‘La Mort de Cléopâtre’ with Riccardo Muti & the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
“Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato made a compelling case for a lyric scene from Berlioz’s “The Death of Cleopatra,” thanks to the vividness of her imagination and her instrument’s tonal and expressive range. From the throaty low notes she produced at the beginning to the more stratospheric pitches that followed, she was in splendid voice. She also brought forth the dramatic meaning and subtext of this music, especially in the Meditation, as Cleopatra contemplates her imminent demise. DiDonato’s turbulent shifts from fortissimo to pianissimo and the chilling, other worldly, utterly vibratoless high notes she offered at the end pointed to a singer whose remarkable instrument is governed by an equally agile intellect.”
“The celebrated mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato, made her belated Chicago Symphony debut in 2016, and this work, which has not been heard in Orchestra Hall since 1995, provided the perfect vehicle for her return. She remains at the peak of her powers, with more than enough vocal force to reach the farthest seats in Orchestra Hall as well as pinpoint intonation, spotless technique and, most important, piercing expressive intensity.
DiDonato presented not just a vocal performance but a biting dramatic portrayal, conveying the power and grandeur of this once-mighty ruler as well as the pain and ignominy of her defeat at the Battle of Actium. Muti and the orchestra were with her every step of the way, supporting and accentuating the work’s often brooding, dark emotions. The climax came at the end as DiDonato delivered Cleopatra’s final stanzas with a befittingly halting, hollow quality, tellingly conveying the sense of the ruler taking her final breaths – the last words uttered as little more than a labored whisper.”
“After the intermission, the fireworks began. Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato served as the soloist for “The Death of Cleopatra” by Berlioz, and the results were spectacular. DiDonato’s dark oak sound was burnished and highly persuasive. She was convincing not only as a woman in anguish but also as one losing the power and riches that have surrounded her life.
The music’s power was unleashed with care, as both DiDonato and Muti scorned easy drama, preferring a subtle and nuanced approach. The mezzo’s thoughtful interpretation was always fully supported by the orchestra, who contributed fluid playing and a safe cushion of sound. By the end, the pain of Cleopatra was palpable and the final lines (in English, “Cleopatra, by her death,/Again becomes worthy of Caesar!”) were not only the sign of her death, but a clear declaration that she was ready for her own demise. It was a powerful performance.”