|David Zobel and Joyce DiDonato (photo by Chris Lee)
A glamorous and revered superstar of the opera stage, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato revealed her mettle as a recitalist Tuesday night in Carnegie Hall. All wrapped up in one woman are the engaging and communicative entertainer and the naturalness of the proverbial girl next store-- from Kansas no less. With flawless technique and enough expressiveness for two artists, she wowed the audience with a program the theme of which was "A Journey Through Venice". Accompanied by the excellent David Zobel at the piano, she exhibited a lovely liquid tone and superb phrasing in every selection.
As a great fan of bel canto, we were thrilled to hear so much beautiful singing on one program. She opened the program with two arias from Antonio Vivaldi's opera Ercole su'l Termodonte, written in 1723 while the composer was in Venice. "Onde chiare che sussurrate" was gloriously baroque and filled with trills in both piano and vocal line, all executed to perfection. The text is one of anxious longing on the part of the Princess Ippolita and the rippling stream can be heard in the constant arpeggios in the piano. The same character sings the aria "Amato ben" and we felt the aching longing when Ms. DiDonato stressed the appoggiatura before the final note. Although the plot is not of the ilk favored by today's fashion, if the other arias are halfway as good, we would love to see/hear the entire opera.
The use of the microphone for speaking between songs was welcome because we wanted to hear every word Ms. DiDonato had to say as she related anecdotes about each set of songs. Paul Verlaine's text for Cinq melodies de Venise is so lovely that it has been set by Debussy, Saint Saëns and Sokolov. But Ms. DiDonato chose the setting by Gabriel Fauré for her program and we were delighted to be hearing it for the first time. We are always reminded of the Fragonard paintings when we hear the lively slightly satirical "Mandoline". The peaceful quality of "En sourdine" was a lovely contrast. We found "C'est l'extase" somewhat less languorous than the setting by Debussy but nonetheless quite lovely.
As many times as we have heard Rossini's "La regatta veneziana" we never tire of hearing the three distinct moods of Anzoleta and her feelings for Momolo, her gondolier lover. She encourages him in the first song; in the second she is cheering him on and we feel her breathless excitement and anxiety; in the third song she is all warm and fuzzy, rewarding her Momolo for his win with kisses and compliments. Ms. DiDonato made us feel as if we ourselves were watching the race. Rossini composed this brief cycle in the Venetian dialect as part of his Péchés de vieillesse, long after he stopped writing operas.
In contrast to that cycle from his mature period, we heard an aria from his youthful opera Otello. While we do no wish to take anything away from Verdi's masterpiece, we would love to see a production of Rossini's Otello, based on the gorgeous "Assisa al piè d'un salice…Deh, calma", known as the Willow Song. There is a gorgeously melodic introduction by the piano followed by the sorrowful lament of the distracted Desdemona. Even without an orchestra, the two artists brought the scene to dramatic life. The piano becomes turbulent when Desdemona gets distracted by her grief and anxiety.
Compared with most 20th c. English composers we would have to grant Michael Head a lot of credit for his ability to write for the voice and to match the vocal line to both text and music. His Three Songs of Venice were evocative and Ms. DiDonato sang the text with far better diction than that to which we are accustomed. That quality can make or break a performance in a recital of art songs in which the words are so important. Ms. DiDonato's artistry in word coloring added to the pleasure.
Still, for melody and singability, we must give the prize to Reynaldo Hahn, from an earlier generation. We heard selections from Venezia sung in gorgeous Italian and were swooning. The rippling rolling chords in the piano and the melismatic singing in "La barcheta" made this romantic tale our favorite. We also enjoyed the much less romantic "L'avertimento" in which the poet warns his friends against a beautiful girl with the heart of a tiger and the irony of "Che pecà" in which a man expresses his ambivalence about getting over a frantic passion. Ms. DiDonato's acting was incomparable.
Rossini's "Canzonetta Spagnuola" with its vocal fireworks and gradual accelerando made the perfect encore. We were totally satisfied but--wait--there was one final encore "Non ti scordar di me" by Ernesto de Curtis. We felt sorry for the lone couple who were running to catch a train; we wouldn't have missed a single note of it.
ⓒ meche kroop