Alex Hoffman – December 14, 2018
“There’s an album review from the New York Times in 1990 with the headline, “Can a Woman Do a Man’s Job in Schubert’s Winterreise?” Composed in 1827 using the poetic texts of Wilhelm Müller, the 70-minute song cycle was originally written for a male voice and details one man’s descent into his own personal hell in the freezing cold after being spurned by his one true love.
Despite the trend toward more female singers tackling Winterreise (Winter’s Journey), it was this Times writer’s belief that it’s de rigueur for a man to exclusively sing this piece, as if it was just settled science. His response to the question that the headline posed as he reviewed mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbaender’s recording drips with so much condescension that it borders on parody today. “To get straight to the point,” he says, “this is no material for a woman. Can we discuss this like civilized people?”
How about we get straight to this point: Joyce DiDonato is no ordinary woman. And the Kansas City diva is no ordinary performer.
Her accompanist on this journey, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, returned to Kansas City and the Harriman-Jewell Series on Thursday night after conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kauffman Center in September. When I talked to Nézet-Séguin this summer, he described himself as “more of an occasional pianist” who nonetheless loves settings like these, suggesting to DiDonato that they collaborate on Winterreise last year. “It’s something that is, you can imagine, a really special project for both of us,” he says.
His confidence that Franz Schubert’s cycle of 24 songs would benefit from her perspective was richly rewarded in front of a captive audience in the intimacy of the Folly Theater. For nearly three centuries, we’ve known what this rejection was like for the protagonist. But what about the woman in the relationship? What does she feel, if anything? This point of view is what DiDonato sought to portray, and she did so brilliantly.
Before the first (and longest) song of the cycle, “Good Night,” a single line appeared on the screen above the piano where the full house could follow the English translation of the German text: “I received his journal in the post.” In DiDonato’s interpretation, she doesn’t throw this goodbye package in the trash, forget him, and move on. She takes it hard, almost like she sings these words ceaselessly as a type of penance.
Not only is DiDonato one of the finest mezzo-sopranos on the planet with extraordinary technique, she is a skilled actress from her time in opera. She channels the overpowering melancholy and frigid despair that her ex pours out, right from the opening song: “The girl spoke of love, her mother even of marriage / Now the world is dismal, the path veiled in snow.”
Read the complete review via IN Kansas City