01 Feb 2010
Joyce DiDonato, Wigmore Hall
The Wigmore Hall was bursting its seams in excited anticipation of this recital by the American mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato.
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
The Wigmore Hall was bursting its seams in excited anticipation of this recital by the American mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato.
Rapturous applause greeted her entrance, and the audience’s fervent delight increased with every step of this journey through the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Italian romance. Tracing a path from the late Renaissance to the turn of the twentieth century, DiDonato clearly enjoyed herself, and the programme was certainly both eclectic and generous.
DiDonato did not give herself the easiest of openings, and did not wholly pull it off. Despite her careful self-restraint, and deliberate attention to breathing and phrasing, ultimately her voice is simply too large — its colours too overt, its textures too rich — for the subtle ambiguities and delicate sensibility of the miniatures from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which she selected from the Arie antiche, a collection gathered and edited by Alessandro.Parisotti in the late-nineteenth century. Teasing madrigalisms — the ‘playful breeze’ or ‘the sound of the waves’ — seemed somewhat mannered and a little heavy-handed, as DiDonato worked too hard to conjure an air of simplicity. The Italian texts were enunciated with a naturalness and ease, particularly in Raffaello Rontani’s ‘Or ch’io non sequo più’ (‘No longer will I follow you’), but — despite some mischievous rubato in the well-known ‘Se tu m’ami’ (‘If you love me’, Parisotti, attributed Pergolesi) — the necessary light-heartedness of spirit was not fully achieved.
Most successful was Caccini’s startlingly beautiful ‘Amarilli mia bella’ (‘Amaryllis, my love one’). Here DiDonato experimented with an understated, pure tone, her vibrato-less sound enlivened by thrilling ornaments — delayed appoggiaturas and tremulous, tense trills — while the piano sought to emulate the shudders and tremors of a Renaissance continuo. Indeed, the French pianist, David Zobel, was a thoughtful and imaginative accompanist throughout this sequence, whipping up the energy in the opening ‘Danza, danza fanciulla gentile’ (‘Dance, dance, young girl’) by Francesco Durante, deftly establishing the carefree world of the opera buffa in Paisiello’s ‘Nel cor più non mi sento’ (‘Why eels my heart’). DiDonato’s spirit of fun and her ability to slip from one persona to another were apparent in this song, a Cherubino-esque faux innocence characterising her interpretation of ‘the fire of youth divine’ — and fittingly so, as the page himself was to make an appearance later in the evening.
Whatever one’s misgivings, this was however an intriguing sequence, one which balanced the renowned with the unfamiliar, and which endeavoured to offer a fresh reading of the former and to make a convincing case for the latter. The four Italian ariettas by Beethoven which followed were perhaps less engaging, written during the young composer’s studies with Salieri, when he learned from the master how to set the texts of the doyen of opera seria, Metastasio. Not quite ‘student exercises’ — ‘L’Amante impaziente’ (‘The Impatient Lover’), for example, appeared in two guises, one frivolous, the other pathetic — these songs lack genuine depth. Nevertheless, their simplicity of form and style did allow the unity between singer and accompanist to shine: unisons and echoes were effortlessly coordinated and intertwined in ‘Hoffnung (Dimmi ben mio)’(‘Hope (say, my love, you love me)’) and the more melancholy, pianissimo rendering of the lover’s impatience; a graceful, shared lyricism shaped ‘La partenza’ (‘The departure’). Throughout, Zobel sought to characterise and dramatise, his ‘scotch-snap’ heartbeat pulsing through ‘T’intendo, si, mio cor’ (‘My heart I hear you well’) and a tumult of arpeggio triplets conveying the buffoon-like impetuosity of the desperate inamorato.
The first half of the recital closed with DiDonato’s signature Rossini - the ‘Willow Song’ from Otello, with obbligato harp performed by Lucy Wakeford. DiDonato’s relaxed demeanour was revealed when, just as she drew breath, a mobile ‘phone interrupted proceedings: “It’s Otello,” she quipped, “Tell him it's not true.” Unfazed and undistracted, the purity and transcendence of her performance was spell-binding. Eager to make the most of her harpist’s presence, DiDonato offered an unscheduled encore before the interval — the heavenly prayer, ‘Guisto Ciel’, from Rossini's Maometto Secondo. The tranquility and sweetness conjured by singer and instrumentalist was truly unearthly; which did, however, raise the question of why DiDonato did not explore the potential of the harp’s sonorities in the opening Arie antiche…
The second half of the recital ranged once more over favourite pastures and new terrain, as DiDonato convincingly made the case for a reconsideration and re-evaluation of nineteenth-century Italian art song. The melodic arcs and yearning cadences of Puccini, the rich harmonic palette of Richard Strauss, the shimmering textures of Debussy … all echo through the liriche da camera of Francesco Santoliquido. His ‘I Canti della Sera’ are operatic miniatures, scaling emotional peaks and troughs, and perfectly suited to DiDonato’s innate musical and dramatic expansiveness. ‘Tristezza crepuscolare’ (‘Twilight sadness’) allowed the mezzo to reveal the dark opulence of her lower register, as she effectively exploited the textual repetitions to build urgency and passion. Songs by Ildebrando Pizetti, Enrico Toselli, Stefano Donaudy and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco followed. DiDonato delighted in indulging her feeling for dramatic contrasts: a silky velvet hue evoked the loneliness of the lover who waits in vain at the close of Pizetti’s ‘Oscuro le ciel’ (‘The sky is dark’), while an effervescent impishness characterised Tedesco’s ‘Ballad’.
The final group of four songs imported the strains of Spain, France and Arabia to Italian shores. In Barbara Guiranna’s eerie ‘Canto arabo’ (‘Arab Song’), DiDonato relished the angular slips and slides, floating dreamily between the pitches of the ‘off-key’ scales; while in Arturo Buzzi-Peccia’s ‘Lolita’ (popularised by Caruso) and Vincenzo Di Chiara’s ‘La Spagnola’, her voice lushly over-spilled: singer, actress, communicator — her warmth, joy and exuberance was exhilarating,
Despite the heights already reached during the evening, two encores served merely to show how much more there is in DiDonato’s arsenal. A cheeky ‘Voi che sapete’ brought Mozart’s insouciant page instantly to life; last came ‘Tanti affetti’ from Rossini’s La Donna del Lago. Oddly, it was as if for the first time in this stunning recital we were permitted a glimpse of the full range of DiDonato’s vocal capabilities, the expanse of her tessitura, at both ends, the sparkle and prowess of her coloratura. A triumphant end which left the ecstatic audience eager for more.