Opera star takes to the stage to deal with war, peace and grief

By Lawrence Elizabeth Knox, Correspondent

“In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?”

This is the question that troubled international opera star Joyce DiDonato in the aftermath of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. As simple as it might sound, in context, there is a depth beneath those 10 words that compelled her to design a concert intended to incite genuine conversations around uplifting art.

“In War & Peace: Harmony through Music” made its debut in Brussels in 2016, and by the end of its final tour this year, the thought-provoking production will have reached a total of 2.6 million people by way of performances in 44 cities in 23 countries on four continents and via live stream.

On Wednesday, the Houston Grand Opera will bring the award-winning project, featuring DiDonato and the period-instrument ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro under the baton of Maxim Emelyanychev, to Houston for a one-night-only event in the Cullen Theater at the Wortham Theater Center. The two-part concert – presenting first war, then peace – will be followed by an intimate seated dinner for approximately 200 guests alongside the Kansas-born mezzo-soprano and HGO Studio alumna on the Brown Theater stage, one that helped launch her career.

The program showcases a selection of celebrated Baroque arias, such as Henry Purcell’s “When I Am Laid in Earth,” also known as “Dido’s Lament” – a sorrowful piece that DiDonato once taught to prisoners at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York. At the moment of this song in the English composer’s first opera “Dido and Aeneas,” the grief-stricken Queen of Carthage slowly dies of a broken heart after being abandoned by her lover, the Trojan hero Aeneas.

As DiDonato urged her students to express the queen’s profound sadness, one of the men raised his hand, noting that although the solo is rather dark-natured, it is clear that the character comes to understand that she is going to her glory once the bass line has resolved.

“It was an incredible moment to realize that this piece of music that has been sung for over 400 years found it’s way into a maximum-security prison, and a man born in the Bronx who had never heard it before could have this deep understanding of it,” she said, recalling the memory. “It is Dido’s journey from chaos to peace, and he understood it fully.”

This emotional trajectory reflects that of the concert in its entirety, which begins in the violent darkness of George Frideric Handel’s “Scenes of horror, scenes of woe” and then transitions from spiritual turmoil to the release of sorrow, followed by a sense of harmony and ultimately jubilation.

“It’s a very conscious journey offering the idea that we can find our way out of the chaos,” DiDonato said of the fully staged production that differs from what might be expected in a traditional concert hall. “I knew with such a potent theme that I wanted to be sure to engage the public in a dramatic way. I enlisted a director and design team, and we created this approach from scratch – something that the classical music world really hasn’t seen before.”

Read the complete article via the Houston Chronicle.


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Looking forward to these powerful concerts with Yannick @nezetseguin! Schubert: Winterreise • Dec 08 | @clubmusicaldequebec Dec 11 | @princeton University Dec 15 | @carnegiehall * 📅 joycedidonato.com/category/events/🖥 *Live on @medici.tv - Dec. 15. www.medici.tv/en/calendar/ • • “The DiDonato/Nézet-Séguin pairing is inspired, one of those special nights where you rarely get to see two musical superstars pull off a work of this magnitude.” • ~ Independent Kansas City

And with the snap of the fingers, this blissful, nourishing tour with the extraordinary @orchestre_metropolitain comes to a conclusion. After touring some of the top halls in North America, what a joy to finish in the home of the @philorch, another base for the boundless energy and gifts of @nezetseguin. It also wraps up 3 astonishing months for me, going from Agrippina in London, across Sputh America and landing in DC for #InWarAndPeace, launching the new recording of #Damnation, visiting the @npr #tinydesk, (look for it in Jan!), and even traveling to ancient Egypt yesterday! Is there a more perfect conclusion to this memorable period than #Mozart? I think not! Photo: @fgoupil #partopartotomorrow #thatclari netthough #fullcircle #lastsangthisariainphillytwentyfouryearsagoatavaforthedeathbyariasingoff #spellcheckTHAT

#StandingOvation to the entire #Akhnaten Family for this beautiful performance today. Utterly unforgettable!!!! #Repost @metopera with @get_repost ・・・ Mezzo-soprano @joycedidonato hosted today’s Live in HD transmission of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten—seen in more than 70 countries worldwide. 🌎 Don’t miss her performance in the upcoming production of Agrippina, live in cinemas on February 29! #MetHD #MetOpera #Opera #Akhnaten #PhilipGlass #LiveinHD #Movies

Live from the Met in one hour! The Met's epic production of Philip Glass' Akhnaten is shown live on screen in cinemas worldwide and I am thrilled to host the broadcast. In bocca al lupo to this stellar cast! I can't wait to see the show and speak to you about this gorgeous work. @metopera #metopera #liveinhd #Movies #PhilipGlass #Akhnaten @philipglassmusic @arcostanzo #MetHD

An overwhelming evening last night @carnegiehall, with my fellow Perspective”s Artist, @nezetseguin, as he brought his first orchestra, @orchestre_metropolitain, to this beautiful hall for the first time. The pure joy and abundant love that poured forth from the legendary stage in the remarkable Bruckner 4 elevated us all. What a gift it is to be a part of his world. 🎉💃🎉 Photo: @fgoupil

It was an overwhelming musical experience to return to Strasbourg and my "Berlioz Family" to bring "La Damnation de Faust" to life! Released today, I can't think of a more perfect way to round out this Berlioz Year. I hope you will listen and be swept away, as we all were by the experience! @philharmonique_de_strasbourg @spikelmyers @nicolascourjal @alexandreduhamelbaritone @warner_classics @warnerclassicsus • 💿 Link in bio to pre-order the album. • • #berlioz #berlioz150 #yearofberlioz #faust #opera #newmusicfriday

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

~ Joyce DiDonato