The new release from mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, which she’ll perform in UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 20, is a stunningly beautiful and original affair. It’s also deliciously high-concept, to the point that you can’t quite believe she pulls it off.

DiDonato takes a handful of Italian Baroque numbers, beginning with excerpts from the “24 Italian Songs and Arias” collection that every vocal student has to get past, and recasts them as jazz standards – the rhythms loosened but still electrifying, the harmonies richly colored without straying too far from the original.

And because DiDonato is such an exquisite singer – so technically commanding, so expressive, so canny in her adornments – the result never seems gimmicky. These are genuine reinterpretations, shaped with style and fidelity, and the inclusion of familiar jazz tunes by George Shearing, Duke Ellington and others only deepens the sense of wonder. Pianist Craig Terry leads a formidable instrumental ensemble, but it is DiDonato who gives this marvelous project its juice.

Datebook – San Francisco Chronicle