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.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.
On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
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.