It is not a secret that in a great singer the voice is not everything. Having it is an absolute privilege that implies responsibilities. When there is voice and intelligence, things improve. And if you add feeling (call it spirit, soul or heart) you get a product designed to stay, to transcend. This is the case that today Joyce DiDonato exemplifies without a doubt. The mezzo from Kansas shows that it is not enough to be in possession of an exceptional voice, what she does, she does with soul and thought, and not because she needs to compensate for a premature decline in vocal faculties but, on the contrary, she is at her best.
And she has the generosity to take advantage of this artistic zenith to treat herself to a performance that takes courage and commitment to her peers. From the first moment, one can tell it’s an obligation she owes to herself. This woman knows what she does and how to do it; and she does it like a goddess. We should be grateful to her for being a shining beacon in this ocean of banality, cheesiness and vanity in which much of the world, including the lyrical universe, is enveloped, even if it is a little light, however small it may be.
So she resorts to baroque music, her specialty, to put together a recital that she turns into a declaration of humanity. It includes frills but also essence, there are embellishments but also substance. An intelligent, exemplary and necessary recital. In two parts, In War & Peace deals first with war and in the second part, with peace, opposites incarnated in passionate women and war queens for a program that cleverly combines known arias with rarities executed with impeccable technique and the proverbial mezzo fieriness. It also exemplifies the relevance of opera, lest we be deceived, a genre of high political and social commitment. From Scenes of horror by Handel that opened the evening recorded at Barcelona’s Liceu, to the Dido’s Lament by Purcell and Laschia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo that concludes the first part, her delivery is masterful. A necessary quota of hopeful lyricism comes as a relief in the second part, of which Augelletti che cantate from Rinaldo and Par che di giubilo by Niccolo Jommelli were the best moments. As an encore, a sublime Morgen by Richard Strauss is a sweet farewell balm. In this glorious era of lyrical mezzos, if DiDonato doesn’t sing with Cecilia Bartoli’s velvet, the exquisiteness of Anne Sofie von Otter or the superhuman dimension of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, her singing is earthier, meatier, more vibrant, more human and in this specific case, more effective.
Conducted by Ralf Pleger, it is a visually extravagant show in the Baroque style, a wonderful pasticcio, with costumes by Vivienne Westwood that capture the intention of the artist. Everything is calculated by the millimeter, each element manages to be a symbol, lights, make-up, projections, even the dance by Manuel Palazzo, remarkably executed although at times the most obvious part of the show. The musicians of Il Pomo d’Oro, under the baton of Maxim Emelyanychev, accompany her gleefully, resulting in a general harmony that emanates and shapes the fundamental proposition: harmony through music, using it to make sense of the sea of nonsense. From an initial chaos that manages to disturb the last luminous peace, the evening progresses through stupor, mourning, acceptance and rebirth; elements always understood as an option and not as an obligation, according to her account in the juicy extra about the genesis of the project.
Subtle but without ulterior motives, showing admirable balance, Joyce DiDonato assumes her commitment as an artist and as a person from a place that does not allow for timidity, it is her sincerity and fervor that drives reflection in the audience. Her proposal of reconciliation through music would seemed to bear witness to the quote by Hannah Arendt “That even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination might well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women”. In the middle of the chaos, DiDonato finds that light, irradiates it and, moreover, plays for it. Brava. (more…)
She was previously named Female Singer of the Year in 2010, 2013, and 2015. The designation recognizes Ms. DiDonato’s tremendous stage and recording career; highlights from this past year include the release of her album “In War & Peace – Harmony Through Music” and its subsequent international tour, and her critically acclaimed debut in the title role of Semiramide at the Bayerische Staatsoper.
The award ceremony and Gala Concert will be hosted on October 29 at the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall in Hamburg, and will receive a TV broadcast via ZDF that evening.
The illustrious list of winners this year also includes tenor Jonas Kaufmann, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and more. See the complete list via MusikIndustrie.de.
Have you ever seen a world renowned opera singer sitting patiently at the back corner of the stage for a good fifteen minutes while waiting for the audience to fill the auditorium? The term “anti-diva” as epithet of Joyce DiDonato has been used extensively, but really that’s the first appellative coming to mind when entering in contact with her extraordinary presence. All about her is genuine passion for her job, and no trace of a primadonna demeanor.
The programme, with the title “In War & Peace: Harmony Through Music”, presented a series of arias and instrumental pieces by baroque composers with a predominant presence of Handel’s arias. The fil rouge of the pieces were the internal battles that a human soul may face in the course of its life, encompassing the spectrum of emotions that goes from rage and despair to relief and elation.
Joyce DiDonato was accompanied on stage by the young orchestra il pomo d’oro, which specialises in period instruments and was conducted by the 29 years old Maxim Emelyanychev. The presence of choreographer and dancer Manuel Palazzo added a visual element to the show.
Although based on baroque repertoire, the aesthetic of the show was a modern one, with the mezzo-soprano wearing two somewhat futuristic Vivienne Westwood’s gowns matched by eccentric make up, like a painter’s colours’ palette had been splashed into her face and neckline. The dancer was wearing a plain, long skirt-like outfit, while the projections on the walls were variously coloured, ornate and abstract silhouettes.
The common challenge of recitals – even for an experienced singer – is bringing to life arias outside of their dramatic and narrative context. Joyce DiDonato mastered this task beautifully throughout the evening, ensuring that this wasn’t simply an occasion to showcase her “24 carat gold” voice (The Times), but really a chance to actively engage the audience and make it part of a heartfelt performance.
Music can express different emotional states, as well as be a kind of commentary on a nowadays world’s events.. It has a special power, that almost every musician tries to catch and deliver to the audience. And there is one person, who actually takes up the effort to make it more real and to achieve peace through music. And, she makes you believe, that it is possible.
And it was just like this, on 30th May in Berliner Philharmonie with Joyce DiDonato and Il Pomo d’Oro. There was a concert from the tour: “War and peace, harmony through music”. But word “concert” is just insufficient. It was more than a concert, or just a “performance”. Joyce took us on a journey with mythological heroines, baroque truth and reality.
That stage reality was divided into two parts. First one- “war”, second- “peace”. The war started long before the concert. Entering the main hall, seing Joyce (siting) on the stage, looking at the man, dancer- Manuel Palazzo, lying in front of the audience.. Man out of mythology. A lost son, beloved man, suffering human… She was like if she were asking the audience, only through the eye contact, but still like asking, simply- why? Like if she was giving the audience a challenge to feel and follow the emotions, and story that will happen on the stage after a while.
And then- it begun. Il Pomo d’Oro orchestra under the baton of Maxim Emelyanychev intonates the beginning of Storge’s torment: Scenes of horror, scenes of woe.. The music rises, voice goes through every demanding passage. Sounding once- full, dark and powerfull, then- changing the mood, more soften, round, delicate. Another rise, another change. Storge suffers in front of us, looking for a relief, but cannot find it in joyjess flow the hour of light. Then another inner war. Leo’s Andromaca and her prendi quell ferro,o barbaro!. Sung in full voice, there wasn’t Joyce, standing on the stage, there was a suffering mother, Andromaca, with broken heart and longing for forgiveness. Then- a moment with Cavalieri’s Sinfonia, full of emotional outbursts and baroque strong fragility, followed by Purcell’s Chancone g-Moll Z 730. Another beautiful basso continuo motive with violin’s brightness. And right after- Dido’s floating, full of hesitation as well as desperation – Thy hand, Belinda. A deep conversation between brass and voice. The first part of the concert is coming to the end. Begun with the powerful vison of war, followed by longing for relief, now- ending with a sorrow. Gesualdo’s Trist est anima mea. An outburst of pain, suffering, followed by, the absolute pearl- Lascia ch’io pianga mia cruda sorte. The aria, that allowed Joyce to show the most fragile part of human’s sorrowful soul. Long lines, sung in delicate voice, in some parts- changing into crying, dull and full of sorrow notes. And then- just disappearing and leaving the audience with themselves, in their inner pain and amaze by the power of music and, actually, Joyce’s as well as Il pomo d’oro’s abilities and truth.
The second part was: “Peace”. Dress and lights (and projections) change. The grand opening aria They tell us that you mighty powers above. First relief trial. And once again- the long, developed, phrases and most demanding arpeggios. Sung technically as well as emotionally, on the highest level. Joyce made audience believe in her story. Like she did in the next aria- Crystal streams in murmurs flowing. The fairytale-like story, sung with a soft voice and long phrasing, with accurate trills. Roses petails- not only lying on the stage, but also appearing in the voice. Then, calming Da pacem domine, an introduction to the following: augelletti, che cantata. Here, the bird “song”- the greatest dialogue between flaute and voice. Fragile unissono and careful, light repetitions. And the last (almost) one- Kleopatra’s aria: Da tempeste il legno infranto. And here- the best conclusion of the concert, the colors of trills, passages and octave’s jumps, summing up (emotionally) with Kleopatra’s words: “torna l’anima a bear”- happiness is restored to the soul.
But there was also the final “conclusion”. As we were in Germany, Joyce deciced to leave the audience with some Strauss… And the beautiful words, that “no matter what, the next day- the sun will always rise, again”. Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen…
If there is anybody to sing the baroque repertoire and to catch the inner, deeper sense of that music- the sense of inner conflict between war and peace- this Is Joyce DiDonato. And what is more- she allows anyone in the audience to feel the music and truth. Not only because of her great technical abilities (needed for such a demanding baroque repertoire) but, what is even more- because of the sharing. Sharing the emotions, delivering the hidden messages and, actually, giving the “Peace”. And it was just like that in Berliner Philharmonie. Real tears, standing ovation and harmony through music.
Joyce DiDonato, with Il Pomo d’Oro, at National Concert Hall, on 8 June 2017
That this is no ordinary concert is clear before even entering the auditorium. On the programme stands there are cards for everyone in the audience, inviting answers to the question ‘in the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?’
Joyce DiDonato, touring with period-instrument ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro, has themed this concert ‘In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music’. Once inside, the lighting is low, there is a smudge of dry ice in the air, and there is the singer herself, seated statue-like at the rear of the stage while at the front a male figure lies on the ground, his body twisted like a torso from a baroque painting.
The theatricality continues with the concert, with DiDonato’s flowing designer gowns and physical gestures, occasional interventions of dancer/choreographer Manuel Palazzo (who nevertheless avoids baroque dance, clearly still a step too far even for early-music fans), and abstract animations projected on the back wall, video-art style. The sophisticated presentation is matched by the eclectic and themed programme, centring on music by Handel and Henry Purcell: the first half evoking the experience of war and conflict with a second half all peaceful reverie and hopeful victory. It’s creative and engaging and far from being a didactic slog, though the intention is clear: we need art, now more than ever.
There are many pleasures along the way. At the heart of it all, DiDonato’s voice is as beautiful, richly-coloured and agile as ever, and she proves a compelling advocate for her material. The aria Prendi quel ferro, o barbaro [take the sword you monster] from Leonardo Leo’s opera ‘Andromaca’ brings in a feverish intensity, sung with fabulous power, contrasted with moments of deep tenderness.
The ensemble, mainly conducted from the harpsichord by Maxim Emelyanychev (in an instrumental piece by Cavalieri he proves a more than capable cornettist as well), accompany with easy sensitivity. They bring a warm Italianate energy and transparency to the music of Purcell, with a superbly-judged segue from the Chacony in G minor into Dido’s Lament from ‘Dido & Aeneas’. DiDonato projects a wonderful sense of stillness, as her voice in the Lament explores ever darker hues.
This contrasts boldly with what follows, the aria Pensieri, voi mi tormentate [thoughts, you persecute me] from Handel’s ‘Agrippina’, the bracing intensity of DiDonato’s opening phrase superbly matched by the playing of solo oboist Roberto de Franceschi. The programme offers many turns like this. Her gentle singing of Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga, her embellishments understated, to a backdrop of falling petals, will certainly last in the memory.
While the anguish of the first half is perhaps missed in the more peaceful strains that follow the interval, it nevertheless includes a beautiful instrumental performance of Arvo Pärt’s Da Pacem, Domine, a piece composed just two days after the 2004 Madrid train bombings, in memory of its victims.
The final pair of Handel arias allows the programme to close on a note of brilliance. Augelletti, che cantate [little birds that sing] from ‘Rinaldo’ features the extraordinary sopranino-recorder playing of Anna Fusek—another multi-instrumentalist, having played the rest of the concert as a second violinist. Meanwhile, DiDonato reminds us of her coloratura virtuosity one last time in a fast—perhaps over-fast—rendering of the aria Da tempeste from ‘Giulio Cesare’.
The audience come to their feet and, after sustained applause, DiDonato returns to sing two encores, one baroque (un-named) and the other more recent. Between them, she stops to reflect on her programme, clearly a gathering of favourites, explaining how it grew as a response to the Paris terror attacks in November 2015, recalling composer Jonathan Larson’s words that “the opposite of war isn’t peace—it’s creation”.
And, with that, she bids us farewell with perhaps the most surprising musical offering of the night, evoking the mystery of the sun rising each morning in the Richard Strauss song Morgen [morning], here accompanied by baroque violin, lute and cello. Transcending centuries, it creates a moment that is thoughtful, inspired, and deeply moving.
George Frideric Handel: ‘Scenes of horror, scenes of woe’ (Jephtha)
Leonardo Leo: ‘Prendi quel ferro, o barbaro!’ (Andromaca)
Emilio dei Cavalieri: Sinfonia (Rapprasentatione di anima e di corpo)
Henry Purcell: Chacony in G minor; ‘Dido’s Lament’ (Dido & Aeneas)
Handel: ‘Pensieri, voi mi tormentate (Agrippina)
Carlo Gesualdo: ‘Tristis est anima mea’ [instrumental]
Handel: ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ (Rinaldo)
Purcell: ‘They tell us that your mighty powers’ (The Indian Queen)
Handel: ‘Crystal streams in murmurs flowing’ (Susanna)
Arvo Pärt: Da Pacem, Domine
Handel: ‘Augelletti, che cantate’ (Rinaldo); ‘Da tempeste il legno infranto’ (Giulio Cesare)
By Michael Lee
Joyce DiDonato gives a stunning example of the possible shape of things to come
It was appropriate that last Thursday evening’s audience at the National Concert Hall had made their way there through a heavy electrical storm. The atmosphere generated in the auditorium – by paragon US mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato backed by Italian early music ensemble il pomo d’oro and a posse of creative collaborators – was scarcely a volt less highly charged.
On the classical concert platform a heady mix of extra-musical elements is still the exception rather than the rule. But it was hard to imagine how, without the dry ice, the vibrant lighting, the nervy abstract video projections, the arch choreography, the Mac makeup or the Vivienne Westwood outfits, the music by Baroque masters Leo, Purcell and Handel could have made its impact with equal force.
Titled In War and Peace: Harmony through Music, DiDonato’s programme is already available on CD and has toured across Europe and the US. It decisively lays to rest a perennial problem with the well-worn opera-gala concert formula, which – with the object of showing off an individual’s vocal talent and perhaps reminding the audience of a few favourite melodies – treats a range of dramatic works to quotation out of context.
DiDonato’s vision is not Tolstoyan, but rather a series of reflections on two opposed states of being that she powerfully combines within herself as a kind of bipolar allegorical figure. Arias from Handel’s Agrippina, Giulio Cesare, Jephtha, Rinaldo and Susanna, Leo’s Andromaca and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and The Indian Queen are drawn together by the common themes of conflict and (albeit to a lesser extent) resolution.
La mezzosoprano norteamericana Joyce DiDonato recupera canciones de guerra y paz del Barroco para reflexionar sobre la barbarie y la humanidad. Los atentados en París de hace dos años la llevaron a crear este repertorio publicado en el disco ‘In War & Peace’, que este domingo presenta en el Gran Teatre del Liceu. DiDonato va más allá del típico concierto en esta actuación, con una teatral puesta en escena que, además de los músicos del conjunto Il Pomo d’Oro, inlcuye a un bailarín.
¿Qué aporta este repertorio en los tiempos actuales? Las canciones barrocas nos sirven para comprender mejor la desazón actual y, espero, para aliviarnos. La primera obra del concierto, ‘Escenas de horror, escenas de aflicción’, describe a la perfección lo que todos vemos en las noticias y lo que muchos de nosotros sentimos al verlas. De forma subconsciente, esta música de hace siglos nos reconforta, porque el retrato de la condición humana que hace es absolutamente moderno.
La gran diva americana Joyce DiDonato está convencida de poder transmitir la paz a través de la música en estos momentos tan convulsos que todos vivimos. Da clases y canta aquello que escriben los presidiarios, promociona conferencias sobre la difícil situación actual en el mundo y se declara preocupada por la llegada a la presidencia de su país de Donald Trump, que espera que produzca el menor daño posible.
A la pregunta de cómo puede encontrar la paz en medio del caos, la mezzosoprano declara: “Precisamente eso pensaba sentada al piano con un montón de arias, tratando de encontrar repertorio para mi nuevo disco, porque se acababa de cometer el atentado de París. Pensé que tenía que abordar lo que estaba sucediendo hoy día a través de estos compositores de hace siglos, porque ellos ya habían escrito en su momento sobre la guerra y la paz. Quise formular algo que ayudara a reconciliar mi mundo de hoy y que, tal vez, con un poco de suerte, ayudara a otros a hacerlo”.
I had last heard this aria in Susan Gritton’s trim, well-mannered reading on the Sixteen’s recent recording of the complete oratorio. DiDonato’s version is something else entirely. The sharp attack of her singing gives it an almost shocking immediacy; the hammer-stroke articulation of the line “rising from the shades below” makes it seem as if the “scenes of horror” were indeed dredged up from hell. The barbarities she describes, rather than transpiring in the conveniently distant past, could be in Aleppo or at Pulse in Orlando. By making the aria so visceral, DiDonato tells us that the act of performing music—and of listening to it—needn’t be a purely aesthetic endeavor but a means of understanding the world we live in.
The entire recital benefits from the American mezzo’s warmth of tone and prodigious technique—fully expected but nonetheless welcome. (The pinging staccato arpeggios in “Par che di giubilo,” from Niccolò Jommelli’s Attilio Regolo, all but defy credibility.) Under Maxim Emelyanychev, the musicians of the Italian period-instrument orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro play with vigor, commitment and emotional specificity, co-navigators on DiDonato’s voyage of exploration.”
Mezzo-soprano superstar Joyce DiDonato’s latest album of Baroque opera arias started life as a project to bring to light some Neapolitan rarities, but it took a swift hairpin turn in November last year following the brutal terror attacks in Paris. The Kansas diva and the crack Il Pomo d’Oro under their exciting young Russian Chief Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev ditched the programme and came up with a selection of “war and peace” arias, all of them sending a strong message in troubled times. “As I have tried to convey in this selection of music, the power to bravely tip the scales towards peace lies firmly within every single one of us,” DiDonato says …
The singing is magnificent – at 47, DiDonato’s voice is at its very peak – the diction is exemplary and the playing of the Italians is simply to die for. This recital is probably her most personal project to date and represents one of the most eloquent and moving pleas for peace in a long time.”