Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

Aria For … Wednesday – Marten Aller Arten (Die Entführung aus sem Serail)

In Aria For ..., Classical Music, Mozart, Opera on February 27, 2013 at 9:46 am

An admission. Die Entführung is one of two Mozart ‘major’ operas that I struggle with in its totality. The other is Così Fan Tutte which is strange as I chose Soave il vento as one of the pieces for my recent civil ceremony.

But this aria – and in particular being sung by the late Dame Joan Sutherland – is one that I love. Of course it’s the music itself, the way that Mozart combines the concertante instruments – flute, oboe, violin and cello – with the vocal line but in particular it’s this performance.

This was the first time that I heard Joan Sutherland, sitting cross-legged in the bedroom of a school friend whose mother was a semi-professional opera singer herself.

I think I have said before that in my adolescence I went through a phase of ‘anything but Mozart opera seria’. This put an end to that pretty much.

Of course it’s not an ‘authentic’ performance. To be honest I am not overly keen on the more ‘authentic’ performances with their fermata’d phrases or extra bars.

And of course Joan Sutherland doesn’t quite get into the meat or meaning of the aria itself – there’s no sense of her about to endure ‘tortures of all kinds’ but by golly she sings every note with both pinpoint accuracy and effortless switching vocally from guts and gusto to delicacy and grace.

The orchestra of Covent Garden conducted by Franceso Molinari-Pradelli – and in particular the four soloists – play with impeccable grace and lightness; the tempo is very well judged and everything is beautifully articulated and phrased.

Sutherland herself produces a wonderfully liquid and even tone throughout and across her range and demonstrates the most amazing breath control. She literally glides through the notes, cleaving her way through the coloratura to the great extant she becomes the fifth concertante instrument.

Girds me for any tough day ahead.


Murder Most Magnificent

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on February 23, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Review – Medea (English National Opera, Wednesday 20 February 2013)

Medea – Sarah Connolly
Jason – Jeffrey Francis
Creon – Brindley Sherratt
Creusa/Phantom – Katherine Manley
Orontes – Roderick Williams
Nerina – Rhian Lois
Cleonis/Cupid – Aoife O’Sullivan
Arcas – Oliver Dunn
Corinthian/Jealousy – John McMunn
Italian Woman/Phantom II – Sophie Junker

Director – David McVicar
Designer – Bunny Christie
Lighting Designer – Paule Constable
Choreographer – Lynne Page

Chorus Master – Jörg Andresen
Chorus & Orchestra of English National Opera

Conductor – Christian Curnyn

English National Opera is a company that operates at both extremes of the performance spectrum.

To put it bluntly. Their productions are either incredibly good and thought-provoking. Or completely dreadful and ill-conceived. Although in those cases they are saved from complete ignominy from the general quality of the casting.

With their current production of Medea they are off the spectrum of incredibly good. Excellent. Award-winning. And I would even hazard to say a potential long-runner.

ENO would do well to consider building on their French baroque credentials based on this production and their previous production of Castor and Pollux.

David McVicar has matured from being the enfant terrible of opera directors with great ideas with great ideas to a great opera director with a great vision full of sharp ideas.

But first, the cast.

Charpentier’s music moves seamlessly from air to ‘recitatif’ – through composed or not – and therefore has few main numbers as it were. Therefore attention to the detail to the music and a keen eye to the shift between the two is required. And all the singers keenly demonstrated both.

It was a strongly knit cast without a weak link but clearly this is a production that will most be remembered for the tour-de-force of Sarah Connolly as Medea. This role could have been composed for her. I saw her recently perform scenes from French Baroque operas and this is clearly a genre that suits her voice and temperament.

It is clear – as she said in an interview – that completely trusts McVicar but they obviously share common ground when it comes to developing a character. It goes without saying that musically this was an incredibly distinguished and passionate performance. Sarah Connolly is in possession of a lustrous voice that can switch from the lightest, most delicate of tone and colour to an instrument of incredible force and volume and never was a word dropped or muffled. Witness for example her scenes with Nerina and better still the scene when she wrestles with killing her own sons for example. And it was also a subtle yet masterful transition from loving wife to spurned, vengeful woman. Her acting was incredibly convincing not only in the most obvious scenes but for example in her scene with Jason before her descent into revenge and as well as those scenes with Creon and Creusa.

As the King’s daughter-cum-starlet, Katherine Manley’s bright and full soprano was perfect and glittered like her ill-fated gown. Her closing air – as she lay dying – was sung with great poise but each of her scenes was beautifully and eloquently sung even when she had an inadvertent wardrobe malfunction. Katherine Manley is clearly someone to keep an eye on.

Jeffrey Francis as Jason was a pleasant find. His light, crisp yet sweet-toned tenor was a delight and a good fit for Charpentier’s music as well as with the rest of the ensemble. Particularly impressive was his love duet with Creusa.

The remaining warriors – Brindley Sherratt’s Creon and Roderick Williams’ Orontes – completed the very strong ensemble. I particularly enjoyed Roderick Williams as Pollux in Kosky’s production at ENO last year and here he returned with an equally strong portrayal of Orontes, displaying the same strong, darkly hued baritone with excellent diction. And Brindley Sherratt was superb as Creon. His resonant bass dealt comfortably with the delicacy of Charpentier’s writing.

Special mention too of Rhian Lois as Nerina, Aoife O’Sullivan as Cleonis and Cupid, Oliver Dunn’s Arcas and Sophie Junker’s Italian Woman for the strength and intelligence of their performances.

And of course the ENO chorus sang not only with conviction but with passion. The chorus revealing the death of Creon and Orontes was particularly impressive.

Christian Curnyn led the entire ensemble with great verve and attention to the music. There was an equal balance of rhythmic vitality and beautifully phrased suavity combined with a greater attention to the orchestra colour of Charpentier’s score than I found in his Rameau last year.

And so to the production.

The production was built around a combination of McVicar’s motifs but didn’t suffer because of it. The set could have been borrowed from his Covent Garden Figaro for example, and he maximised the size of the Coliseum’s stage – sometimes its own handicap – by focusing some energy on the activity surrounding the main characters without it being distracting.

The setting was – with its Wrens manoeuvring armies around a map and the costumes – reminiscent of the Second World War and there was a general air of decadence to the entire production. Ms Manley may have inadvertently lost her underwear in the second act but it added to the subtle hint of loucheness – almost decadence – at the court of Creon. His own desire for his daughter made clear by the way he touched her early in the opera, was heightened when the Phantoms in the penultimate act are all doppelgangers of Creusa. Similarly Cupid’s night club scene was smart and witty but again managed to deliver and underlying sense of menace.

The scene when Medea calls upon her demons was brilliantly done, and McVicar spared none of the savagery as Connolly cut her own skin and while I was somewhat at a loss with the shaved-headed, red painted male demons in shift dresses and high heels, the dancing in this scene was brutally effective.

Indeed for the most part the choreography – always a difficult thing to integrate into baroque opera and ENO’s dismal Julius Caesar is testimony to – was smart and efficient. When it didn’t add to the narrative, as it did in the aforementioned scene, it was hearty and jovial, which was no bad thing.

Medea shows what ENO is capable of when everything comes together – an excellent cast led by a superb conductor under the auspices of a smart and intelligent director. It’s a shame that John Berry dismisses the idea of cinema broadcasts. This production would – I am sure – be successful on the big screen because it has everything – a great story committed to stage with great singing, marvellous playing and brilliant direction.

Definitely worth seeing if you haven’t already purchased a ticket.

And the second of two very clever and enjoyable French baroque productions by ENO. I do hope that John Berry realises that here is repertoire that is waiting to be explored and will decisively stake a claim to this genre in the capital.

Can we hope for a more new productions? Indeed perhaps some Lully?

Kaufmann der König

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on February 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm

I have to admit that I have taken rather longer than most to appreciate Jonas Kaufmann.

While his debut at the Met as Siegmund was, as I said at the time, on the whole impressive, he didn’t always have the heft nor complete mastery of the vocal range required. I am not fortunate enough to be able to get to Manhattan to see his debut as the lead in Parsifal but – avoiding reviews as much as I can – the Twittersphere is alive with plaudits. Sadly I have to wait until March to experience it in high definition in the cinema but I am definitely more excited by this Parsifal than others that I have attended. Suffice it to say I find it a difficult opera.

However here is a disc that demonstrates that he is a singer – and in particular a Wagner tenor – of both vocal prowess and musical intelligence.

This recital doesn’t cover old ground in terms of segments of Wagner included in his previous disc – here he performs the In Fernem Land in the unedited version for example – and the extracts from the operas are chosen with intelligence.

The recital opens with that magical moment in Die Walküre when Siegmund is left alone to consider his fate as he awaits the dawn in Hunding’s abode. Rhythmically alert brass and agitated strings create an immediate sense of tension and his opening entry is full-bodied and eloquent. Each and every word is crystal clear and he switches to sustained lyricism with ease at ein Weib sah’ ich, wonnig und hehr. The dynamic control into Wälse! Wälse! is impressively handled yet I do think that the second cry of Wälse is a tad indulgent and you can even perceive a slight flutter in Kaufmann’s singing as he pushes on slightly too long. But a peevish criticism I admit as it remains electrifying. And again at Selig schien mir der Sonne Licht Kaufmann’s trademark lyricism. Throughout the monologue Kauffman slips from the more declamatory, heroic passages to the lyrical sections with incredible ease.

Next from father to son for Siegfried’s Daß der mein Vater nicht ist. Over gentle murmuring string, Kaufmann again launches into this monologue and against effortlessly slips between dialogue and lyricism. How touchingly and in hushed tones he sings Das kann ich nun gar nicht mir denken … ein Menshenweib for example. Anyone who has read Eve Rieger’s recent book will relish interpreting the ‘masculine vs feminine’ phrase construction at this point I would imagine.

The mastery of Wagner’s orchestration is very much to the fore at this point and beautifully played by the orchestra of the Deutschen Oper Berlin. All credit in particular to the cor anglais player – as a former oboist I know how difficult it is to play badly and the player does so magnificently!

But personally the highlight of the disc is Rienzi’s Allmächt’ger Vater, blick herab! I cannot remember the last time I listened to this sung – or performed for that matter – with such rapt intensity. Kaufman’s first entry is a study in vocal control both dynamically and legato phrasing which continues through his delivery of the first iteration of ‘Rienzi theme’ and maintain the emotional momentum through its repeat and into the closing bars. Marvellous.

Next is Tannhäuser’s Rome Narration that demonstrates the rich texture and colouring of Kaufmann’s voice throughout its range. Kaufmann’s musical intelligence ensures that he moulds what can sometimes be a relentlessly difficult monologue to maintain in terms of interest and momentum into a compelling, dramatic scene. Just listen to the way he bends and colours his voice at Hast du so böse Lust geteilt. Simply chilling and again menacingly underpinned in the orchestra and in stark contrast to the lustful – full throated – singing with which Kaufmann closes the extract.

Kaufmann returns to a nobler, more lyrical characterisation for Walther’s Am stillen Herdin Winterszeit before ending his operatic selection with the full Grail Narration from Lohengrin. He captures perfectly the ‘other-worldly’ sense of the opening bars and matches vocally the timbre Wagner creates in the orchestra, once again floating effortlessly to the top notes even when singing in the most hushed tones. Wagner may have decided to cut the second stanza but Kaufmann makes a compelling argument for its inclusion if it can always be sung with such purpose and grandeur.

And in both Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, Kaufmann is most ably supported by Markus Brück and the chorus of the Deutschen Oper Berlin.

And so to Kaufmann’s performance of the Wesendonck Lieder. Call me a traditionalist – and much as I wanted to love these performances as much as the extracts from Wagner’s operas – after repeated listening I came to an opposite conclusion. Do not misunderstand me. Kaufmann sings this extended love letter to Mathilde Wesendonck beautifully, with great eloquence and sensitivity.

Yet they do not convince. It has nothing to do with the songs being sung by a tenor – not even one as talented as Kaufmann – but simply that they lose some sense of their sensuality and purpose overall. But there is no disputing that Kaufmann makes an almost convincing argument for their performance by a male voice here but not quite enough. Not even the Tristan-inspired Im Treibhaus where the orchestra pull out some incredibly transparent and chamber-like playing can ultimately convince.

But not surprisingly they do not detract from what is an impressively performed and constructed recital disc. And as I have already mentioned, the orchestra of the Deutschen Oper Berlin play with great beauty and conviction. All the more so surprising as I have in the past not rated Donald Runnicles. Perhaps his rapport with this orchestra is greater than with any other as he does coax incredibly playing, colour and warmth from this ensemble.

But this is very much Kaufmann’s disc. It furthers his position as the leading Wagner tenor performing at the moment. And if all accounts of his Parsifal at the Met are correct, then his position is cemented as tenor regnant.

Trimming La Traviata

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on February 15, 2013 at 8:15 am

Review – La Traviata (English National Opera, Tuesday 12 February 2013)

Violetta Valery – Corinne Winters
Alfredo Germont – Ben Johnson 

Giorgio Germont – Anthony Michaels-Moore
Flora Bervoix – Clare Presland
Doctor – Grenvil Martin Lamb
Annina – Valerie Reid
Viscount Gaston – Paul Hopwood
Baron Duphol – Matthew Hargreaves 

Marquis – Charles Johnston

Director – Peter Konwitschny
Designer – Johannes Leiacker 

Lighting – Designer Joachim Klein

Chorus & Orchestra of English National Opera
Conductor – Michael Hofstetter

It wasn’t only Violetta’s life that was cut short in ENO’s new production of La Traviata.

I have to admit that when I read of the “edited” version being proposed by English National Opera I was, at best, unconvinced. I think there are few justifiable reasons – bar perhaps in some baroque works – to cut actual music from operas, particularly if – as is the case of La Traviata – it was never originally considered by the composer.

And yet all credit to Konwitschny, the singers, chorus and orchestra for creating – bar a few questionable elements – a compelling and thought-provoking interpretation.

I studiously tried to avoid reading any reviews of this production before attending the performance on Tuesday evening.

This was literally a Traviata stripped bare. No gowns. No lace. No frippery. A series of curtains across the stage, a single chair and a pile of books.

Of course this isn’t the first time that a director has pared this opera back to a minimalist setting. I am thinking of the Met’s recent production for example. But here – despite the size of the Coliseum’s stage – it seems starker and more brutal.

There was no escaping from the inevitable tragedy.

Clearly the curtains represented the various layers of Violetta’s own life, peeled away as the story unfolded. But perhaps also they were representative of other things?

For instance, they literally drew a convenient veil over the uglier aspects of Violetta’s life – the cruelty of her society friends, the voyeurism with which they intruded and ultimately as the curtains were ripped down, the fragile balance of her life itself. Also it underlined the emptiness of her life. There was literally nothing in it.

But there seemed something almost Freudian – sexually suggestive if you will, as let’s not forget that Violetta is a courtesan who plied her trade – in the way that the curtains were not only pulled apart but also in the way that the characters wrapped themselves in the folds of the fabric.

And quite movingly at the end the two main protagonists pretended to pull them back to their original positions as they vainly tried to recapture the past and ignore the present.

Yet there were some elements that I think need a bit of fine-tuning.

The brutality of Germont pere, for example, was not totally convincing. Nor was the idea of introducing a daughter into the equation. Dealing with the latter first, it was an interesting theatrical device – but for some reason Konwitschny portrayed her as a schoolgirl which didn’t work for me. The daughter is on the verge of getting engaged, which is the why the father has turned up, so why is she in pigtails? Secondly the sudden and violent outburst from the father was out of kilter with his general character and particularly his subsequent – and touching – scene with his own son. Yes, to the audience he is being a cruel man in persuading Violetta to give up Alfredo, but from his point of view it’s a question not only of his daughter’s future but also of family honour.

And while using the auditorium was effective, particularly in the closing scene, I think they need to rethink Alfredo clambering over the audience in the front row. Not only was it slightly comical but also I can imagine those in the first two or three rows weren’t best amused especially in the closing and emotionally charged scene to be so distracted. But there is not denying the emotional impact of those closing moments – Violetta alone on the stage and suddenly it is the audience who are – uncomfortably – the voyeurs.

Any production that strips away the artifice requires a strong cast. And this production was fortunate as sometimes casting can be a hit and miss affair at ENO.

Corinne Winters made an extraordinary House debut in the role. Her bright, at times glittering soprano could also – when needed – acquire the hard edge of characterization as well as reduce itself to the slightest vocal whisper. And she was a good and credible actress throughout. Her sense of isolation at the end was gripping. But perhaps they could rethink her costume in the second act? While the device was clear – eschewing all glamour for Alfredo – it seemed almost too absurdist.

Ben Johnson was a promising Alfredo but personally his tenor was a tad too light for me. On the other hand Anthony Michaels-Moore as his father had a resonant bass/baritone and delivered some beautifully phrased singing.

And special mention must go to the Annina of Valerie Reid. Often a role that is cast as an after thought she combined a clear soprano with strong acting.

The ENO chorus once again proved to be a strong card in the production, playing to a tee a ground of self-centred, cruel posse of voyeurs. The choreography in what would have been the third act was particularly chilling.

In the pit the ENO orchestra were on top form, with warm string playing and clearly etched support from wind and brass. Michael Hoffstetter – a conductor I more commonly associate with baroque and early classical repertoire – brought a real clarity and chamber quality to much of Verdi’s score. My only wont was for a bit more flexibility – ebb and flow as it were.

This production was undoubtedly thought provoking and strongly directed. There is no denying that Konwitschny’s vision hurtles towards the tragic denouement but I couldn’t help thinking that this Traviata was a creative yet theatrical experiment.

Bravo Radamisto

In Baroque, Handel, Harry Bickett, Opera, Review on February 13, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Review – Radamisto (Barbican, Sunday 10 February 2013)

Radamisto – David Daniels
Zenobia – Patricia Bardon
Tiridate – Luca Pisaroni
Tigrane – Elizabeth Watts
Polissena – Brenda Rae
Farasmane – Robert Rice

The English Concert
Conductor – Harry Bickett

Handel composed Radamisto to open the Royal Academy of Music in 1720 and it was followed by a series of operas – Floridante, Lotario and Flavio – that were subsequently eclipsed by Giulio Cesare in 1724.

On the strength of the concert performance at the Barbican on Sunday night, Radamisto deserves to stand outside the shade of its illustrious successor. The beauty and depth of Handel’s music in this opera was brought to life by an incredibly strong cast and the English Concert under the expert direction of Harry Bickett.

And this in spite of an announcement before the overture that Mesdames Bardon, Watts and Rae were suffering colds.

Following a sprightly, well-placed overture the richness of Handel’s musical invention comes to the fore immediately with Polissena’s Sommi Dei which immediately lays bare the queen’s character. And despite her indisposition, Brenda Rae carefully judged and beautifully sang this tricky aria with its high tessitura and exposed vocal line. Indeed throughout Ms Rae delivered the most beautiful singing of the night. She has impressive technique and a bright yet light soprano that can both negotiate Handel’s coloratura but also switch to land the most delicate phrasing and float top notes with elegant ease. Her second aria – Tu vuoi ch’io parta? – with its inbuilt dramatic pauses, was also delivered with great poise and vocal security and her third act Barbaro! partirò, ma sdegno poi verrà was both vocally incisive and thrilling. I see from her biography that Ms Rae is a member of Oper Frankfurt and I am seriously considering a trip to Frankfurt in May to see her in Giulio Cesare.

Patricia Bardon had a more gradual take off but proved to be an impressive Zenobia. Her rich and resonant voice might not always find the right balance – as with her recent Cornelia – with the vocal line but hers is always an impassioned performance. Son contenta di morire was suitably vehement while Quando mai, spietata sorte – its beguiling simplicity underlined by its gentle scoring for oboe – was beautifully sung. And the duet with her husband Radamisto – indeed the entire scene – was one of the evening’s many highlights.

In the title role was David Daniels who remains one of the leading countertenors on the stage today. His soft grained voice did not always carry over the orchestral, but there was no doubt about his singing – musically intelligent, impassioned and technically faultless. His opening number, Cara Sposa was a lesson in how to sing a trademark Handel aria, exposed save for the continuo with a beauty of line that took my breath away. Similarly, Daniels’ performance of Ombra cara da mia sposa underlined why he remains one of the leading Handel interpreters on the stage. A purity of line was infused with incredible pathos. And as I have already mentioned, his duet with Bardon was joyous, their voices blending beautifully.

Yet when he needed to, Daniels could produce the necessary fire. Vanne, sorella ingrata more than ably demonstrated that Daniels has maintained a fine vocal instrument capable of the trickiest of runs that were delivered with great aplomb. And Daniels’ ability to spin out long, elegant phrases was fully exploited in Dolce bene di quest’alma.

As Tiridate Luca Pisaroni was perfectly cast. His deep and resonant bass suited the music like a glove and he was brilliant at capturing the menace of the role as evidenced in Si, che ti renderai. However the highlight was swaggering aria Alzo al volo di ia fama with its resplendently played natural horns that rightly deserved a cheer on the evening.

Special mention must go to for Robert Rice’s appearance as Farasmane. And a shame that they did not include his single aria.

But the strongest performance of the evening came from Ellzabeth Watts, a soprano who I first saw as a Young Singer at English National Opera. As Tigrane she threw herself into the role with great relish including frock coat and knee-high boots. With her bright and richly honeyed soprano each of her arias was delivered, despite a cold, with a high level of musical and technical accomplishment. None of the coloratura seemed a challenge to her vocal abilities and her da capo ornamentation was well judged. From her opening Deh, fuggi un traditore it was clear to me not only that Handel had been at is most inspired but that she relished the part from opening bar to final cadence.

If you haven’t already, snap up her recital discs of JS Bach and Richard Strauss.

More Elizabeth Watt please.

And of course the quartet in the closing act not only uniquely highlighted Handel’s dramatic genius but enabled us to enjoy for the cast singing together. Although I dispute the spurious claim in the programme that the quartet looks forward to those of Mozart and Verdi.

Supporting this incredible cast of singers was The English Concert conducted by Harry Bickett. The warmth of sound from the entire ensemble reminded me why The English Concert is one of the leading – and oldest – original instrument ensembles around. And Bickett is a consummate Handelian. They played the entire score with great panache and my only regret is that they didn’t include the instrumental movements from Radamisto or at least the famous passacaglia that was so beautifully played a few nights before at the Barbican.

But this is the small reservation. An incredible cast of singers accompanied with incredible verve and attention to detail under the direction of Harry Bicket created a memorable performance.

Aria For … Friday – Vieni ov’amor t’invita (Lucio Silla)

In Aria For ..., Classical Music, Mozart, Opera on February 8, 2013 at 8:01 am

I have a soft spot for Mozart’s Lucio Silla. I spent many an hour as an adolescent trying to convince my then-best-friend that Mozart’s opera seria, and particularly this work written in 1772 far-surpassed anything that Mozart was to later write.

I think it was the drama of being an adolescent as well as the allure of the coloratura arias for a teenager trying to find his own identity that had more to do with this stance than anything.

But you cannot discount that Lucio Silla is a great opera. Each aria is perfectly crafted and – within the confines of the straight-jacketed genre that Mozart was writing in – he achieved an level of emotional sophistication that outstripped his contemporaries.

Cinna’s opening Vieni ov’amor t’invita might not exactly plumb the emotional depths but it is a very fine aria. And here, sung by Susanne Elmark for Adam Fischer and the Danish Radio Sinfonia, is a real gem.

Adam Fischer is a consummate Mozartian and he judges the tempo perfectly. Every moving part of the orchestra is transparent and articulated. The wind and brass punch through with just enough brass to add that martial dash to Cinna’s character. And the tempo allows Ms Elmark’s clean and beautifully balanced voice to deliver well paced singing. There is no rushing through the coloratura with each individual division clear and each phrase is intelligently sung with no cadence clipped. And her diction is excellent.

And of course this traditional aria doesn’t prepare the listener for what follows. Not only the other formidable arias but also the quality of the accompanied recitatives and the wonderful tomb scene.

All this when he was just sixteen.

The Drama. The Diva. And The Dress.

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on February 7, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Review – Drama Queens (Barbican, Wednesday 6 February 2013)

Hello. I am LietoFineLondon and I am a DiDonato-holic.

But boy can the Yankee diva sing.

Her current project – Drama Queens– needs no introduction. The CD, the incredibly successful recital tour and of course, the dress, have had more than a few superlative column inches.

I don’t agree with those who say that dusting off forgotten composers is – for wont of a better word – a waste of time. Absolutely not. Not only can they reveal music of the great beauty – as Drama Queens has – but just as importantly they help in building a clearer picture and context around those composers who are still household names.

And on Wednesday night the tour arrived in the UK. So often it’s a case that the live recital doesn’t live up to the recording or vice versa.

This was definitely not true at The Barbican.

It was an evening of stunning musicianship, incredible virtuosity and universal pleasure – not only for the audience but clearly for Ms DiDonato herself and the members of Il Complesso Barocco who excitedly revelled in the music making.

The moment that clinched it for me – and for everyone around me I think – was her heart-stopping performance of Piangerò la sorte mia from Giulio Cesare. On the recital disc I originally thought it was slightly on the fast side but seeing her sing it live, watching the emotions conveyed, I was totally captivated by the intensity of her performance.

But it was a recital that delivered with each and every piece.

You would have assumed that Ms DiDonato would have opened the entire recital with anger and musical fireworks. No. In what was an incredibly daring – almost risky – move, the evening opened with an incredibly moving rendition of Cesti’s Intorno all’idol mio supported with great delicacy by the pared down orchestra. Ms DiDonato scaled down her voice accordingly but not the emotional temperature. The simple beauty of her delivery, weighing each and every word and phrase was hypnotic.

And this was continued after she sat through a brisk and vigorous Scarlatti sinfonia (from Tolomeo ed Alessandro) into Disprezzata regina from L’Incoronazione di Poppea. This Ottavia was no shrinking violet resigned to her fate and the mezzo dug deep into the words to convey the pain, anguish and anger of this angry woman spurned. The way she literally spat out In braccio di Poppea was a masterclass in declamation in itself.

And without a break the ensemble launched into the first of the arias “rediscovered” as part of this project – Giacomelli’s Sposa, son disprezzata. Elegantly supported by the orchestra Ms DiDonato finally delivered the trademarks of her singing – a rich and resonant mezzo soprano voice, beautifully controlled dynamic and colouring and the most delicately spun filigree vocal line.


Then most unexpectedly a Vivaldi concerto – Per Pisendel – by Dmitry Sinkovsky and the orchestra. I have to admit while it was brilliantly – if at times at times a tad too brittle in tone – played it brought down the emotional temperature of the concert to that point.

The first part of the recital closed with bright and sparky performance of Orlandini’s Da torbida procella from Berenice. Ms DiDonato flung out the divisions with confident abandon and gently “bopped” along to the music.

The second half and an evolved frock – that was much appreciated by the audience – opened with an aria from Hasse’s Antonio e Cleopatra. And then, as mentioned as perfect as can be performance of Handel’s Piangerò la sorte mia. The searing intensity of this performance caught everyone by surprise and there was that magical moment of complete silence before the audience showed their appreciation.

After the Handel the passacaglia from Radamisto was a very welcome orchestral interlude. In a strange way it didn’t dissolve the intensity of the previous aria but – almost like a sorbet – cleansed the palette in preparation for what must be one of the most beautiful performances from the recital disc – Porta’s Madre diletta, abbraciami.

And here Ms DiDonato did not disappoint. Sung with great poignancy, this lilting siciliana carried the emotional momentum forward. As with the rest of the arias performed on the evening, the singer’s intelligent embellishments added the right balance of emotional weight and virtuosity in each and every da capo return.

After two delicately played ballet movements from Gluck’s Armide the concert proper closed with Brilla nell’anima from Handel’s Alessandro. Alert, bright and joyously sung it was a fitting end to a brilliant concert.

But Ms DiDonato did not disappoint with her two encores. It’s a mark of her homespun style that Joyce DiDonato didn’t only take the time to express her enthusiasm for the Drama Queen project and her collaboration with Alan Curtis but also Dame Westwood and her team for “the dress”.

The first was the perfect compliment to Piangerò and again a personal favourite from the disc, Lasciami piangere from Keiser’s Fredegunda. Time literally seemed to stop as Ms DiDonato spun out a beautifully poised performance of this deceptively simply aria. For me it surpassed even the earlier performance of Piangerò.

But no recital should end with emotional heartbreak and therefore the Yankee Diva left us with a most fiery Col Versar, barbaro, il sangue from Orlandini’s Berenice and a final reminder of the da caop from Brilla nell’arma.

And quite rightly the audience came to their feet to applaud this most perfect evening. I may be partisan, bias – call it what you will – but rarely have I attended a recital of such musical brilliance, intelligence, passion and quite frankly, swaggering verve.

I only hope that EMI realise what an amazing project this is and find the resources and determination to record Drama Queens on DVD.

And it’s no lie that the first thing I did when I returned home was to check if I could possibly see this performance again.

Sunday. Essen. Anyone?


Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

Good Music Speaks

A music blog written by Rich Brown

Kurt Nemes' Classical Music Almanac

(A love affair with music)

Gareth's Culture and Travel Blog

Sharing my cultural and travel experiences

The Oxford Culture Review

"I have nothing to say, and I am saying it" - John Cage

The Passacaglia Test

The provision and purview of classical music

Peter Hoesing

...a musicologist examining diverse artistic media in critical perspective


Oxford Brookes: Exploring Research Trends in Opera