“Detractors of the bel canto style typically dislike it because, they argue, it is only that: beautiful singing . . . If that is true, Joyce DiDonato never got the memo. This magnetic mezzo-soprano wrapped up her Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday evening with a selection of arias and scenes from Bel Canto operas . . . The singing hit all the technical buttons, from . . . the thrilling speed of Ms. DiDonato’s signature trills. But what shone through most clearly was concentrated emotion of insistent, immediate relevance.
Ms. DiDonato’s riveting performance as Romeo opposite Ms. Claycomb’s Juliet of a scene from Bellini’s “I Capuleti e I Montecchi” felt as if layer upon layer of craft and technique had turned transparent: What the audience witnessed was not an artful reading of Bellini’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s take on youthful love but the feeling itself of hotheaded, never-mind-the-consequences passion.
The selections, many taken from Ms. DiDonato’s CD “Stella di Napoli,” included rarities from unfamiliar operas. But a listener need not have studied up on plotlines and character back stories to grasp the despair simmering beneath the prayer’s surface in Ms. DiDonato’s rendition of “L’amica ancor non torna,” from Carafa’s “Le Nozze di Lammermoor,” or to recognize the hard-edged egotism of the heroine singing “Ove t’aggiri, o barbaro,” from Giovanni Pacini’s “Stella di Napoli,” with its stiletto-sharp staccato scales and aggressively flamboyant ornaments . . .
Nothing was held back, however, in the encore, “À la faveur de cette nuit obscure,” from Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory,” which brought all three singers together in a fast, fun and saucy threesome.”
Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim – The New York Times
“Mention bel canto opera, and terms like “refinement” or “technique” probably spring to mind. Vitality and passion? Not so much — unless you were present at the spellbinding Philadelphia Orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall on March 18. Three American singers — models of refinement and technique, to be sure — joined an Italian conductor in a program of arias and duets that never lacked for dramatic potency.
It took only a few measures of the first solo, from Michele Carafa’s 1829 Le Nozze di Lammermoor, for mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato to entrance her audience with a gentle legato melody rescued from the bel canto attic. Glints of silver and shadowy undercurrents in her delivery, combined with varied tension in phrasing, transformed formulaic text into a stream of consciousness that seemed spontaneous, never predictable. Thanks to intense pacing by guest conductor Maurizio Benini, a frilly, lilting obbligato for clarinet suited the mood — or moods — ideally.
The aria set the agenda for the evening: bel canto as theater, vocal art that speaks. The absence of sets and costumes challenged the singers to establish emotional connections through vocal means. The conductor and orchestra provided flexible, dynamic support.
The real high point of the concert came in excerpts from Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, an opera based on the same source material used by Shakespeare for his Romeo and Juliet, but with plot differences . . .
After dashing onstage in a trouser suit for this scene, DiDonato made every complex vocal hurdle into a tour de force, pushing the character’s frustration, ardor and persuasiveness to exhilarating extremes. Altogether, she displayed her accustomed precision and subtlety, along with a variety and power not always heard from this artist in fully staged opera performances. The impact seemed as stimulating to her partner onstage as to the audience . . .
The concert, closing DiDonato’s “Perspectives” series at Carnegie Hall, offered further samples of her mercurial temperament and style. In exuberant comic form, she performed vocal bumps and grinds — with some gentler physical miming — in a galloping cabaletta, one of her ornate recorded hits, from Giovanni Pacini’s 1845 opera, Stella di Napoli. Her final number, from Rossini’s Zelmira, followed bel canto’s traditional bipartite structure, but with extra edge. DiDonato moved from insinuating, coy treatment of the slow portion, to a bouncy allegro that she made unexpectedly assertive and daring . . . A trio from Rossini’s Le Comte Ory made a delightfully suave comic encore.”
David J. Baker – Opera News