By Lawrence Elizabeth Knox, Correspondent
“In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?”
This is the question that troubled international opera star Joyce DiDonato in the aftermath of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. As simple as it might sound, in context, there is a depth beneath those 10 words that compelled her to design a concert intended to incite genuine conversations around uplifting art.
“In War & Peace: Harmony through Music” made its debut in Brussels in 2016, and by the end of its final tour this year, the thought-provoking production will have reached a total of 2.6 million people by way of performances in 44 cities in 23 countries on four continents and via live stream.
On Wednesday, the Houston Grand Opera will bring the award-winning project, featuring DiDonato and the period-instrument ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro under the baton of Maxim Emelyanychev, to Houston for a one-night-only event in the Cullen Theater at the Wortham Theater Center. The two-part concert – presenting first war, then peace – will be followed by an intimate seated dinner for approximately 200 guests alongside the Kansas-born mezzo-soprano and HGO Studio alumna on the Brown Theater stage, one that helped launch her career.
The program showcases a selection of celebrated Baroque arias, such as Henry Purcell’s “When I Am Laid in Earth,” also known as “Dido’s Lament” – a sorrowful piece that DiDonato once taught to prisoners at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York. At the moment of this song in the English composer’s first opera “Dido and Aeneas,” the grief-stricken Queen of Carthage slowly dies of a broken heart after being abandoned by her lover, the Trojan hero Aeneas.
As DiDonato urged her students to express the queen’s profound sadness, one of the men raised his hand, noting that although the solo is rather dark-natured, it is clear that the character comes to understand that she is going to her glory once the bass line has resolved.
“It was an incredible moment to realize that this piece of music that has been sung for over 400 years found it’s way into a maximum-security prison, and a man born in the Bronx who had never heard it before could have this deep understanding of it,” she said, recalling the memory. “It is Dido’s journey from chaos to peace, and he understood it fully.”
This emotional trajectory reflects that of the concert in its entirety, which begins in the violent darkness of George Frideric Handel’s “Scenes of horror, scenes of woe” and then transitions from spiritual turmoil to the release of sorrow, followed by a sense of harmony and ultimately jubilation.
“It’s a very conscious journey offering the idea that we can find our way out of the chaos,” DiDonato said of the fully staged production that differs from what might be expected in a traditional concert hall. “I knew with such a potent theme that I wanted to be sure to engage the public in a dramatic way. I enlisted a director and design team, and we created this approach from scratch – something that the classical music world really hasn’t seen before.”
Read the complete article via the Houston Chronicle.