It was appropriate that last Thursday evening’s audience at the National Concert Hall had made their way there through a heavy electrical storm. The atmosphere generated in the auditorium – by paragon US mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato backed by Italian early music ensemble il pomo d’oro and a posse of creative collaborators – was scarcely a volt less highly charged.
On the classical concert platform a heady mix of extra-musical elements is still the exception rather than the rule. But it was hard to imagine how, without the dry ice, the vibrant lighting, the nervy abstract video projections, the arch choreography, the Mac makeup or the Vivienne Westwood outfits, the music by Baroque masters Leo, Purcell and Handel could have made its impact with equal force.
Titled In War and Peace: Harmony through Music, DiDonato’s programme is already available on CD and has toured across Europe and the US. It decisively lays to rest a perennial problem with the well-worn opera-gala concert formula, which – with the object of showing off an individual’s vocal talent and perhaps reminding the audience of a few favourite melodies – treats a range of dramatic works to quotation out of context.
DiDonato’s vision is not Tolstoyan, but rather a series of reflections on two opposed states of being that she powerfully combines within herself as a kind of bipolar allegorical figure. Arias from Handel’s Agrippina, Giulio Cesare, Jephtha, Rinaldo and Susanna, Leo’s Andromaca and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and The Indian Queen are drawn together by the common themes of conflict and (albeit to a lesser extent) resolution.
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