Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato brought her project In War & Peace: Harmony Through Music to the Orpheum Theatre on Nov. 30, the first of seven performances in North America.
Legions of enthusiastic fans of one of the world’s reigning divas would no doubt have settled for virtually any form of concert or recital. This, however, is a high–concept multi-media endeavor designed by stage director Ralf Pleger, enriching a selection of Baroque arias with movement as well as lighting effects and animated projections conceived by Henning Blum and Yousef Iskandar, respectively. It’s a lavishly extravagant proposition: the 21-piece Il Pomo d’Oro baroque orchestra led by Maxim Emelyanychev is on stage; there are various add-ons, including a pre-concert discussion panel; DiDonato’s gowns are by the celebrated fashion icon Vivienne Westwood.
If considering big ethical and political ideas through music isn’t new, In War & Peace employs various forms of contemporary media in the service of bringing new audiences to the fold, a populist impulse in the best sense. Does it really add up to that much more than a conventional program of opera arias? Yes. The evening aims at a fairly broad audience, not just the built-in niche that wants to hear a period-instrument orchestra and a grand diva in Baroque repertoire. Lighting, projections, and surtitles establish moods and resonances that might easily be lost on those unfamiliar with early opera. And the show will give many outside big opera centers an opportunity to sample DiDonato’s stage work and manifest theatrical skills.