Concert Reviews

“From Discord to Equilibrium”

The New York Times
by James R. Oestreich

If the silver-throated mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato wants to sing glorious music by Purcell and Handel, I’m easy. Any old pretext will do. The pretext on Thursday at Carnegie Hall was “In War and Peace,” a well-traveled, predominantly Baroque program with the early-music band Il Pomo d’Oro, which has already been released on disc by Erato.

Ms. DiDonato has a lot on her mind, which she alluded to in a program note, a form letter stuffed into the booklet and a little talk at evening’s end. War and peace, all this made abundantly clear, are also to be taken metaphorically as emotional states in a journey from discord to harmony, from chaos to serenity …

Musically, for example, Handel’s sublime aria “Lascia ch’io pianga” (from “Rinaldo”) might seem peace itself to anyone unaware that its singer is being held captive by a sorceress. Happily, matters were somewhat clarified by projected titles and by heavy doses of theatricality — lighting effects, video backdrops, costume changes, even rudimentary dance (Manuel Palazzo) — with Ms. DiDonato listed as executive producer and Ralf Pleger as director …

Ms. DiDonato’s burnished tone, especially in Purcell’s incomparably moving lament “When I am laid in earth” (from “Dido and Aeneas”), and blazing coloratura, especially in Niccolò Jommelli’s spitfire aria “Par che di giubilo” (from “Attilio Regolo”), carried most of the freight dramatically as well as musically. The Jommelli was repeated in part as an encore, and here the projected fireworks seemed just right.

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There will always be more freedom to acquire and more truth to uncover.

~ Joyce DiDonato