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?

  1. […] movements from Radamisto or at least the famous passacaglia that was so beautifully played a few nights before at the […]

  2. […] any written at the time by those composers being increasingly performed today. Take for example Joyce DiDonato’s excellent Drama Queens recital disc. Yet Nebra lifts it further beyond just being a […]

  3. […] and foremost was Joyce DiDonato’s concert performance of her recital disc Drama Queens. I can’t think of a performer today who not only has breathless technique and stunning musical […]

  4. […] first night nerves – it took a while for Ms DiDonato to settle but as I have said on countless, countless occasions, Joyce DiDonato has incredible natural talent. At her disposal she has a vocal armoury […]

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