Joyce DiDonato looks at war, peace and the BaroqueWashington Post
A self-described “belligerent optimist,” opera star Joyce DiDonato is pinning a lot of hope on her new album, “In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music.”
Shaken by a world of increasing conflict, DiDonato asks in the album booklet, “In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?” She cites responses from a wide variety of people, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a Sing Sing inmate named Joe Wilson. (She also urges a discussion via the social media hashtag #TalkPeace.) But DiDonato also provides some answers herself with this recording of Baroque music, divided between arias depicting hostility and those devoted to serenity.
In the first half, her characters sing of revenge, fear and the frustrating battles fought inside troubled minds. In fine voice, if a little overdressed in reverb, DiDonato channels anguish particularly well, especially in the music of Handel, which dominates the album. In his slow and well-known lament “Lascia ch’io pianga,” she washes just enough color out of her voice to achieve a purity that enhances the composer’s signature formula of gut-wrenching despair set to music of extraordinary beauty.
DiDonato also can rage with the best, hurling words like knives in an aria from Leonardo Leo’s long-forgotten “Andromaca.” Near the end, she depicts a swirl of conflicting emotions — ferocity, dread and a mother’s tender love — on the single word “ancor.”
The album’s second half spotlights peaceful gardens, outbursts of joy and lovers who “never think of war again.” DiDonato unleashes some of the most rousing coloratura singing of her recorded career in two virtuoso arias (never before recorded) by the neglected Neapolitan Niccolo Jommelli. The driving pulse in “Par che di giubilo,” infectiously rendered by her backing ensemble, Il Pomo d’Oro, underscores such lines as “My soul seems delirious with joy,” sung with uncommon speed, precision and a beaming smile in the voice. In “Sprezza il furor del veto,” she’s a “sturdy oak,” unbending to a constant flurry of stratospheric runs and trills. The voice is completely engaged in the emotional and technical content without resorting to aspirating or scooping up to notes.
Read the entire review via the Washington Post