Three Centuries of Italian Love Songs, London
In the voice of Joyce DiDonato songs that most singers use as warm-up material or as encores become sudden, radiant masterpieces. The mezzo-soprano’s latest recital, Three Centuries of “Amore”, contained virtually no great music at all, just sentimental ditties written by Italians (and one notable German), either to test their own craft or to display the powers of lungs and larynx. Yet there were some extraordinary musical discoveries in an evening in which DiDonato’s sheer love of sharing what she was doing radiated warmth into the raw night air.
To begin at the beginning, there was Caccini in the 17th century; but not the Amarilli with which students audition and singers start their workout. This performance, beautifully accompanied by DiDonato’s exceptional pianist, David Zobel, was a solemn declaration of love. It started with a slow crescendo of ardour on a single vowel and ended with the most exquisitely placed and timed final trill this song has possibly ever experienced.
And, to go on until the end, as the 20th century arrived, a song from 1933 by one Ildebrando Pizzetti brought stark austerity to Oscuro e il ciel, a glimpse into the heart of darkness.
DiDonato’s voice is at present nothing less than 24-carat gold. Not one note is less than perfectly pitched, not one weak spot is heard throughout the register; and DiDonato is in total control. As the body stands totally still, the voice responds to every nerve-ending in the music with nuances of colour, subtle tremblings of fleeting vibrato, a momentary brightening or dimming of tone.
Beethoven’s Metastasio exercises, including his arietta T’intendo, si, mio cor, seemed to catch the emotional heartbeat of the Countess in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. And, after a revelatory performance of Rossini’s Assisa a’ pie d’un salice, which breathed life into Verdi’s own Otello, DiDonato introduced us to the crepuscular art songs of Francesco Santoliquido – from Naples, where else?
After some Arabian and Spanish exotica, the hall took a hushed inbreath as DiDonato suddenly donned bow tie to become Cherubino in an encore. This, and an aria from Rossini’s La donna del lago, point to her current roles: be there tonight to hear it all reprised.
–Hillary Finch, The Times, January, 2010
When the language of love is Italian there are countless different ways of saying “Amore”.
Joyce DiDonato pretty much exhausted them all during the course of this intriguing recital but somehow kept coming back with more. Novelties abounded and if indeed it’s true that “all you need is love” then no one was going to leave this recital feeling short-changed – or else.
It takes courage for a big personality mezzo like DiDonato to rein in the sound and effectively switch from oils to water colours for her very first group of Arie antiche. It’s not unusual to hear these songs used as warm ups at the opening of a recital but a voice as ample as DiDonato’s could so easily demolish them that using half the voice and half the amount of air to capture the girlishness of “Danza, danza, fanciulla gentile” presented perhaps the biggest challenge of the evening for her. At the centre of the group was the beautiful “Amarilli mia bella” where the key to hypnotic purity was a pale and interesting sound using very little vibrato and where the tiny melismas conspired with the trills to lend the shivers of delight. David Zobel’s ever-attentive piano, now transformed into a lyre, added to the allure.
We could perhaps have lost the Beethoven group. You would not expect him to be quite himself in Italian song and he was not – the disguise playfully hinting at Mozart or more likely Salieri with whom he studied in Vienna. Interesting, though, to hear him experimenting with two takes on the same text Ð “L’Amante impaziente” (“The Impatient Lover”) – one flippantly comical, the other full of pathos. DiDonato turned the comparison into an exercise in method acting for the voice.
For me the most pleasurable discoveries of the evening were the art songs of Francesco Santoliquido. DiDonato switched frocks as well as vocal personality swapping demure Grecian blue for a figure-hugging emerald green more in keeping with these exotic blooms. They were scrumptiously singable, Pucciniesque in the best sense with aching cadences deploying tremulous glissandi. From now on in it was a case of ungirdling the voice and flaunting it with a Caruso favourite, “Lolita”, and the inevitable “Spanish Lady” at her ripest.
And, of course, there was DiDonato’s signature Rossini: the “Willow Song” from Otello achingly poignant with limpid groupetti and, as an encore, a storming account of Elena’s final aria from La donna del lago as fresh as if the evening had just begun.
–Edward Seckerson, The Independent, January, 2010
Soprano Joyce DiDonato has acquired an Italian surname by marriage. She is a Kansas girl of Irish ancestry without a drop of Italian blood – a fact that makes her apparently instinctive command of the language, style and flavour of Italian music all the more remarkable.
This recital was entirely devoted to it, avoiding some of the big names (no Monteverdi, Vivaldi or Verdi) and exploring forgotten as well as familiar repertory. Throughout, DiDonato was in superb voice, singing with clean tone, firm line and excellent taste. She really is a singer of the front rank, in her prime, blessed on this occasion with an excellent French pianist, David Zobel, who played the often rather trivial accompaniments with winning panache and sensitivity.
During the first half of the programme, neither of them put a note wrong. A group of songs from the collection Arie Antiche came up freshly minted and full of character, no longer empty technical exercises, but vivid little gems. “Danza, danza” did precisely that; “Se tu m’ami” was sly and piquant; “Amarilli” ached with amorous melancholy; “Nel cor piu non mi sento” had a boisterous playfulness.
After Beethoven’s four fluently elegant sorties into Salieri’s fashionable manner came Desdemona’s “Willow Song” from Rossini’s Otello, sung to harp obbligato with a limpidity and purity that scaled the heights of the neo-classical sublime. Capitalising on the presence of her harpist Lucy Wakeford, DiDonato added a ravishing unscheduled encore before the interval – the heavenly “Prayer” from Rossini’s Maometto Secondo.
Two irresistible encores raised the game. “Voi che sapete” brought Mozart’s Cherubino enchantingly to life, while “Tanti affetti” from Rossini’s La Donna del Lago was a knockout, with a heart-stopping cadenza to the dreamy cavatina and sparkling fireworks in the triumphant cabaletta that left the entire audience with a very silly smile on its collective face.
–Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph,, January, 2010