Recording Reviews

Stella di Napoli

To be a top classical singer you have to have a lot.  But Joyce DiDonato is different: she’s got it all.  Fantastic voice, striking looks, a rigorous work ethic, a respect for her audience, and a desire to smother them with love.

Vocally she’s the best mezzo currently active.  She has a terrific stage presence, with impeccable dress sense.  She takes as much trouble over her appearance as she does over her singing – and quite right too.  She works and works and works not just to keep her voicein good shape but to learn fresh stuff.

Gramophone Editor’s ChoiceHer new album, Stella di Napoli, has three world-premiere recording among its ten tracks.  She mixes up bel canto arias by the established greats, Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti, with ones by the almost forgotten Mercadante, and now totally unknown Pacini, Carafa and Valentini.

Typical of Joyce, the Bellini aria comes from an obscure early piece, Adelson E Salvini, which is fascinating for its many pre-echoes of the greatness to come.

The common thread here is that all these composers were active in Naples in the first half of the 19th century.  I hate the ‘Konzepts’ of so many, often German opera directors, but Joyce’s concepts tend to work, and her does here.

In her Wigmore Hall recital last weekend, she cast her net equally wide, from a rare 15-minute Haydn scena, Arianna A Naxos, to stuff by Stephen Foster, Richard Rodgers and Jerome Kern.  Such is her respect for her audience, she knew everything by heart; the scores were in her head, not her head in the scores, unlike so many of her colleagues.

The simple, unpretentious way she talked to her enthusiastic audience between groups of songs won everybody’s heart.

She has the talent of a diva, but doesn’t behave like one. This was an evening of such pure joy that it should be available on the NHS as an anti-depressant.  Everybody loved it, especially her pianist, Sir Antonio Pappano, another artist for whom warmth and a ready smile are second nature.

By the way, the distinguished critic William Mann was ridiculed years ago for daring to suggest that The Beatles were the greatest song-writers since Schubert.  But what Joyce proved in this recital is that Kern, Rodgers and Harold Arlen can take their place in a recital alongside Haydn and Rossini, and not sound out of place to a Wigmore Hall audience – surely the most knowledgeable and musically sophisticated in Britain.

More recitals like this please, where serious artists can embrace the great American songwriters, who are more than worthy of their attention.”

– David Mellor The Mail on Sunday September 2014

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Hear this Naples — it’s to die for

 

Joyce DiDonato is on top form on this romp through Pacini and other esoteric but vivid opera bel canto, says Geoff Brown

Full marks for this album’s cover picture.  The mezzo-soprano Joyce DIDonato seems to wear nothing but white stitching.  More alarmingly, she seems to have borrowed Justin Bieber’s hair.  Not his voice, though: this luscious collection of Italian bel canto opera arias presents the incandescent DiDonato on top form, the creamy tones whipped into kaleidoscopic threads of melody.

We start with the aria Ove t’aggiri from Giovanni Pacini’s Stella di Napoli of 1845.  The booklet doesn’t say why Stella is being dragged to her execution, but with singing like this why worry about plots?  The magic continues in a sliver of Bellini’s early opera Adelson e Salvini — the mood sorrowful, the vocal tricks so neatly folded in that, as Morecambe said about Wise’s toupée, “you can’t see the join”.  So it goes on through much esoteric but vivid material, delivered with the panache expected from someone who sailed through the first night of Covent Garden’s Barber of Seville in 2009 on a broken leg and a crutch.

DiDonato’s gorgeously fluid voice is this album’s special joy.  Riccardo Minasi and the Orchestra of the Opéra National de Lyon bring their own pleasures with flute, harp and clarinet solos beautifully enhancing diaphanous textures.”

– Geoff Brown The Times August 2014

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“This highly enjoyable bel canto recital follows Joyce DiDonato’s success as Donizetti’s Mary Stuart in New York and London.  The “star of Naples” referred to in the title is a little-performed opera by Giovanni Pacini, one of a selection of rarities in this well-chosen programe, accompanied by the Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon under Riccardo Minasi.  As expected, DiDonato has virtuosity to spare, but what makes this disc special is the shimmering radiance of emotion she brings to operas such as Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini and Pacini’s Saffo.  In Mary Stuart’s radiantly sung solo before her execution, DiDonato leaves no doubt that her own star is at its height.

– Financial Times September 2014

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“The title of Joyce DiDonato’s new Erato album is “Stella di Napoli” (Star of Naples). The title is appropriate since no opera star today shines more brightly than this mezzo soprano . . . On the whole, these bel canto characters do not lead happy lives but they do suffer and expire in style, especially when portrayed by DiDonato.”

– The Epoch Times – September 2014

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“… (she) subtly colours the words and notes… with unerring imagination… all are worth hearing…”

– Sinfini Music

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“…DiDonato’s perfectly poised interpretation of “Dopo l’oscuro nembo”, from Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, at once majestic, sensuous and stoically wounded.  Similarly, “Oh, di sorte crudel” from Carafa’s Le Nozze di Lammermoor, sees harp and strings soothe Lucia’s torment.” – The Independent September 2014

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“The latest of Joyce DiDonato’s themed discs is a mix of high-impact arias by Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti as well as the less familiar Mercadante, Carafa, Valentini and Pacini, several of them world premiere recordings which DiDonato and Riccardo Minasi have retrieved from the archives.  They allow this adored US mezzo to display her dizzying technical virtuosity, her acting skills and her extravagant sense of drama. […] You may think bel canto recital discs are not your thing.  Let Joyce DiDonato convince you otherwise.  She did me.

– Fiona Maddocks The Observer August 2014

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„Da wird mit bebender Stimme gebarmt, mit rollendem „R“ gedroht, mit koketten Trillern geflirtet. Da lockt Joyce DiDonato mit virtuosen Koloraturen und der Sinnlichkeit ihrer perfekt ansprechenden Mezzo-Tiefe.“ („Joyce DiDonato allures with virtuosic coloratura and the sensuality of her perfectly appealing mezzo-depth.”)

– Der Tagesspiegel September 2014

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“Gäbe es doch nur mehr Sängerinnen wie Joyce DiDonato – die Opernwelt wäre ein Elysium.“ (“If only there’d be more singers like Joyce DiDonato – the world of Opera would be an Elysium”)

– Rondo Magazin September 2014

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“L’étoile de Naples ne pouvait être mieux sertie.”

– Emmanuel Dupuy Diapason September 2014

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A new disc from the charismatic American mezzo Joyce DiDonato is always one of the highlights of the year for me, and her latest project Stella di Napoli (out next Monday) is no exception. Following the high baroque flamboyance of Drama Queens, this new recital moves forward a little in time to focus on the bel canto repertoire, exploring the musical melting-pot that was early nineteenth-century Naples (which DiDonato compares to 1960s New York and 1920s Paris) and testifying to the infinite variety which the ‘Neapolitan School’ generated even whilst adhering to relatively formalised codes of composition.

The ‘big three’ bel canto composers, Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini, all appear, but by no means dominate: more than half of the programme falls to their lesser-known contemporaries (and in some cases colleagues and collaborators), so that the programme as a whole, and often the style of the more obscure composers, feels pleasingly familiar but peppered with surprises – rather like drinking a glass of really good prosecco with an unexpected dash of a local bitter. The track-list itself bears this out, studded as it is with standard operatic vocabulary with a twist: instead of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (one of the best-known of all bel canto operas), we have Michele Carafa’s Le nozze di Lammermoor, whilst La vestale is not the setting by Spontini but an earlier version by Mercadante, and an operatic sleepwalker turns out to be Carlo Valentini’sIl sonnambulo rather than Bellini’s famous La sonnambula.

The opening number (taken from the Pacini opera which gives the disc its title) is an immensely catchy polonaise (the Neapolitan school were ever-keen to show off their cosmopolitan credentials!), which showcases DiDonato’s coloratura to scintillating effect and takes her from a bottom F to gleaming high B flats. The sole Rossini aria, Zelmira’s imperious ‘Riedi al soglio’, also provides vocal thrills aplenty – but for the most part, this disc is more about long-breathed melodies and plangent laments than it is about pyrotechnics. The supreme example here is the long final scene from Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, in which Mary bids farewell to her household before ascending the scaffold: DiDonato has recently been making waves on both sides of the Atlantic as the doomed Scottish queen, and the range of colour, perfectly-judged rubato and weightless sense of line she displays here make it easy to see why.

Several arias make ingenious use of solo instruments in dialogue with the voice, notably Carafa’s Le nozze di Lammermoorwith its lachrymose clarinet. Perhaps most intriguing of all is the extended scene from Donizetti’s early opera Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth (some local interest for us at Presto here – Kenilworth Castle is only a couple of miles up the road from our base in Leamington Spa!). The cavatina and cabaletta feature an obbligato part for glass ‘armonica’, similar to that in the famous mad-scene from the same composer’s Lucia di Lammermoor – but as Riccardo Minasi explains in the booklet-notes, the rapid passagework here would be a physical impossibility on the instrument used in Lucia, where the sound is produced by rubbing glasses, rather than striking them with a percussive mechanism. As few original glass percussion instruments survive, this recording uses a modern metal glockenspiel, and Morgane Fauchois’s virtuosity here is quite breathtaking.

A must for all fans of DiDonato, especially if you enjoyed her last Rossini disc Colbran: The Muse – and well worth exploring for anyone who fancies an enthusiastic, committed guide to the highways and byways of bel canto.”

– Presto News August 2014

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This extraordinary new recital disc by the great American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonatois not only a testament to her vocal and dramatic gifts. It’s also an impassioned, eloquent argument on behalf of a body of music that is still too little known or appreciated, the early bel canto operas that filled the stages of Naples during the 1820s, ’30s and ’40s. DiDonato includes music by the big names of the period, though even here she favors the less familiar — her playlist includes arias from Bellini’s “Adelson e Salvini,” for example, and Rossini’s “Zelmira.” But she also digs deeper into the archives, coming up with expansive, vivacious arias by such composers as Giovanni Pacini, Michele Carafa and Carlo Valentini, and singing them with remarkable power and tonal luster. The melodies are broad and expressive, the coloratura thrilling, and DiDonato endows everything with her trademark blend of charisma and precision. To listen to this disc is to get a sense of the artistic vitality of 19th century Naples.”
— Joshua Kosman SF Gate September 2014

 

“Here DiDonato is in top form, tossing off staccatos, trills, arpeggios, repeated notes and chromatics with astonishing accuracy and energy.” – Opera News

“The aria from Maria Stuarda which DiDonato sings so triumphantly is but one highlight on this sumptuous disc from one of today’s most impressive singers.” – November 2014 Gramophone Editor’s Choice

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

~ Joyce DiDonato