear the da capo arias others find the histrionics uncomfortable. And my own reservation is the lack of vibrato, and very frequently the academic lifelessness of “historically informed performance”. Despite my infinite love for the material, I have sat through some dreadfully dull performances that did not do justice to the glorious music or the ornate vocal style. Of course when one listens to Joyce DiDonato and Il Complesso Barocco’s Drama Queens album it is made obvious that it is a very special project. Not just another vanity vehicle so much loved by record companies but a labour of love and scholarly commitment. Unlike Diva/Divo which left me very cold, this album is a concentrated treatise on fierce signing and characterisation. My only reservation initially was a fear that she may over act and turn the whole concept into a cheap pantomime act.

It was a hugely exciting prospect to see Joyce and her band perform many of the arias from the recording and I can say from the start the live experience overtook the studio performance by miles. Sitting at the front row exactly in front of her was an awesome sight. Being able to observe her technique and composure at such close proximity was much more fascinating than I could have expected. The way she paced herself through the programme and preserved stamina was a great lesson for the many singers in attendance. As was her spot-on jaw placement and strong support and projection. Like many great a singer she made it look effortless and yet enveloped a large auditorium in sinuous, flexible and resonant singing. No grotesque facial contortions or being ridiculously open mouthed. She delivered each aria with a strength and confidence that was unflagging.

Her first great moment was the aria from L’incoronazione di Poppea where she bellowed from despair to vengeance ending in total defeat but every inch a regal presence. But all delivered with insight and spot on deportment.  Her Merope aria was a great example of toned down ornamentation and weaving a narrative with a much more paired down interpretation with judicious use of her wonderful chest voice. The da capo section was a masterclass on how to deepen meaning and to ride the beautifully woven melody to different ends each time.  The final aria for the first half was the breathless Orlandini aria that opens the album. Pin sharp coloratura with a great legato line made for a fiery conclusion to the first half. I lost count how many ways she found to sing the repeated alma at the conclusion of every repeat, adding a different colour and nuance every time, seriously antagonising the bright scarlet couture creation by Vivienne Westwood that she was wearing in concert and of course in the album sleeve. The concept of the disc incarnated and made of cloth and thread.

The second half was even more mouth-watering and showing a great artist at the top of their game without much in the way of deference or vanity. The opening Hasse aria was a fast and furious intro to match the dress than now had the addition of a capacious underskirt and sleeves, she had metamorphosed into an 18th century aristocrat. A period that Westwood is well attuned to and has used as inspiration for many of her most famous creations. A great example being the Watteau dress in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The absolute highlight of the evening was her rendition of Piangerò which was short of miraculous. Having the privilege of sitting exactly in front of her gave us such a wonderful vantage point to see her get into Cleopatra. Growing in intensity and dramatic delivery as the aria continues. The da capo section was one of the most astonishing singing I have ever experienced live. The depth of feeling perfectly paired with thoughtful engagement with the text and beautiful ornamentation were stunning. The development of mood and expression of the character’s inner thinking is what baroque is all about and this performance was a masterful embodiment.
The more withdrawn aria from Porta’s Ifigenia in Aulide starting on a velvety sotto voce evocation of her mother accompanied with misty eyes was very moving. But ever the professional she never allowed the feelings to overwhelm her, instead they enriched the mood of the singing without compromising the sound or over-sentimentalising. Closing the concert with the triumphant aria from Alessandro was a great move to finish off on a ebullient mood.

The orchestral interludes were of an equal standing, the orchestra offering some spirited playing and Dmitri Sinkovsky’s bouncy showman personality was the perfect foil for DiDonato’s warm stage presence. For once we couldn’t accuse the singer of over-gesticulating, Sinkovsky filled that gap with his extravagant bowing (can imagine it could eclipse a lot of artists) here it added effervescence. Their Vivaldi concerto was dangerous and showy, exactly what is missing too frequently from opera recitals. Il Complesso Barocco even matched our diva’s outfit with their own red socks…a little touch that gave us all a bit of a giggle.

Three encores followed (Fredegunda : Lasciami Piangere + Berenice : Col Versar, Barbaro, Il Sangue + Armida : Vedi, Se T’amo… Odio, Furor, Dispetto) and responding to my interval tweet of my view of the stage she surprisingly asked who was the guy from the middle of the front row that was tweeting. I have to admit to been very surprised but totally charmed by getting a shout out by the lady herself. Next time we will see her in London she will show up submerged in a water filled museum case on the set of La Donna del Lago at the Royal Opera House and I surely can not wait.

Joyce - Drama Queens listSome Tweets from the evening

Twitter - OperaCreep- Drama Queens....I'm coming ... - EditedTwitter - OperaCreep- Watch out Joyce...grumpy Rupert ... - Edited

Twitter - OperaCreep- http---t.co-cFV366nd - Sitting ... - Edited

Twitter - OperaCreep- http---t.co-iqR0X0Nj - Here's ... - Edited

Twitter - OperaCreep- Big thanks to @JoyceDiDonato ... - Edited

Come for the Mezzo stay for the Stravinsky – New York Philharmonic + Joyce DiDonato + Alan Gilbert / Barbican Hall 17 February 2012

21 Feb

The programme for this evening had a wonderfully cohesive make up. It brought together contemporary music, late romanticism, fledging modernism and the muscular angularity of early US Stravinsky in one night. It was a great choice that made obvious the strengths of the orchestra and its ability to change their well blended sound to suit the work.

The opening commission and a UK première by Thomas Adès was an appropriately luminous and intriguing piece to get the evening rolling, a great statement on the continuing success of this wonderful British composer. Two sections of brass were on Balcony and Circle adding textural and spatial variety. The contrapuntal motifs of the piece were woven into an irresistible whole. At once mysterious and bright. He was there to receive the warm applause from the audience. Which was well deserved and made a statement of the NY Phil as a supporter and promoter of contemporary music, something they have done for a very long time. Also interestingly Esa-Pekka Salonen was in the audience…no pressure then!

Les nuits d’été is a great vehicle for a warm voice (sang by contraltos, mezzos, sopranos and tenors) and one work that always causes fans to compare between the hundreds of recorded versions. It makes requirements on both range and interpretative facility. Joyce DiDonato lived up to her reputation and to my previous experiences of seeing her live. It was unfortunate that she sounded a bit shrill up to the end of Le spectre de la rose. We can attribute it to jet lag as her performance was exemplary from then on, soaring to the highest of her range in L’ile inconnue  to the absolute masterful use of her chest voice in Sur les lagunes: Lamento which was the highlight of the evening.  Her interpretation was highly involved and sparkling as much as her dress (fresh from the Grammys). Gilbert’s conducting was very sensitive and involved, taking great care at articulating phrases and working with DiDonato to blend the different textures together. Now if anyone could let me know why a few fellow members of the audience started clapping after the pre-last song, I’d be grateful. I’m not a huge advocate for strict concert etiquette but a glimpse at the free programme would have made everyone that Les nuits has 6 parts!

I was expecting the Stravinsky to be ravishing, if any orchestra can grasp Stravinsky’s American idiom it is the NY Phil. They worked with the composer extensively for a period of over 20 years and that is a huge part of the New Yorkers’ modernist sensitivity. The playing was focused, intense and with an extraordinary attention to the overall architecture of the work. His use of the piano in the first movement to propel the piece and the harp in the second can  be too tame when played with caution. No problem for these players, they kept the momentum and the pulsating if jagged texture of the work. It did not sound polite or sane, more of an uncompromising veteran Stravinsky. Who arrived to the US with a huge appetite to provoke and to make his name in his own terms. As a friend put it…’the Stravinsky was topping’

The arrival of the Ravel brought with it a much open and expansive acoustic from the orchestra, a colourful, luxurious sound that was refreshing and suitable. That unfortunately did not prevent a woman in purple occupying the front row sleeping through most of it. Even the incredible crescendo of the Danse générale failed to wake her up! The spectral effects required for Ravel’s mature music can easily disintegrate under an insensitive conductor or an orchestra used to empty gestures, the New Yorkers had a celebratory joy to their playing. Substance backed their fun delivery.

After this fantastic concert we even got two encores, concluding with Lew Pollack’s That’s a plenty…check out the video the Orchestra posted from their Amsterdam concert a few days before their Barbican residency 😉

I am looking forward to their return to the Barbican in the coming seasons, as despite the fact that London is home to so many world class orchestras it is wonderful to have guests of this calibre and programmes of this quality.

Read More

The PDF of the Barbican residency programme

The Tour Blog of the NYPhil

Some Tweets from the Evening

The Brassy Encore

My top 11 discoveries / realisations of 2011

19 Dec

This was a pretty intense year and thought it would be good to make a list of inspirational mainly operatic highs of 2011

1 Twitter

It was the first full year that I’ve used the network as a great resource for news and also as direct communication on matters operatic and not. Met some great people through it and started some very interesting conversations.

2 Beverly Sills

This year I immersed myself in the recorded output of the diva from Brooklyn. A great artist with an intriguing personality to boot. Surely one of the finest coloratura sopranos of the 20th century and worth going back to her for renewal and inspiration.

3 Veronique Gens

The year (almost) started with her magisterial Niobe at Covent Garden and finished with her fantastic  recital at Wigmore Hall. A diva cut off the old cloth of greatness.

4 Allan Clayton

First noticed him this year in a small part in Britten’s Dream, then I saw him triumph in Castor and Pollux and L’Enfance du Christ. A loud voice for the future, hope ENO and RO will give him more substantial roles to sink his teeth into.

5 Iestyn Davis

Never one for countertenors, but his performance in Britten’s Dream was magnetic and his Niobe contribution very substantial. A young British voice to shake up the world of opera and early music.

6 LSO

Have always loved the London Symphony Orchestra but this year they have been stunning. Also one of the most adept to Twitter orchestras on the planet. A band all Londoners should be proud of and should patronise with frequency.

7 Anne Sophie von Otter

Like a well aged Claret, ASvO is a European treasure. Her captivating Wigmore Hall recital was intoxicating to the max. Greatness without the hollow diva attitude. Looking forward to her LSO collaboration early in  February 2012.

8 Alice Coote

Listened to her sing Les nuits d’été years ago at the Proms and was terribly impressed, her triumphantly sulky Prince Charmant in Cendrillon was breathtaking. Her upcoming Winterreise  at Wigmore Hall will be an early highlight of 2012 (there are still a few tickets left, grab them quickly!)

9 Joyce DiDonato

The Yankeediva is a charismatic performer that elevated Cendrillon to stratospheric heights, her Ariodante was to die for, despite the awful orchestra and still a fun Twitter person to have disagreements and banter with.

10 Mark-Anthony Turnage

He gave us Anna Nicole, which was plethoric in its gay abandon and a great showcase for the considerable gifts of Eva Maria Westbroek, the darkness of Twice Through the Heart with the excellent Sarah Connolly and his remarkable music for Undance.

11 Sylvie Guillem

Managed to see her new mixed bill evening at Sadler’s Wells in its two outings back in early July and late September. She was absolutely wonderful both times. A rare dance treat. She continues to be the measure of all dancers, a standard for excellence.

If you had an epiphany of an artistic nature in 2011, feel free to add your top whatever in the comment section and Merry Xmas 😉

That was an incredible performance! One of those perfect, once in a lifetime perfect. Thank you!* / Cendrillon / Royal Opera House, Covent Garden – 11 July 2011

12 Jul

What a night it was!

Writing my impressions on the fourth performance may seem late to many but ask any opera singer and they will confess that three shows in they feel much more relaxed in the character and the first night nerves are a thing of the past. I want to see a production at its best and not just to be there on opening to do it first, that is frankly the job of so many much more experienced professional reviewers. In this instance it seems that Joyce DiDonato was not in her best singing voice in a couple of performances owing to a cold. So glad to have missed those earlier manifestations of this glorious romp.

Arriving in the auditorium and you’re faced with a row of closed doors, walls papered with Charles Perrault’s book. The set itself (designed by Barbara De Limburg) and its interior world of the book itself is such a clever and expandable device that Laurent Pelly used to a great effect. The whole set is a big concertina construction that opens and closes to create from the intimate bedroom of Lucette (Cendrillon’s real name) to the grand salon of the palace. Extra mobile constructions are adding a balcony, a smoky rooftop and a pile of appropriately red books is the outcrop that the fairy godmother makes her final triumphant appearance on.

Who said that productions can’t be fun and effective without moving the action into a Parisian brothel or any other unrelated location so beloved of a number of European directors? Laurent Pelly directed the action with aplomb and with great comic timing.

The fact he also designed the costumes added another layer of fun (his odd and silly costumes for the various princesses are just hilarious) and they were used to give it a total look that helps the work all the way. For instance Ewa Podleś Madame de la Haltiere was defined by her comic timing but also by the absurd padding and restrictive nature of her costuming. Though he couldn’t resist an early bit of furniture abuse by Cendrillon’s father Pandolfe, which was not necessary.   But it was little thoughtful, intelligent touches that made it so much fun to watch, such as:  the army of look-a-likes, women dressed like Cendrillon (being the helpers of the fairy godmother) and men looking like prince charming in the forest/roof top sequence. Added extra visual interest and quirkiness. The grand palace gates turn into a clock counting down the minutes for Cendrillon’s departure at the end of Act Two…you get the idea!

Our Cendrillon, Joyce DiDonato was in incredible vocal form. She glided through the trickiest passages with smoothness and character. And there was none of the obvious tightness on the radio broadcast from last Saturday. Whatever she did on Sunday, we’re thankful for, as she was amazing. Her first aria was warm and heartfelt and right on the money. And there was an interesting trajectory through her performance. She started at a lowish piano sound and escalated the volume of the voice towards the last two acts. In effect giving extra depth to her interpretation from a young resigned but good-hearted girl to the belle of the ball. Her Third Act aria (Seule, je partirai, mon pere) was incredible with such warmth and humanity, we had no second thoughts Cendrillon was thinking of her mother. Of course the obvious highlights of the night were the duets with Prince Charmant, Coote and DiDonato were a beautiful all round couple, rising the emotional temperature to the maximum.

Alice Coote as the Prince Charmant was exemplary, with powerful projection and impressive male mannerisms convinced straight away as the prince of the tale. She acted the part top to toe and her intensity was an absolute joy. Hope the Royal Opera will entrust her big roles in the future as she was an awesome sight.

Ewa Podleś as Madame de Haltiere was the comedic core of the evening, whatever she did on stage everyone laughed out loud! Her beautiful contralto echoed to the roof of the auditorium. In my mind she was almost channelling Hyacinth Bucket which made her adorably silly. She was one of the main reasons I booked to see it and she surely delivered! Such elegance and flair alongside her crazily dressed daughters. Pure genius!

Jean-Philippe Lafont was again as funny as Podleś  but he was having obvious problems in the upper register of his voice, but given the role, it all added to a very sympathetic portrayal of the character. A great contribution to the overall team work.

Eglise Gutiérrez as the Fairy Godmother was a treat, a sugar-coated treat! She ornamented and relished her trills and staccati. She gave us a rather louche Godmother that lightened up proceedings further and added the frosting on this french fancy of an opera. Surely looking forward to her Amina next season!

The orchestra under the direction of Bertrand De Billy sounded fresh and bouncy. A total equal to the world-class singing on stage.

A lot of opera goers would still associate the title role with Frederica von Stade. She performed it for decades and also made the famous recording of the role in 1979 under Julius Rudel. But judging on the recording it’s time we forgot about her and realised that the Cendrillon of our time is Joyce DiDonato, who sounded not only an equal to Flicka but surely surpassed her last night.

Steal, beg or borrow and get some tickets to see the final two performances or rush to one of the open air venues that host the live telecast this Wednesday. If the weather permits I’ll surely be doing the latter. Possibly the most enjoyable night at Covent Garden for me since 2003. Cross your fingers for a very possible DVD release of the telecast. A total joy, an operatic fairytale, what more can anyone ask for?

*My Tweet after being awestruck by such a brilliant performance by Joyce DiDonato and the rest of the excellent cast.

Details of the outdoor screenings can be found here

Teased and roaring to go to the ball

10 Jul

Listening to the live broadcast from the Royal Opera House last night was a total treat…especially when I’ll be there tomorrow evening. Surely a great antithesis to the dull and simply nonsensical Two Boys on Friday night (more on that soon!). The duets between Alice Coote and Joyce Didonato (who sang superbly despite a cold) were effervescent and simply beguiling.  Ewa Podleś was hilarious over the radio I can only imagine how funny she will be on stage.

Roll on Monday night.

Listen again:

Till July 16th you can listen on BBC’s iPlayer and judge for yourselves!

You never know who’s watching ;-)

6 Jun

You just never know who’s watching!

I thought it would be fun to ask the amazing reigning super Mezzo Joyce Didonato if she was watching Katherine Jenkins’ “rendition” of Una Voce Poco Fa in last night’s results show for Popstar to Operastar…and you can imagine my surprise and perverse delight that she confirmed that she was actually watching! Calling it unforgettable is I think an appropriate turn of phrase indeed 😉

I can confirm that I played Joyce’s version later after PSTOS just to reaffirm in me the power of true musicianship and vocal beauty. Kudos to the Yankeediva for the 100th or so time 😉

Great Singers

26 May

Tonight’s Ariodante concert performance at the Barbican’s sold out Hall made me wonder of the consequences on booking great singers and then letting them down with a really sloppy orchestra.

We had Joyce Didonato, Karina Gauvin and Marie-Nicole Lemieux on the podium and somehow feel cheated that such amazing singers were short-changed and did not get the backing they deserved. Il Complesso Barocco should be ashamed for give us badly tuned, bland music making while observing dubious tempi in quite a few passages. The great singing thankfully soared despite the music…a statement I never thought I’d make for any opera by Handel.

Will elaborate in a further post but for now I wanted to get out there my frustration about a missed opportunity for an amazing evening that somehow did not materialise.

Joyce DiDonato a totally modern diva

22 Apr
It has been quite some time since I saw Joyce DiDonato perform at The Wigmore Hall (27+29 January 2010). It has taken so long to put my thoughts down in writing.

I read about her on Alex Ross’s blog and the fact that he suggested her Colbran disc was for him the recording of 2009, made it an instant purchase. And what a great fireworks display that recording provides! She is captured in radiant voice storming through Rossini arias of extraordinary complexity from La Donna del Lago to Armida. She embodies the Rossinian heroines with an extraordinary wall of sound and a faultless legato. Reading through her blog entries I was terribly moved by her confessional writings and the wonderful insight in to her process of recording and bringing works to the stage. It all seemed unpretentious and truthful. So the next logical step was to book my tickets for the Wigmore Hall concert…and of course it was a sell out…so I kept refreshing the booking page for one day solid till two tickets materialised at Stalls K! I was absolutely delighted, but at the same time I had a small fear, that I may be disappointed by the live experience, having only heard her in a studio recording.

It is true that some singers are stage animals that don’t quite know how to inhabit the concert platform, but DiDonato proved on the night that she was quick witted, warm and devoted to the music at hand. Attributes that, for me, are really important for a truly successful recital.

The programme was made up of mostly obscure Neapolitan and southern Italian music about love and some interesting and fun pieces that showed off her fun personality. Her performance of Desdemona’s aria from Rosssini’s Otello was easily at the same level as the recording and quite possibly better. Her grasp on the melodic line and the ease of her upper register made it totally magical. Looked next to me and Tim’s face said it all, he was very impressed by her and the confident way she approached such a great aria. With near fearlessness she attacked the beautiful neo-classical structure that Rossini provided her with. It reminded me the attitude that Maria Callas would bring to the stage, an air of tenderness but with steely determination. At that stage a grand new diva had arrived in my life! DiDonato made a joke about the drinks not going any warmer at the bar and asked for permission to sing the prayer from Maometto Secondo, as she had Lucy Wakeford playing the harp (the harpist of The Philharmonia Orchestra)! And it was the most wonderful way to ease in the interval.

The second half came and she painted some beautiful pictures out of some frivolous and ever so slightly pedestrian music, in a way only a great artist can. It takes an average artist to do a good job out of a masterpiece, but it takes genius to create ethereal beauty out of competent compositions. And DiDonato achieved that, she inhabited the characters and gave them life and brio. Her two encores were Voi che sapete (she was about to go to The Lyric Opera to sing Cherubino for 11 performances) for which she wore a bow tie as her prop! It was fun and highly accomplished. But the highlight of the night was Tanti affetti from La Donna del Lago, which was my favourite aria from her Colbran cd. Her interpretation was breathtaking, leaving us all wanting more.

The 29th I went again, not being able to resist her charms and she was again very precise, but ever so slightly more tired. It was great fun how she reacted when a patron’s phone went off during the solo harp introduction of Desdemona’s aria. She simply asked if it was Otello calling! The reaction was both quick and terribly embarrassing for the person that left the phone on!
In the end I had a quick chat with her and her fabulous pianist David Zobel and they were both warm and sweet without a hint of arrogance. It was the kind of refreshing performance that I wish it had been witnessed by a younger audience. It would have dispelled widespread preconceptions about stuffy opera recitals. It was fresh, fun and above all great art! That was a night to get an opera neophyte hooked on the art form. But as it’s usually the case on the first night we were the only a handful of people in our early thirties, most of the audience was a sea of grey hair.

PS I was totally shocked to have received three responses from Joyce on my emails before and after the Wigmore performances. And I can’t wait to listen to her performances from Geneva of La Donna del Lago on Radio 3 in July and her Idomeneo from Edinburgh in August. I’ll wish her all the best and of course a full recovery for her much maligned ankle! She is surely a diva for the new era of blogging but with the big guns required to tackle the great canon of 19th century Italian opera and true substance.
 
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