Sunday, November 9, 2014

Joyce DiDonato at Carnegie Hall

Thanks to this marvelous, sometimes frustrating technology, I was able to watch it live in real time on Medici TV, so while not quite the same as actually being there, it's the next best thing . . . and a very good thing, too.

Applying the theme "A Journey Through Venice," to the program, allowed the mezzo and her marvelous pianist David Zobel to examine a wide spectrum of music devoted to one of earth's most celebrated cities. Through the music of Vivaldi, Rossini, Hahn, Faure and
Michael Head, DiDonato revealed why she's one of today's most versatile and unique singers, approaching everything with a freshness and sense of wonderment that is infectious to the listener, drawing one in as though being gently pulled by a friend from a large party into a side room for one-on-one.

So fluidly did DiDonato move through the two gorgeous, elegant arias from Vivaldi's "Ercole su'l Termodonte," "Onde chiare che sussurrate" and "Amato ben," which opened the recital, revealing a precision and elegance smoothly seguing from the virtuosity of the first into the delicate intimacy of the second, and applying a hushed intensity to this music that was breathtaking.

Hot on the heels (after a bit of banter from the singer) came Fauré's delightful set Cinq mélodies 'de Venise, the first of which feels more like Poulenc or Debussy than one usually gets from this frequently introspective composer. With her quick vibrato and slight reedy quality, DiDonato sounds almost as though born to sing French music and hearing this entire set made me curious to hear what she might do with his Pénélope. Whether or not that happens, more Fauré, please, Joyce, it suits you like an elegant glove.

The first half of the recital closed, and the second half began with Rossini, a composer one frequently identifies with this singer, his outsized La regata veneziana contrasting nicely with Desdemona's Assisa al piè d’un salice ... Deh, calma. Again a single composer providing two sides of the same coin and an opportunity for this singer to color, bend and stretch - to play with the music - in a manner many singers seem incapable of, or uncomfortable in doing.

A bit more banter ensued as DiDonato described Michael Head's Three Songs of Venice, written for Dame Janet Baker, and still sounding mighty good from another singer in the here and now.

The crown (for me) of the recital was "Venezia" the "Venice" set of Reynaldo Hahn, long one of my favorite songwriters. They were, of course, glorious sounding, with DiDonato interrupting herself to describe how, if time allowed she'd enjoy being able to change into a costume for "Che peca!": "I would go into a white sleeveless t shirt that's about 20 years old . . . a couple stains and holes, because I would be that man who sits on his porch . . . over the canal, and I envision this song with the man whose had a lot of pasta in his life and he likes a bad cigar, and he's had it . . . and this is what he would sing about." DiDonato struck a swagger-ish pose and presented a sort of artificial huskiness and sprechstimme (built into the song) that was hilarious, and felt natural and it was clear who was having the most fun of the night.

After a warm ovation, and before presenting her two encores, Rossini's "Canzonetta spagnuola" DeCurtis great hit "Non ti scordar di me," both marvelously sung, DiDonato spoke from the heart:

"I know I'm a bit of a Pollyanna about this, but when you look at the world today and it can get a little discouraging at times . . .right? This is our teacher, right here . . . because here we are of different gender, different religion, different politics, different everything . . . and yet in this moment there is harmony and there is peace. This is our teacher, and our goal is to take this that we create here and go out. So that's why . . . and I hope I'm not lecturing you all, I just want to share with you how amazing it is that we get to do this."

Amen, sister.

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