The Guardian
by Tim Ashley
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The mezzo soprano is on sombre but exquisite form with In War and Peace, an ambitious project that celebrates the harmonising potential of music …

‘I’m a belligerent, proud, willing optimist,” says Joyce DiDonato, who is unwilling to do anything by halves. Conceived in response to last year’s Paris terrorist attacks, her latest project, In War and Peace, is at times a sombre exploration of “our brutal nature and our elevated humanity” that celebrates the harmonising potential of music and aims, not always successfully, to overturn the conventions of the classical concert.

With Il Pomo d’Oro under Maxim Emelyanychev, she performs a programme of baroque arias that examine the nature of conflict and reconciliation, while director Ralf Pleger deploys multimedia techniques … Haze drifts above the instrumentalists. Coloured lights flicker and flash, and indistinct video images flow across walls. A dancer, Manuel Palazzo, sinewy and graceful, hovers at DiDonato’s side and performs wiry solos in front of the players.

There’s no doubting the depth of DiDonato’s commitment or the brilliance of her singing. Dressed in Vivienne Westwood gowns, she looks every bit the diva. She spins out the lines of slow Handel arias with exquisite finesse and tackles Jommelli’s exacting coloratura with tangible joy. She brings a fierce sense of drama to her characterisations of Leonardo Leo’s traumatised Andromaca and Handel’s manipulative Agrippina, determined to obtain political power for her monstrous son, Nero. The orchestral playing is by turns sensuous and stark: Anna Fusek’s staggering recorder obbligato in Augeletti, Che Cantate from Handel’s Rinaldo, nearly steals the show.