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.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
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.