Into the blind night

I’m exhausted. Spent. And oh yes, does it feel GOOD! Today was a rather brutal day in terms of recording: 3 arias were planned, and that’s a lot for a single day, believe it or not. What results in 7 minutes of music on a disc likely takes 90 minutes of full-on singing to complete the picture. Normally we will invest in one full take of the piece, listen to the results (debating tempi, colors, ensemble, dynamics, etc), and then the real work begins, usually attacking one segment at a time, involving numerous repeats until the ideal result of musical perfection and high emotional impact show themselves in perfect unison! That’s not a lot to ask, is it??? We’re only trying to get perfect intonation from every single orchestra member, as well as from the singer, perfect unison between all the musicians – at the same time! – and on top of all the technical aspects, we’re trying to create ART! Trying to find a genuine emotion that will transmit over loud speakers or headphones that actually MOVES the listener without the aid of costumes or theatrics is a very high challenge. We need to ignite your imagination so that you can enter into our story and travel along an emotional journey. And we get about 90 minutes to make that magic happen!

As I wrote yesterday, it truly is more of a sprint than a marathon, although after 90 minutes of “Scherza infida-ing”, I certainly feel as if I’ve run a marathon!!

“Qui d’amor al suo linguaggio”

This is Ariodante’s entrance arietta, and introduces us into a tranquil, simple place where a certain utopia seems to be on hand. Happily, it endures all of Act 1, until chaos naturally ensues as the curtain rises on Act 2. The trick, I think, is to honor his “larghetto” marking (which is always up for debate – too much “largo” and it drags, to much “ghetto” and it doesn’t quite feel languid or romantic enough!) But I think the key comes in the decision to not give into the melancholy of the poetry (“the rivers are speaking the language of love…”), and to concentrate on a fresh quality that is still somehow vibrant and alive – not too self-indulgent. (Which, by the way is very hard for me to avoid – I LOVE indulging a great larghetto!) But after the drama of recording some of the later arias, it was wonderful to come back to the beginning – the calm before the storm, so to speak – and get Ariodante’s footing firmly on the ground as he begins his journey. The surer his standing is, the farther the fall – and isn’t that what we come to the theater for?

(On hand at the cembalo, once again, is the brilliant-as-ever Andrea Perugi. He has been on all my recordings with Alan Curtis, and due to his fine Tuscan background, is the go-to-guy for all things Italian. He points out when my “o’s” are too closed, or “i’s” not closed enough. He also has the greatest face on the planet. It always seems to emit a bit of sunshine, so even here in foggy Lunigo, he is a breath of fresh air.)

“Scherza infida”

Ah. The monster. The monument. The untouchable! This aria has such a hallowed air about it, that it falls into the category for me of “white glove treatment ONLY!” Don’t dare take it down off the shelf unless you’re wearing white gloves and close all the curtains! It’s one of THOSE arias! And yet, I somehow have to roll up my sleeves and make it my own. I have to dare to sing those famous phrases and find a way to make it mine. I had the luxury of recording the aria on its own for my “Furore” disc, and that was one experience. This is another – another conductor, another band, another venue, and certainly I am a different kind of artist, with nearly 2 years having passed since I last recorded it. I was curious to see how it might have morphed along the way.

Well, I hesitate to divulge too much, and certainly, MY experience of what I put into the recording will be very different from the listener’s experience of hearing it. But I can say that I felt quite a lot more “raw” this time, perhaps (dare I say!) a bit more violent with the utterances of disdain and indignation and threat towards Ginevra. I suppose having recorded nearly the whole opera now, the poison I felt creeping in during “Tu, preparati a morire” certainly bore a different kind of fruit in this rendition. Ariodante has just been primed by Polinesso to be jealous and agitated, and all it took was a tiny, brief glimpse of a veiled figure in the dark for him to assume that Ginevra has been unfaithful. Could it be possible that without Polinesso’s influence, seeing the same thing, Ariodante could have laughed it off, knowing for certain Ginevra would never betray him? Did it really only take a small bit of sly insinuation? And yet, when he crosses the line, he crosses completely.

Being so immersed in the role in these days, I wasn’t too seduced by the beauty of the aria (oh, how Handel tears my heart out with his beauty!), but I stayed deep in the text, trying diligently not to give into self-pity, and instead looking to heave the guilt onto Ginevra. The text is relentless in its condemnation of her, and I tried to stay with that more than I had done previously. I think, also, that Alan hears the orchestra as quite mocking and derisive, and not necessarily always beautiful. I found it very interesting to get into the mindset that Ariodante’s pain is so very great in this moment, that he can’t dare to let himself FEEL it too much – instead he needs to transfer it all onto the one he loved most in the world. He simply cannot bare to carry the burden himself.

Which makes the realization that he was completely wrong all the more tragic, bringing us to:

“Cieca Notte”

I might have mentioned that I find this to be the most important of Ariodante’s arias. Now granted, when recording any one of them, I actually feel the same way – how could the opera exist without every single note of his??? But I do think this is the pinnacle of the opera for him, even if most people believe it peaks with “Scherza Infida,” for understandable reasons. But this is actually the REAL challenge of Ariodante as a man: he finds out he completely misjudged Ginevra, and in fact betrayed HER with his quick, eager assumption. All of a sudden, all that relentless, wicked vengeance he directed at her is suddenly turned onto himself.

Again, Handel gives us jagged angles in the music – dotted rhythms, leaping intervals, and a dark, troubled color with both bassoons adding into the orchestral mix. Ariodante begins by blaming the “blind night”, and the evil friend and traitor who set him up. It seems the entire A and B sections find him trying desperately to displace the blame – anywhere but on himself. But then, at least in my personal subtext, even though the text repeats, I think Ariodante starts to accept the blame himself. I see that HE, in fact – not the night, but he, himself, betrayed this “gran fe” (“great faith”). I think the only reason he can pick himself up and return to his people, is because he is not afraid to take the blame. He is not afraid to answer for his actions.

That assumption of responsibility is truly what makes Ariodante a hero – not his title, not his showy arias, but the fact that he drags himself back to life and faces the woman he loves, admitting his failing.

I tried to find that realization in the da capo, keeping all the mixture of emotion and exhaustion that overcomes him. But each time I come to that aria, I’m convinced it’s a masterpiece, and it defines the character of Ariodante so completely. Ah, they ALL are! Who am I kidding????

**Let me also throw in one rather LARGE disclaimer at this point. I’m happy to share my personal approach and experience with this recording, HOWEVER, it must be said that even if I FEEL all these things and AIM to translate them onto disc, I may fail miserably!! I can imagine someone purchasing this disc (and 10 more as Christmas presents – hint, hint!), and then stumbling onto the blog and thinking, “That’s not at ALL what comes across in this aria! Was she on drugs???” Perhaps one of the greatest surprises to fans out there might be to find out that what we as singers often BELIEVE we are communicating, often arrives to you, the listener, as something completely different. (Just try recording your outgoing voicemail message, and you’ll see what I’m talking about: what you THINK you sound like and how you MEANT to say it, often are miles apart from the result you actually hear!) So, I just wish to release myself from any and all responsibility for your listening experience of this opera when it arrives on your shelf at home! I’m simply sharing my observations – what arrives, is out of my control!

Ah, there! Now I can relax!

The wonderful part of this experience, in addition to the mystical music, is getting to create such art with magnificent people. Alan Curtis has devoted his life to the research and proliferation of Handel’s music, and the legacy he is leaving behind is mind blowing.

(Ah, as another side note – he found ornaments for “Scherza infida” that were most likely written either BY Handel himself, or by a singer who worked with him extensively. I’ve implemented a few – including a rather unusual cadenza – but both Alan and I thought it would be interesting to include what perhaps might be the most authentic of variations. In truth, they are actually quite shocking to what a modern ear has become accustomed. I imagine it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I do think it will be most interesting!)

So there is Alan, and there is his wonderful band of players, all who play simply for the joy of making music – certainly not for the big paycheck! So it feels as if we are a part of something very special here. Anyone who bemoans that there aren’t any studio recordings of operas being made simply need to google Alan Curtis! I’ve lost track of how many he has contributed to the universe. Handel has certainly never enjoyed such a plethora of devotion!

Happily I have the morning off, and I plan on reveling in the extra hour or two of sleep it will bring. I’ll need it, as we have saved the most difficult aria of all (technically speaking – not emotionally speaking!) for the last day, and it greets me tomorrow evening after a slew of dramatic recitatives in the afternoon. So many notes lay ahead for me tomorrow, I dutifully close my computer and call it a night.

“It’s a night.”


  1. Chris said…

    Again I suggest a month off, in Bora Bora perhaps. You deserve it.
    Now, I must say I am a wee bit disillusioned…by your honesty. I always thought recordings were simply registrations of the singer doing the aria…once…as in a concert. Now you reveal that they are doctored and "improved" and sliced and diced to create an artificial perfection. I am still a great fan, but…wiser, I guess.

  2. César T. García Ramírez said…

    Great stuff. As I said before, it's really wonderful to know little things that go into the recording. Now each time I hear an aria I'll always remember it's recorded several times for a long time before it reaches my ears.

    Enjoy your rest and I hope all those making the recording also get to enter late. I imagine it's exhausting given the amount of concentration all members have to apply during each piece.

  3. Sarah said…

    That is one gorgeous ceiling up there. Hopefully the visual art will give you support for creating musical art! I'm very intrigued by your comment a few posts back about "Ariodante" being one of the greatest operas ever. Thank you for your ongoing explication of Handel's genius. I'm just learning so much!

  4. Renato said…

    REALLY?! You put THOSE ornamentations for "Scherza infida"!!! GREAT!!! It will be SO different from Furore, then… PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, tell me there will be the little tournée as usual stopping in Milano in September, like you did with Alcina!!! Would be heaven!!!

    PS: TOY TOY TOY for "Dopo notte"!

  5. Jakob said…

    Dear Joyce, hope you could have slept well this night! I just wanted to let you know that never ever any of your recordings have "failed" me in any way. I am happy that they are how they are and that you are how you are. Just be sure that whatever you'll do we will love!!!!

  6. Wolfgang said…

    What an amzing experience, to be able to join you "live" while you record the new disc – so many thanks for sharing this!

    Love your photos, especially the view on Lonigo from day one. Italy in winter has a special beauty which not everybody can appreciate. Glad you captured it…..

  7. Mei said…

    These posts are little gems… Thanks for sharing this with us!

    The pity is we have to wait until next year to hear the results…

    OMG, we're just starting the year and already looking forward to the next…

  8. Gi said…

    Here I am hoping you had a good night's sleep and a good day's work and will come back to the blog to tell us all about it 🙂

  9. John Kenneth Adams said…

    Joyce! The last three entries in your blog have been priceless. I appreciate your defining the difference between two art forms:live performance and recorded performance, as it is important for music lovers to have these insights from an artist of your standards in both fields. You articulate all this with passion and insight, and I am sure it is enlightning and thrilling for many readers to follow. What a season for you! Take care of yourself.

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12 hours ago

Toi Toi Toi you gorgeous artists and heavenly theater folks!!!!

23 hours ago

I’m going to need video. (And tell your students to sing out! 🤩)

18 Sep

It only counts if I see the photos! :-)

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Well, if it’s not a “Two Widows” Reunion!!!!! @operabrandon, what a joy to share the stage with you again after tw%#*y years! And here I am again, a W2BW! (Widow To Be Wooed) Bonus points for anyone who actually attended our *historic* performances in Smetna’s underperformed opera way back in 1998 in #Chautauqua!!! #Chautauqua2Carthage #Smetna2Berlioz #HappilyEverAfter2TotalDestruction

I could not be happier or more excited that our wonderful album of Les Troyens has been named “Recording of the Year” at tonight’s Gramophone Award ceremony. Thank you to the visionary and magical music-making of John Nelson, my fabulous cast members and to @warner_classics for in believing in this project. It has been a pleasure and an extreme privilege to be a part of it. THANK YOU!!! Viva Les Troyens and viva #Berlioz.

Tune in to Great Performances | PBS to watch @metopera #Cendrillon broadcast at 12PM ET today! ✨👠👸 Photo: Paola Kudacki / Met Opera #greatperformancespbs

What a perfect, beautiful, timely moment to embrace a fairy tale: don’t miss the Metropolitan Opera's heralded production of “Cendrillon” on @PBS Great Performances! Bask in the beautiful French melodies of Massenet. Laugh at the charming staging. Marvel at the gorgeous costumes. Revel in the soaring vocal lines of our brilliant cast. I’ve spent over 20 treasured years with Cinderella, and I’d love to share this final trip to the palace with you! @metopera @alice.coote @sblythe327 @sop_kathleen_kim #laurentnaouri @metoperachorus @metorchestra #bertranddebilly #laurentpelly

Happy Friday, everyone! I wanted to start the weekend with something special that I hope you’ll enjoy! In celebration of the release of my new album “Into the fire” featuring Jake Heggie’s profound song cycle about Camille Claudel, I created this playlist featuring some of my favorite tracks of Jake’s music. 🎧 Link in bio. He is not only a dear friend, he also captures human emotions so beautifully in this writing and I am always stunned by his sheer abundance of music ideas, languages and styles. I have been fortunate enough to sing a lot of his music throughout my career and I have so many beautiful memories of each and every one of his works I performed. I will never forget the profound impact on everyone in the cast and in the audience for each performance of “Dead Man Walking” and the wonderful humanity and insight into the life of a performer in “Great Scott”. Jake’s songs are part of almost every recital I give and I hope to be able to share how special his music is, via this playlist I created for all of you! @warner_classics @applemusic

I’m in LOVE with performing #Berlioz with @monteverdi_choir_orchestras (#ORR). Add into the mix performing at the @bbc_proms and I’m positively done. My personal recommendation is that you tune in tonight for a rousing listen on @bbcradio3!!! #colormelucky #tragicdeathxtwo #berliozrocksmyworld

Thank you #Hamburg and the stunning @elbphilharmonie for such a warm welcome last night. Congratulations on the start of another stunning season. An even warmer debt of gratitude for the stunning Orchestre Révolutionaire et Romantique and Sir John Eliot Gardiner for divine, powerful music making. Cléopâtre has never suffered such a brutal death!! Look out, #London: you’re next!! @bbc_proms

Hello from Hamburg! I am thrilled to start the 2018/19 season with two concerts conducted by the legendary Sir John Eliot Gardiner​ and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, tonight at @elbphilharmonie Hamburg and on September 5 at the @bbc_proms in London. I will sing Didon’s death scene from Les Troyens and La mort de Cléopâtre. The next two months are all about #Berlioz for me and I could not be more excited to sing this gorgeous music. 📻 Our concert at the @royalalberthall on September 5 will also receive a live broadcast on @bbcradio3. I hope you all had a spectacular summer. I am very excited to start this new season and I look forward to seeing you at one of my performances! Photo: @chrissingerme

#shattered #glass #beautyinthebroken #geometry #viennaairport #timetofly #aspsawait @bbc_proms #hereicome #queencleo #speakingofshattered ...... 😎💋😎

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~ Joyce DiDonato