Concert at Wigmore Hall: "beauty and range of a voice at its peak"
“The power of a diva at the top of her game is an impressive thing. Joyce DiDonato has sold out the Wigmore Hall twice this week, which may not seem surprising except that she is doing it with a programme that is far from populist… Even more impressive is the intelligence and boldness with which she deploys it.”
Richard Morrison – The Times
“The beauty and range of her singing are surely now at their impressive peak.”
Richard Fairman – Financial Times
“DiDonato canvassed a collective of idyllic songs spanning the late impressionistic era to the current day in a recital with the Brentano String Quartet at Wigmore Hall. They were not only mystical and ominous – but otherworldly. It was a paradigm of DiDonato’s vocal effervescence hitherto unheard.”
Sophia Lambton – OperaWire
“The programme was carefully chosen to focus on a couple of the great strengths of her singing; her consummate handling of long-breathed lines and her exquisite pianissimo singing.
DiDonato judged the acoustics of the intimate Wigmore Hall absolutely perfectly so every word reached even the very back… DiDonato displayed her famed gifts for communication in all she sang in this recital.”
Jim Pritchard – Seen and Heard International
“It’s the end of a big year,” Joyce DiDonato observed with a hint of a wry grin, a mere roll of those clear blue eyes. No one thought she was talking about her own career. She’s American. Nothing to add right now. She’s been vocal elsewhere, on the value of cultural politics since Trump, the plight of young refugees in camps in Greece where she performed in the summer, and her new role as ambassador for World Voice, which helps children across the globe learn through singing.
The Kansas-born mezzo-soprano superstar had reached the closing moments of her Wigmore Hall recital on Monday, repeated later in the week. “Tomorrow’s another day, the sun always rises,” she summed up, delighting in cliche, not misquoting Hemingway but paraphrasing the opening line of Richard Strauss’s Morgen! (1894). Rarely flickering above a whisper, ending mid-air, this much-loved song intensified rather than broke the spell that hung over this sensuous, sensual, at times languid programme. Her single encore sent us out into the night on a misty yet melancholy high.
On the opera stage, DiDonato is unafraid of grand gesture and, as required, melodrama. In the intimacy of Wigmore Hall, she shape-shifted to an entirely different persona: equally expressive but now understated, physically restrained, letting a minutely gradated range of vocal colours do the work. This was no standard recital. It did not invite flirtation with the pianist or, in that particular manner of lieder singers, endless caressing of the piano itself. Both were absent. Instead, her musical partner was the Brentano String Quartet.
After Strauss’s five early songs, Op 21, here agreeable as warm-up works of yearning charm, DiDonato and the quartet performed Debussy’s sexy Chansons de Bilitis (1897-8). Originally for female voice and piano, this version for string quartet worked its own voluptuous but restrained magic, allowing DiDonato to unleash a subtle and fantastical range of expression. The imagery and harmonic palette brushes up against Debussy’s opera, Pelléas et Mélisande(1898): hardly surprising given their proximity of composition. The arrangement was made by Jake Heggie, whose song cycle Camille Claudel: Into the Fire (2012) – written for DiDonato – filled the second half of this beautifully constructed programme.
Claudel, a French sculptor, was the oppressed, now we might say abused, lover of Rodin. Struggling to establish her own artistic identity – she set up a workshop with other female artists – she was eventually committed to a psychiatric hospital, dying in an asylum in 1943.
Heggie, whose Dead Man Walking comes to the Barbican on 20 February starring DiDonato, has created a powerful six-song work, giving full rein to Claudel’s tortured feelings, from desire to horror to mental collapse (the text is by Gene Scheer). The rich warmth of DiDonato’s voice soared to the back of Wigmore Hall, while the excellent Brentano Quartet delivered Heggie’s singular brand of melodic semi-minimalism with expert fluency. They also played the one-movement Molto adagio sempre cantante doloroso – “My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death” – by the 17-year-old Guillaume Lekeu (1870-94), a strange but agile work by the scarcely known Belgian who died early of typhoid.”
Fiona Maddocks – The Guardian
After the beauty and lyricism of the Strauss and Debussy, the variety of Heggie’s music, and the depth and quality of Gene Scheer’s outstanding text, gives Joyce DiDonato superb opportunity to stretch out. There are beautiful lines of course, but also plenty of angles and edges to push off from to explore dynamic, colour and depth, which she does superbly. The impression you get is of watching an artist who has endless options at her disposal and can choose colour or inflection in every moment as the piece develops. There’s no sense we’re simply being treated to a well-chosen set of decisions made in the rehearsal room, this is living, breathing, bleeding art of the highest quality imaginable.
Matt Hatchinson – Arbuturian