It took the arrival of Joyce DiDonato to inject some real star quality into the evening. Even here, though, she was foiled by some unlooked for drama as the Usher Hall lighting desk failed (twice!), plunging the stage into darkness.
In the end it wasn’t properly fixed and the performers had to do with an orange floodlight effect which, it was judged, was better than nothing, if far from ideal. Once she finally got to sing she was magnificent. DiDonato is one of the greatest singing actresses of our age, as anyone who has seen her Rossini at Covent Garden will testify. She stormed through Berenice’s recitatives, proving alluring and sensuous for the aria, then fierce and implacable for the mad scene. The highlight of the evening, however, was a piece that wasn’t on the programme and wasn’t even by Haydn. For an encore DiDonato sang Handel’s Ombra mai fuwith utmost sensitivity and sensual allure.
–Simon Thompson, Seen and Heard, August 26, 2009
The Usher Hall, such an acoustic relief after the bizarre Albert Hall, is still in refurbishment but opened specially for the festival. It proved less than fully functional, however, during the all-Haydn programme by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, conducted by the eternally genial and genius-like Roger Norrington. He could not control what happened in the Scena di Berenice. Three times the platform lights failed, three times the thrillingly dramatic mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato tried and failed to get beyond the recitative to the aria. Many a diva would have stomped off, but DiDonato has a sense of humour. The audience roared gratitude and were rewarded with the interpolation of Handel’s Largo.
–Paul Driver, The Sunday Times, August, 2009
After a run of Rossini at Covent Garden during which Joyce DiDonato fractured her leg on the first night of The Barber of Seville and thereafter had to sing from a wheelchair, the bubbly American mezzo must have hoped that her next British engagement, Haydn’s Scena di Berenice, would pass off without a hitch. But it wasn’t to be. One minute Berenice was promising to follow her slain lover into the Underworld; the next, the gods had granted her wish by turning out the lights and plunging orchestra, conductor and singer into Stygian gloom.
True to form, DiDonato took it with good humour – even after our chuckles had turned to exasperated clucks when the performers were twice more defeated by the gremlin in the electrics. Thankfully, when she finally resumed the aria – now under the nuclear glow of emergency neon – the hiatus hadn’t dented her lacerating emotional force and scintillating virtuosity. A generous encore followed to soothe any frazzled nerves: Handel’s Ombra mai fù, as serene and glowing as her Berenice had been all fire and fury.
–Neil Fisher, The Times, August 25, 2009
An electrical failure after the interval plunged the orchestra and American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato into gloom half way through the mad scene aria of Scena di Berenice. After a couple of false starts Usher Hall staff gave up on the misbehaving rack of overhead spotlights and turned on every other available light in the hall to allow the performance to continue.
Miss DiDonato was undaunted. She threw herself into completing the tragic aria with passionate despair and earned near-rapturous approval from the house.
–Mark Meredith, Edinburgh Guide, August 23, 2009
Here was a concert that began impressively but later fell victim to what has come to be known as the Usher Hall’s annual festival mishap. This time it was the fault of the platform lighting, which suddenly blacked out the scintillating Joyce DiDonato‘s singing of Haydn’s fierce Scena di Berenice, obliging her to launch the dramatic opening recitative three times before she could finally steer the work to its close.
The problem, never properly resolved, resulted in the concert’s entire second half being presented beneath the sickly amber glow of the renovated hall’s dismal old ceiling lights.
Happily, the accident-prone mezzo-soprano – who recently broke her leg during the opening night of The Barber of Seville at Covent Garden and made it seem less paralysing to the performance than a dark Usher Hall – proved unfazed by what happened and delivered a stirring account of Haydn’s dramatic scena as part of a programme devoted (ironically as things turned out) to the composer’s contribution to the enlightenment.
…But before that, space had been found for a DiDonato encore in the form of Handel’s Largo, or what we know today as Ombra Mai Fu, an unhurried ode to a shady tree. Though now commandeered by counter-tenors, it was here a flowing, glowing vehicle for DiDonato’s swaying voice.
–Mary Brennan, The Herald, August 24, 2009
A faulty lighting board turned out the lights on the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the newly-refurbished Usher Hall on Saturday.
The show, part of the Edinburgh International Festival and Scotland’s Homecoming celebrations, was brought to a standstill for nearly half an hour before emergency lighting kicked in.
Conductor Sir Roger Norrington entertained the full house of 2,300 with a few wisecracks in the dark, and when the lights returned soloist Joyce DiDonato gave a stirring performance rewarded with a standing ovation.
– The Scotsman, August 24, 2009