Concert with Jake Heggie and Brentano Quartet at the Barbican
“This concert, one of several this week at the Barbican Centre to feature Spotlight Artist Joyce DiDonato, focused on music that could broadly be associated with La Belle Époque . . . The response of Reynaldo Hahn was to recall nostalgically a French golden era that probably never existed . . . In the opening ‘Sopra l’acqua indormenzada’ (Over the tranquil waters) DiDonato revealed how well her voice works with the acoustic of Milton Court Concert Hall, with the sound feeling both sumptuous and clear. If anything, ‘La barcheta’ (The little boat) was even more affecting as, set at night, it carried more sense of mystique and foreboding, and enabled DiDonato to bring greater weight and gravitas to her sound. Her repeated cries of ‘Ah’ were spellbinding as she applied just the right level of vibrato to her voice as it swelled and receded. At the quietest point it looked as if her lips were almost pressed together although the sound remained crystal clear . . .
The second half of the programme, though featuring a very recent composition by Jake Heggie, focused on a key figure of La Belle Époque, the sculptor Camille Claudel . . . DiDonato impressed with the sheer degree of sensitivity that she brought to her communication of longing, fear, uncertainty and vulnerability. Particularly powerful was the opening song ‘Rodin’, in which her love for him combines with her profession as a sculptor to create such lines as ‘In the clay I search with my fingers to uncover something true’. DiDonato’s oft repeated cries of ‘Rodin’ were also highly poignant as each was made slightly different through the application of varying degrees of vibrato. Perhaps the most moving song of all, however, was the final one that moves forward to 1929 and in which Claudel says to her visitor at the mental asylum, and by extension us who are listening to her story, ‘Thank you for remembering me’.”
Sam Smith – musicOMH
“Resplendent in a multi-coloured dress, but in mismatched shoes and having to sit (because of a sprained ankle), Joyce DiDonato showed herself to be at her most artful in these finely crafted performances. The six songs all set 17th and 18th century poetry about love, gondolas and water. In each, Joyce DiDonato created a vibrant character. To Sopra l’acqua indormenzada she brought a rich dark, vibrant voice but each phrase was carefully caressed and shaped, with a richly vivid language. La barchetta (in which the poet describes exactly what he is doing to Nineta she sleeps) was more plangent and the vocalise at the end of each verse simply made you tingle with delight.
L’avertimento was vividly sung with a very up-front chest voice and drama, here Joyce DiDonato was clearly channelling her experience playing trouser roles. La biondina in gondoleta and Che peca as similarly strong, and full of character, finally La primavera was all lightness and air . . .
For Camille Claudel: Into the Fire, Gene Scheer had written six songs each of which depict a different one of Camille Claudel’s moods in the insane asylum and in the last song she is visited by her friend Jessie Lipscomb with whom she shared a studio many years earlier . . .
The first song Rodin started with a long lyrical complex texture for the strings with a hint of the dance and a hint of a tune. When Joyce DiDonato came in, she had a lyrical arioso to which she gave a passionate intensity and a sense of identification. The strings wove their melodies around the arioso. For La Valse, Joyce DiDonato had a more lyrical, more structured melody with a rather expressionist middle when Claudel seems to wander from the present. Again the strings wove their magic round Joyce DiDonato . . . The composer had clearly taken a lot of care on the shape and feel of the vocal line so that it would suit Joyce DiDonato’s voice and she gave a strongly identified performance . . .
The concert drew a tumultuous reception from the audience, and Jake Heggie returned to the stage to join Joyce DiDonato and the Brentano String Quartet in one final piece, an arrangement of Richard Strauss’s Morgen . . . it was ravishing.”
Robert Hugill – Planet Hugill
“Take away her voice and DiDonato would still be an extraordinary performer. There’s a musical theatre quality to Heggie’s writing that shows the mezzo at her best, allowing her to release the full force of her dramatic and vocal energy, successfully redirected into comic asides and wry observations earlier in the evening in Reynaldo Hahn’s Venezia . . .
Taken as a whole, this was a tremendously satisfying evening of music – a programme that looked fragmented on the page, but which came together in performance, thanks largely to the driving conviction of DiDonato. An arrangement of one of Strauss’s best-loved songs, “Morgen”, brought all musicians together for a surprise end to the concert, offering all the transcendence and benediction . . .”
Alexandra Coghlan – The Arts Desk
“Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night is echoed in the arpeggiated accompaniment to “The Gossips”, over which DiDonato spun smoothly sustained lines. Her long held note at the end was just one of the moving touches she brought to the music . . .”
John Allison – The Telegraph
“Heggie, born in 1961, has become a song composer of choice for many of today’s leading singers, and DiDonato, long associated with his work, has now brought Camille Claudel to London, with the Brentano Quartet replacing the Alexanders, as part of her Artist Spotlight series at the Barbican and Milton Court . . . It’s immaculately tailored to DiDonato’s voice, with its remarkable flexibility and expressive range. Coloratura flourishes suggest Camille’s volatility. Long lines, full of immaculate pianissimos, convey her retreat into a private world of memory . . . The performance was prefaced by . . . Hahn’s ravishing Venezia, which DiDonato has made her own, with Heggie himself her weighty, persuasive accompanist.”
Tim Ashley – The Guardian
“Reynaldo Hahn’s Venezia is a store-wrapped gift of a song-cycle for a mezzo of such dramatic inclinations as Joyce DiDonato, who can wrap Italian vowels around throaty, essentially Spanish vocal lines, reflecting Hahn’s mixed parentage . . . She had an easy, understated way with the gondolier rhythm of No.1, the seguidilla style of No.2, done with a gentle rather than smoky mezza voce, and the admonitions of No.3, which could come straight from Falla’s Siete Canciones populares espanolas . . .”
Peter Quantrill – The Amati Magazine