Concert Reviews

Joyce DiDonato brings “something completely original” to Carnegie Hall with ‘In War & Peace’

Opera News
by David Shengold
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Joyce DiDonato has been a regular visitor to Carnegie Hall for some seasons now. On December 15, the industrious and remarkably thoughtful mezzo-soprano brought something completely original to the august hall’s stage. In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music marked a curated theatrical presentation blending vocal and instrumental music with dance, design, fashion, video imagery and what might be termed either politics or philosophy.

The evening’s title was the same as DiDonato’s recent Erato CD with Maxim Emelyanychev and the dynamic early music band Il Pomo d’Oro; the Carnegie Hall performance marked the last scheduled U.S. stop of an international series of concerts “touring behind the album,” as one says of pop singers …

For some in the New York audience, doubtless just the excellent music making would have sufficed. But DiDonato has long given thought to expanding the audience for classical music. She has been an industry leader in the non-trivial use of social media to widen her base of hearers, and has begun to shape projects like this one that might spark off those more drawn to theatrical and visual narrative than to opera. The discourse generated by this concert tour—online, on the cards DiDonato had placed in every program, and what she said in addressing the crowd at curtain calls—concerned the now-more-than ever-poignant question: what do you/we do to find peace? For DiDonato, it is via the expressiveness of music; hence, her  program exploring musical treatments of war and its absence. The classical music industry tends toward an apolitical and blasé disinvolvement: few opera singers would have the guts to bring such an emotionally exposed project before the “industry” public that Carnegie perforce attracts, but every aspect of the evening bespoke DiDonato’s courage. The mezzo and Emelyanchev‘s splendidly alert forces were well rewarded by the crowd’s roars.

The concert’s substance was mainly Handel and Purcell, though we also heard two bravura arias given world premières on the new CD. The “War” portion, starting starkly with Jephtha’s vehement “Scenes of horror,” affirmed how remarkably and subtly DiDonato “speaks” and colors Handelian phrasing in both English and Italian. Leonardo Leo’s fiery “Prendi quel ferro!” from L’Andromaca (1742) dazzled the audience before things turned more melancholy—and perhaps musically richer—with deeply expressive versions of Dido’s “When I am laid in earth,” Agrippina’s extremely tricky “Pensieri” and the iconic “Lascia ch’io pianga,” a real stop-time moment. The evening’s “Peace” portion began with a restrained amatory prayer from The Indian Queen before DiDonato moved on to more Handel. In my view, 24/7 broadcasting of DiDonato’s ravishing traversal of Susanna’s “Crystal streams” might bring peace. On to Cleopatra’s rejoicing “Da tempeste,” with fascinating ornamentation. As lead-in to Rinaldo’s bucolic “Augelletti, che cantate”, Palazzo playfully coaxed the tall Anna Fusek from the second violin section to play the aria’s avian recorder obbligato with fantastic tone and control. DiDonato answered her with radiant tone and equally precise staccatos. The musicians then swept into a total diva display vehicle the mezzo milked for self-mockery, “Par che di giubilo” from Nicolò Jommelli’s 1758 Attilio Regolo. This swaggering aria served as the first encore; but the mezzo used Richard Strauss’ quiet “Morgen!”—with Baroque concertmaster Edson Scheid in engaging support—to end the evening on a note of shimmering hope … breathtaking music making by DiDonato and Il Pomo d’Oro …”

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21 hours ago

This is beautiful. I'm so glad the piece speaks to you this way! (and that it spoke to you as it did "way back when… https://t.co/bo34OpSIc3

18 Apr

As always....#TalkPeace #DoPeace https://t.co/3p2LzMNjrH

18 Apr

Sound, sound advice!!!!!! https://t.co/8ce0hC3gk7

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#TalkPeace #DoPeace @fourteenjay

Darling Prince Charming (aka @alice.coote) WHAT TIME IS THE BALL TONIGHT?? (So many dishes to do...nothing to wear, etc). Can't wait for #Cendrillon #2 CE SOIR!! #operaismagic #mezzopallooza

As if playing Cinderella on stage wasn't joy enough, I got to arrive at the @metopera gala in a gorgeous @alexteih_couture gown, truly fit for a Queen! Thank you so much, Alex!!!!

To the ball.....! @metopera #metpremiere #onceuponatime #operaismagic #mezzopalooza @alice.coote is my #forever prince

Tonight!!! For the first time at the @metopera! #onceuponatime

Cendrillon premieres at @metopera TOMORROW!! We all need a bit of ✨MAGIC ✨in our lives. Don't miss it! On stage through May 11 👠✨@Alice.Coote @sblythe327 #operaismagic #onceuponatime #iftheshoefits #cinderellastory #ilovemyprincecharming #mezzopallooza #mezzomagic

If ever you question your significance as a human being, this man's life is the perfect example to emulate. He gave without request for a return. He marveled ceaselessly at the poetry of life. He taught with diligence and the most open of hearts. He rejoiced endlessly in the success of others. He reveled in the power of art to touch our "immortal soul". He loved with an abundance that was humbling and inspiring. His legacy will live on in anyone who had the sincere privilege of encountering his towering spirit. Thank you, dearest Robert, for all that you were And all that you are. "...und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen..."

It was a #Semiramide Sweep!!!! What a thrill to win an #OlivierAward for this majestic opera!!! Congratulations to all who helped bring it to grand life!!!! #swoon

Ready for the magic....!! Repost from @nytimes @TopRankRepost #TopRankRepost Opera, the star performer @joycedidonato said, is about “bringing truth and beauty and astonishment to people, while reminding everyone who feels ignored or shunned or diminished that, actually, there’s something bigger out there.” Starting next week, she will sing the title role in the @metopera premiere of “Cendrillon,” a romantic, rarely done Cinderella adaptation from 1899. “The beautiful thing about Cinderella is that she’s somebody who believes in goodness,” said Joyce, who was photographed here by @vincenttullo. “She stays true to herself in a very quiet way.” There was a time when calling an #opera star accessible might have counted as a criticism. But with the art form struggling for audiences, major companies now see it as essential to bring people in for a closer look. “The key isn’t changing what we do,” @joycedidonato said. “It’s making sure that we go to where the people are.” In 2005, she started blogging about everything connected to her life as a globe-trotting artist. A decade later, she added a newsletter, Opera Rocks. Her plain-spoken advice in master classes is all over YouTube. Visit the link in our profile to read Joel Rozen’s profile of opera’s Miss Congeniality.

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

~ Joyce DiDonato