Berlioz ‘Les Nuits d’été’ with the National Youth Orchestra of the USA
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou
“DiDonato has long been associated with the works of Berlioz, having recently made a critically-acclaimed recording of Didon in Les Troyens and appearing in last year’s Proms as Cleopatra and Dido. DiDonato’s bright, slender mezzo has long been a ideal fit for French music, complete with an attractive flutter reminiscent of early recordings of French singers from the turn of the century. Her recent forays into Dido and Cleopatra have demonstrated that she is equally adept a tragédienne, with fierce dramatic instincts and a recently acquired warmth in her middle register. These contrasts were beautifully displayed in Berlioz’s song cycle, from the conversational flirtations of Villanelle and L’Île inconnue to the grand tragedy of Sur les lagunes. DiDonato’s famous breath control was displayed to full effect in a languorous reading of Le Spectre de la rose, matched by a glorious unfurling of lush sound from Pappano and the orchestra. However, everyone was at their best in the melancholic musings of Absence, achieving a radiant intimacy that made the vast Royal Albert Hall seem like the most intimate of salons.”
“American mezzo Joyce DiDonato is a natural communicator, meeting the orchestra on their own, delicate territory before drawing them out into brighter, blowsier bloom in the cycle’s glorious close “L’ile inconnue”.
“DiDonato could have stolen the show in her gloriously shaded, sensuous performance of Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été but was determined not to, giving no encore and generously air-punching and applauding her talented young compatriots. A boisterous, minimalist-inspired curtain-raiser, Occidentalis, by Benjamin Beckman, showed that even at 19 you can have a strong compositional voice.”
“Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été was ravishingly sung by Joyce DiDonato, her lower registers sounding wonderfully ripe and secure and then the soaring higher climes with that charming unmistakeable fluttery yet silky sound delighting the ear. Antonio Pappano and the NYOUSA were the perfect cushion – revelling in the softest of pianissimos and the most translucent of detailing, allowing the singer free rein to imbue the text with colour and intensity, notably at the end of ‘Le spectre de la rose’. ‘Sur les lagunes’ was tinted with anguished melancholy and ‘Au cimetière’ was hauntingly understated.”
“Joyce DiDonato belongs to the pantheon of superstars that even in the festival is something of a rarity in Edinburgh, and she did not for a moment disappoint. We were spellbound from the first note to the last, each song exquisitely framed both psychologically and emotionally, her gestures, facial expression, and tone perfectly matched to Berlioz’s sumptuous settings. She has a trick of throwing her head to the side, casting the voice into the wings, so that it seems to fill the hall several times over – masterful and extremely effective.”
“When Joyce DiDonato was singing Le spectre de la rose from Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été (Prom 32) — her voice so tender, so poignant, so full of meaning — it really was hard to imagine anything more perfect. Every word of French was finessed, every phrase unfurled naturally. Sentimentality could swamp this glimpse of an exquisite dying rose, yet DiDonato made it human and transcendent.”