Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

The Deepest Desire
08 Dec 2006

The Deepest Desire

“In choosing the program for a debut recital disc, perhaps an artist should be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task: how in the world do I begin to sort through the wealth of masterpieces at my fingertips, daring to stamp a select few with my voice?”

The Deepest Desire

Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano, Frances Shelly, flute, David Zobel, piano

Eloquentia EL 0504 [CD]

$21.98  Click to buy

So writes Joyce DiDonato in her personal introduction to The Deepest Desire, a title that names the theme of the recital as she sees it. I also see in her allusion to “stamping a select few songs with my voice” a secondary theme of personal identity that resonates throughout the songs as well.

The five songs by Leonard Bernstein that energetically open the recital include Two Love Songs, written in 1960, and three songs from Songfest, a project setting texts by a variety of American poets that was originally a commission for the Bicentenniel celebration in 1976 but was not completed in time. According to Bernstein, even when the commission was withdrawn, he completed the project, which had taken on great meaning to him as a way, in Bernstein’s words, to “reflect the experience of the American artist.” DiDonato sees in Bernstein’s life story a “torment” resulting from his desire to be recognized as a serious composer, and in the songs that she has chosen a “haunting desire for something unreachable.” Indeed, the Two Love Songs set Rilke poems in which love’s desire is so strong as to erase the boundaries of identity. In the first of the Songfest songs, “Music I heard with you” the intense closeness is only remembered after the affair has ended, and next, in “What lips my lips have kissed,” a succession of past loves have been forgotten individually, but live on in the poet’s sense of having been enlarged by past love. This set ends with “A Julia de Burgos,” a setting of a Spanish-language poem by the Puerto Rican poet of that name to what one might call her social self. In pianist David Zobel’s energetic presentation of the rhythmic accompaniment we hear the galloping “runaway Rosinante” metaphor for the artist’s inner fire.

The best-known repertoire in the recital is Aaron Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson. While “desire” may not be the first theme that comes to mind when thinking of this poet, DiDonato is correct in seeing in her poetry a desire for answers, and I would specifically point to the poet’s desire to find her place in the cosmos, her identity as a saint, sinner, or simply a seeker within the Calvinist world-view that surrounded her. DiDonato characterizes the music of Copland’s Dickinson settings as “sometimes stark, sometimes assaulting,” and she can certainly further these effects with her voice, although her tone is also quite beautiful in the gentler moments of “Nature, the gentlest mother”, “The World Feels Dusty”, “Heart we will forget him”, and the final note of “The Chariot”, in which the speaker rides into eternity with her gentleman caller Death.

The Deepest Desire is the title of the closing set of songs, settings by Jake Heggie of texts he requested from Sister Helen Préjean (the model for the character of Sister Helen in Heggie’s opera Dead Man Walking), describing the source of her spirituality in “the deepest desire of her heart”. Here the piano and voice are joined by the flute of Frances Shelly, which has a lengthy solo at the opening, reminding me of the flute solo I heard at the beginning of a Whirling Dervish ceremony in Turkey, where the improvisation of the flute represented the soul’s desire for the ultimate. This ushers in a Prelude followed by “Four Meditations on Love”, in which Sister Helen describes her experience of love as “the pure energy of God” and how it led her away from her original desire to “be with God in Heaven” and instead to “loose yourself!” and work with all her being to realize “the deepest desire,” that for justice on earth. The songs, while not exceptionally melodic, are varied, expressive, and listenable, particularly when presented by a singer as thoughtful, communicative, and vocally endowed as DiDonato.

Indeed, there is another “deepest desire” present in this recital, that of Joyce DiDonato to communicate. She has given a great deal of thought to the texts, the music, and to her own relationship to them, and, when she speaks of “stamping [them] with my voice” it is a voice of considerable strength and range that she uses to produce a wide variety of vocal colors, from meltingly beautiful to hard and edgy. While this tonal variety brings the songs’ details into high relief, I personally found the many color changes rather distracting in some places, detracting from the clarity of the words in others. On the other hand, in the phrases of “Extinguish my eyes” that are essentially vocalises on an “oo” vowel, and in the playful nonsense syllables of the Bernstein “Piccola Serenata” that acts as an encore “bonus track”, her sound can be fascinating and ravishing. Overall, this is a recital to hear when one is willing to be energized and challenged to think by the music, rather than in the car on the way home from an intense meeting (as I first tried it, quickly putting it aside for a time when I was better able to receive it). Listeners desiring to hear DiDonato’s considerable artistry in the service of an interesting but more relaxing set of songs will be pleased to know that her Wigmore Hall recital of songs themed around the city of Venice has also been released by the BBC this year (under the Wigmore Hall Live imprint). In the Rossini, Michael Head, Fauré, and Hahn songs that make up the program (as well as in the Handel and Rossini arias that act as encores) we are treated to a very satisfying dose of the beautiful singing that has justly earned her a position among the exciting young bel canto singers.

I find it interesting that The Deepest Desire, a debut recital exploring the theme of personal identity, begins with a set of songs written for a mezzo-soprano of several generations ago, Jennie Tourel, and ends with a set written for another mezzo who is still very active, Susan Graham, who created the role of Sister Helen in the original production of Dead Man Walking, a role that DiDonato went on to perform with the New York City Opera. In light of the intelligence, artistry, and sheer vocal talent that she brings to these songs, I would not be surprised at all if her recitals in the not-too-distant future include songs written for her as well.

Reflecting this disc’s production in France, where it won the Diapason d’or de l’année, the notes (both DiDonato’s personal introduction, and the notes on the songs by Benjamin Sosland) and artist biographies, as well as the texts of the songs, are presented in both English and French (“A Julia de Burgos” is, of course, also in Spanish).

Barbara Miller

  

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):