Joyce DiDonato dazzles, entrances at Ordway . . . The Schubert Club closed out the 2014-2015 run of of its International Artist Series with some good news and a bang . . . The bang was a sterling performance by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato.

DiDonato is one of classical music’s preeminent stars, an opera singer who fills houses and attracts a dynamic fan base that cuts across age groups. Her performances are renown not just for her vocal beauty and skill, but also for her acting and character portrayal. Where, then, to begin with describing Tuesday’s recital?

One could start by talking about the repertoire, which hit a few old favorites but mostly veered into less familiar territory. The decision to open with Fernando Obradors’s beautiful but circumspect Canciones clásicas españolas evoked much discussion during intermission; in most cases, starting with such understated material would be a difficult task, but DiDonato stilled breaths even before the warm quavers of her vibrato washed over the audience. For the voice students in the audience, seeing DiDonato take a simple aria like “Voi che sapete” from The Marriage of Figaro – a staple of mezzo training, and often derided because of its association with very early vocal training – and turn it into a masterfully polished and compelling artwork of a performance was like turning the world upside down.

Alternately, one could start by talking about the pianist who accompanied DiDonato onstage, David Zobel, who has played with DiDonato on many occasions . . . Together, though? The crowd filling the Ordway’s Music Theater basked in a mix of the profound and ineffable manifested as musical sound.

One of the purposes of celebrity series concerts like the Schubert Club’s International Artist Series is to present the cutting edge of solo music performance . . . to wow audiences with an experience so magnificent and removed from the norm that it leaves an impression not soon forgotten and is hard to describe in its wondrousness. In these respects Joyce DiDonato and David Zobel’s performance was the perfect end to the series – and to an evening.”

Basil Considine – Twin Cities Daily Planet

“What an amazing place we live in. Where we can go from seeing a brand new play on a Saturday night in the midst of Art-a-Whirl, to seeing an internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano on Tuesday. The amazing Joyce DiDonato gave a recital as part of the Schubert Club at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. She was, in a word, glorious.

She opened the first portion of the recital with “Canciones clasicas espanolas” by Fernando Obradors. Seven songs in Spanish that showed her range, not only vocally but in character. Each song was not sung, but performed. With the amazing David Zobel on piano, each song had a story to tell, a character to show . . . It was a perfect opening to warm up the audience to what they could expect for the remainder of the recital. Following that, she went back to an earlier composer, and one which she is probably better known for – Rossini. She sang the “Willow Song” from “Otello” and it was beautiful and moving.

She ended the first half of the recital with a Beaumarchais Trilogy – three songs from two operas based on the plays of French writer Beaumarchais. The first two were from “Le Nozze di Figaro” by Mozart, and the final from “Il barbiere di Siviglia” by Rossini. The first aria was “Voi che sapete” from “The Marriage of Figaro.” This was sung by Cherubino which is a pants role (woman playing a man), and Ms. DiDonato clearly had fun singing it. Following this was a beautiful and charming aria “Deh vieni, non tardar” also from the same opera. She ended the trilogy with “Una voce poco fa” from “The Barber of Seville.” While this is a very well known aria and performed often, I had mainly only heard the recordings of Callas. It was a true joy to hear a different take on the aria.

I’m going to pause here because here is the thing about recitals. The music is wonderful and the performance is brilliant. But what about the visuals? For those of us who love theatre and opera, sometimes the visuals can be missed in a recital. The main stage of the Ordway was turned into a perfect recital hall with dark brown back walls. A single piano in the center, and a wonderful singer. You can’t ask for much more. Yet, I feel like I need to write some about what DiDonato was wearing. The first half of the recital she was in a beautiful pale green gown (see below). It was strapless with a gather at the left front side giving some movement to the gown. She had a gorgeous v-shaped necklace as well. For the second half, she came on in a stunning multi-color dress. The dress was form-fitting, full length, and had long sleeves. Trust me, it was much more fun to watch than a simple tuxedo on any male performer.

Speaking of the second half, she started it with two arias from Cleopatra. The first was from “Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra” by Hasse, while the second was from “Giulio Cesare” by Handel. Listening to her fluid runs and trills during these two pieces, this is a style of music almost written for her voice. She showed so much control yet wasn’t holding back either. They were and are fantastic showcases for the magic that is her voice, and the training and experience she has had. The recital closed with another song-cycle, “Venezia”. This one was by Reynaldo Hahn, and is originally seven songs about Venice. She performed six of the seven. She stated before starting that this set of songs really opened her up to the power of music when she first discovered them. She was enthralled with how evocative the lyrics and the music were . . .

Of course, after the last note started to fade, the first of many standing ovations began. The first of many you say? How can that be? Well…when there are three encores, the audience is given plenty of time to applaud and show their love and appreciation. The first encore was from “La Donna del lago” by Rossini. I am not sure of the specific aria, but it was beautiful. Another standing ovation and she came back on to seeing a Neapolitan Art Song called “Don’t Forget Me.” She stated that she felt a bit selfish saying the title, which gives you an idea of her charm and sense of humor (she did name a cd “Drama Queens” after all). Again, this was a very moving and beautiful piece.

Her final encore may have been a tribute to Minnesota. She spoke earlier before the second encore of her travels here before starting college. She stated that she was looking at St. Catherines and wondered a bit about the possibilities. When she came back on for the last encore, it was a simple song, a familiar song, and the perfect song to end the evening – “Over the Rainbow” by Harold Arlen. To make it more perfect, David Zobel added a few notes from “Una voce poco fa” at the very end.

If you have a chance to see Joyce DiDonato perform, please take that chance.”

Minnesota Theater Love