There is a sure guarantee with Joyce DiDonato that any album she releases will appeal to both the ears and the brain, but with her most recent venture, In War and Peace, she has outdone herself. It’s common knowledge now that DiDonato hit upon the theme in the aftermath of the Paris attacks last year; already in the middle of selecting Baroque arias for a new project with Erato, she pitched a new idea to the company: a juxtaposition of chaos and harmony on one disc, an exploration of two fundamental aspects of humanity via Handel, Purcell and one or two lesser-known composers. Several weeks after the album’s release, she brought the period ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro to the Barbican to present the project beyond the confines of the recording studio as part of a global tour.
DiDonato deserves credit for bringing an unusual level of drama to a concert recital. One entered in darkness. Smoke wafted over the stage, and DiDonato sat motionless on a rear podium, magnificent in a silver Vivienne Westwood dress. Her recital was characterised by an intense physicality, making use of the whole platform, winding her way through the orchestra and bringing Dido, Agrippina et al to life as in the opera house. Ralf Pleger, directing the evening, made full use of vivid lighting and video effects, a blood red coating at the back of the hall here, murky green glaze across the stage there – a combination of effects that heightened the potency of DiDonato’s performance.
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