Posts Tagged ‘Drama Queens’

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?

Viva La Regina DiDonato

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on December 9, 2012 at 9:20 am

Drama Queens – Joyce DiDonato (Il Complesso Barocco & Alan Curtis)

Album of the year.

There I said it.

Joyce DiDonato’s new album, Drama Queens is – in terms of its high standards of musicianship, exuberant performance and clear passion to perform previously unperformed and undiscovered arias – quite simply the most enjoyable and extraordinary album released this year.

Superlatives over. For now.

It must be a remarkable feeling not only to find – in my romantic mind’s eye – among stacks of dusty manuscripts in the corners of remote libraries arias by unknown composers but then also to perform them.

It’s clearly a trend. Recently Ms Kermes performed arias by composers such as de Mayo and Porpora who are – to a greater extent than before – known to the audience. But on her new recital disc Ms DiDonato delves deeper to bring to life the music of composers who have effectively been forgotten for centuries.

Giuseppe Maria Orlandini. Giovanni Porta. Geminiano Giacomelli. And to a lesser extent Reinhard Keiser. Names much forgotten until now.

And their juxtaposition with the likes of Handel, Hasse, Gluck and Haydn reveals something more startling – that the common perception that they simply ‘weren’t very good’ is not necessarily true. I am not saying that the quality of their music consistently reached the standard of the aforementioned but neither can I believe that these individual arias are simply creative flukes.

And granted it takes a singer of the calibre of Ms DiDonato supported by the excellent Il Complesso Barocco under Alan Curtis to make this music, quite literally, sing.

There is not a weak link in the recital either in terms of the arias chosen or the performances. Yet personally some of the arias stand out more than others.

The opening aria, Da torbida procella from Giuseppe Maria Orlandini’s Berenice, with its overtones of Vivaldi and balance of declamatory phrases and florid passages is a fitting opening track to the recital and Ms DiDonato sets a standard that keeps on rising. The second aria taken from Berenice is another vocal tour de force, the incredibly florid vocal writing holding absolutely no terrors for the singer.

Keiser is possibly the most exciting composer on the disc. Fredegunda’s Lasciami piangere is simply haunting and it is the sonority of the orchestral writing as well as the poignancy of the in-built pauses which are, in some ways, as surprising as Ms DiDonato’s heartfelt delivering of the lilting vocal line. Similarly, the deceptively simple Geloso, sospetto from his opera Octavia with its multiple bassoon obbligato is a real gem.

More Keiser please.

Geminiano Giacomelli’s Merope reveals Sposa, son disprezzata. Again its almost Vivaldian shading and orchestral writing support a vocal line spun out above, and in the da capo Ms Donato finds just the right balance of ornamentation to create an greater emotional impact.

Ms Donato also delves right back to Monteverdi and Cesti with style and expertise, modulating the richness of her voice to this earlier music and finding the right colours to bring this music to life. And all with perfect clarity of diction, a trademark of the entire disc in fact.

Ms Donato also includes selections from Handel Hasse. They are beautiful sung with panache but – and perhaps – because they are better known, they do not grab me in the same way as the other arias. But they do serve a purpose, as I have already said, to demonstrate that the other composers on this disc deserve a better place.

The last two selections on the disc are by Haydn and Gluck respectively but drawn from their operas based on the story of Armida. I remember first hearing Vedi, se t’amo … Odio, furor, dispetto on the Dorati set with Jessye Norman and beginning a life-long love of Haydn’s operas. Here Ms Donato delivers an impassioned performance, breathless and fiery in equal measure. The flip side of the emotional coin is Gluck’s Ah! Si la liberte me doit etre ravie sung with a simplicity that packs quite a punch.

However, it is the Giovanni Porta’s haunting preghiera Madre diletta from Iphigenia in Aulide, the second track on the disc, which steals the show in the entire recital. Ms Donato and the players relentlessly drive this siciliana forward. Again the singer and players finds the perfect balance in the returning da capo in terms of ornamentation – the return of Madre, spun out is breathtaking. I cannot believe there was a dry eye in the house when this aria was first performed. It has become a favourite.

Ms Donato is in London in the New Year as part of her tour to promote this album. In reality while I may wax lyrical about the brilliance of this album, don’t take it from me, listen to Joyce DiDonato herself.

Listen. You won’t be disappointed. At all.

This is musical greatness.


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

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