In War & Peace - Harmony through Music


Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano
Il Pomo d’Oro
Maxim Emelyanychev, harpsichord & direction

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

– VIKTOR FRANKL, author and psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor

*Gramophone 2017 Winner – Recital of the Year

*NPR Top 100 Songs of 2016: “Lascia ch’io pianga” (Handel)

*ClassicFM Top 20 Classical Albums of 2016

*iTunes Best of 2016: Classical Recordings

*Opera News: Critic’s Choice

*MusicWeb International: Recording of the Month


Track Listing


1. Handel Scenes of horror, scenes of woe  5:13
2. Leo Prendi quel ferro, o barbaro!  7:16 *
3. Handel Svegliatevi nel core  4:47
4. Purcell They tell us that you mighty powers above  4:05
5. Handel Pensieri, voi mi tormentate  6:44
6. Purcell When I am laid in earth  5:03
7. Handel Lascia ch’io pianga  5:32


8.  Purcell Oh! lead me to some peaceful gloom  3:17
9.   Handel Augelletti, che cantate  5:36
10.  Jommelli Sprezza il furor del vento  7:13 *
11.  Purcell Why should men quarrel  1:31
12. Jommelli Par che di giubilo  6:09 *
13. Handel Crystal streams in murmurs flowing  8:21
14. Monteverdi Illustratevi, o cieli  2:20
15. Handel Da tempeste il legno infranto  6:02

* world premiere recording


“Joyce DiDonato’s latest recital disc looks at war and peace in Baroque opera … In the company of Il Pomo d’Oro, conducted by Maxim Emelyanychev, DiDonato kicks up a storm in the war arias and soothes the spirit with lambent tone when she turns to peace.

The American mezzo is at the peak of her career. This disc is worth hearing for her radiant singing in Handel’s Susanna alone.” (Financial Times)

“The exhilaratingly fine new release from mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato arrives with a freakish sense of timeliness. Drawing on the Baroque masters — chiefly Purcell and Handel, with a few ringers thrown in — DiDonato has assembled a collection of arias based on themes of war and peace, and together with the period-instrument assemble Il Pomo d’Oro, she delivers them with all the dramatic fervor and tonal luster she commands … And although the repertoire appears at first to be neatly bisected, with fiery military numbers giving way to more placid selections, the truth is far subtler — war and peace reveal themselves here to be closely intertwined. DiDonato’s singing, with its blend of fiery extravagance and expressive intimacy, does as much as anything to drive the point home.” (SFGate)

“Writing in 1916, Yeats spoke of ‘Art whose end is peace’. Now, 100 turbulent years later, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato returns to the question of how to find consolation and quiet in an increasingly disordered world. She too finds her answer in art – ‘a valiant path to peace’, as she writes in her introduction to an album that is as much a personal manifesto as a recital.

Returning to the repertoire where it all began, ‘In War & Peace’ finds DiDonato back on Baroque ground for the first time in a while, and it’s a joyful musical homecoming. The risks are bigger, the dramatic stakes higher than in ‘Drama Queens’ (1/13) – it’s as if she and the musicians of Il Pomo d’Oro are playing an elaborate game of chicken, each daring the other to spin a quieter, more fragile pianissimo, or to ornament a da capo with more ferocious brilliance.

Arranging her programme into two halves – ‘War’ and ‘Peace’ – DiDonato makes it clear that this is no straightforward binary. Fleeting moments of stillness and beauty are found even in war (‘They tell us that you mighty powers’, ‘When I am laid in earth’), while peace can be extrovert and full of joy (‘Da tempeste’) or merely an illusion, created only to be threatened by kidnap or rape (Susanna’s ‘Crystal streams in murmurs flowing’, exquisitely shaped, or ‘Augelletti che cantate’).

Roaming freely between alto and soprano roles, DiDonato once again demonstrates the flexibility of a voice capable of finding both the innocent simplicity of an Almirena and the mature emotions of Dido or Monteverdi’s Penelope – ‘Illustratevi o cieli’, the queen’s long-delayed release into aria, radiates hard-won contentment. Best, however, are the more demonstrative arias: Cleopatra’s irrepressible ‘Da tempeste’, Maxim Emelyanychev’s band strumming their accompaniment like a giant guitar; Leo’s explosive ‘Prendi quel ferro’, the pick of the three fine arias by Leo and Jommelli receiving their premiere recordings here.

Drama, as ever with DiDonato, is everything. Ornamentation serves narrative first, ego second, reduced to almost nothing in ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ for fear of overbalancing the sincerity of this plea for freedom, but turned up high in Jommelli’s ‘Par che di giubilo’.” (Gramophone Magazine)

“A self-described “belligerent optimist,” opera star Joyce DiDonato is pinning a lot of hope on her new album, “In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music.”

Shaken by a world of increasing conflict, DiDonato asks in the album booklet, “In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?” She cites responses from a wide variety of people, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a Sing Sing inmate named Joe Wilson. (She also urges a discussion via the social media hashtag #TalkPeace.) But DiDonato also provides some answers herself with this recording of Baroque music, divided between arias depicting hostility and those devoted to serenity.

In the first half, her characters sing of revenge, fear and the frustrating battles fought inside troubled minds. In fine voice, if a little overdressed in reverb, DiDonato channels anguish particularly well, especially in the music of Handel, which dominates the album. In his slow and well-known lament “Lascia ch’io pianga,” she washes just enough color out of her voice to achieve a purity that enhances the composer’s signature formula of gut-wrenching despair set to music of extraordinary beauty.

DiDonato also can rage with the best, hurling words like knives in an aria from Leonardo Leo’s long-forgotten “Andromaca.” Near the end, she depicts a swirl of conflicting emotions — ferocity, dread and a mother’s tender love — on the single word “ancor.”

The album’s second half spotlights peaceful gardens, outbursts of joy and lovers who “never think of war again.” DiDonato unleashes some of the most rousing coloratura singing of her recorded career in two virtuoso arias (never before recorded) by the neglected Neapolitan Niccolo Jommelli. The driving pulse in “Par che di giubilo,” infectiously rendered by her backing ensemble, Il Pomo d’Oro, underscores such lines as “My soul seems delirious with joy,” sung with uncommon speed, precision and a beaming smile in the voice. In “Sprezza il furor del veto,” she’s a “sturdy oak,” unbending to a constant flurry of stratospheric runs and trills. The voice is completely engaged in the emotional and technical content without resorting to aspirating or scooping up to notes.” (Washington Post)

“The result of this concept-CD stands out precisely where the two levels of War and Peace intertwine. In the midst of war, man can yearn for pacification, and when peace wins, the victory over the war is all the more stormy. This is exactly what the singing of DiDonato makes clear. She is an expressionist in the best sense, who can effortlessly develop an occupying dramatic presence …”

{Das Ergebnis dieser Konzept-CD besticht gerade dort, wo sich die beiden Ebenen Krieg und Frieden verzahnen. Mitten im Krieg kann sich der Mensch nach Befriedung sehnen, und wenn der Frieden gewinnt, fällt der Sieg über den Krieg umso stürmischer aus. Genau dies macht der Gesang von DiDonato exemplarisch hörbar. Sie ist eine Ausdruckssängerin im besten Sinn, der es mühelos gelingt, eine einnehmende dramatische Präsenz zu entwickeln …} (Abendzeitung)

“★★★★★ – Kansas diva argues an eloquent case for making peace not war. Mezzo-soprano superstar Joyce DiDonato’s latest album of Baroque opera arias started life as a project to bring to light some Neapolitan rarities, but it took a swift hairpin turn in November last year following the brutal terror attacks in Paris. The Kansas diva and the crack Il Pomo d’Oro under their exciting young Russian Chief Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev ditched the programme and came up with a selection of “war and peace” arias, all of them sending a strong message in troubled times. “As I have tried to convey in this selection of music, the power to bravely tip the scales towards peace lies firmly within every single one of us,” DiDonato says …

The singing is magnificent – at 47, DiDonato’s voice is at its very peak – the diction is exemplary and the playing of the Italians is simply to die for. This recital is probably her most personal project to date and represents one of the most eloquent and moving pleas for peace in a long time.”

Steve Moffatt – Limelight Magazine

“In the notes accompanying this spectacular CD, mezzo Joyce DiDonato asks, “In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?” She goes for answers–and gets them–from a baritone who was a Freedom Combat Victim, as well as from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a prisoner in Sing Sing, an 8-year old refugee, Alfred Brendel, Judi Dench, and many more. DiDonato manages not to sound holier-than-thou in this introduction, and a discussion of Baroque opera and how it tended to be a battlefield between good and evil follows. Examples are “When I am laid in earth” for the grief of war, and Cleopatra’s “Da tempeste…” showing the Queen exulting in the possibility of peace …

if I had to compare, I’d say she’s on a par with Janet Baker. Another thing she has in common with Dame Janet are the various degrees of piano/pianissimo she can render, at every vocal height or depth, with or without vibrato, and always as a reading off the text and in the most musical of ways. Of course she shows off–you can only listen agape to the maniacal pinpoint staccatos up and down the staff, and to the superb trills in mid-line in Jommelli’s “Per che di giubilo”, every one of them right on, rhythmically flawless and an expression of sheer joy.

That type of virtuosity aside–and it by no means should be put aside–perhaps the most staggering moments on this CD are two in the war section: Dido’s Lament and the following “Lascia ch’io pianga”. Here are 10 minutes of the most beautiful and sensitive–and emotionally very different–expressions of sadness on disc. Yes, the feelings are in the music and we’ve all heard both selections gorgeously sung, but here DiDonato’s coloristic abilities make each character’s anguish utterly real. Dido dies in front of us.

The CD’s opening track, “Scenes of horror, scenes of woe”, might be performed by another singer–a Cassandra type of revulsion and terror are brought to the fore through chest voice and fierce fortes. Aggrippina’s “Pensieri” might not seem to be in place here, but her plotting is warlike, and you have only to hear the opening, straight-toned, vibratoless note to realize the cruelty and ambition. (Il Pomo d’Oro’s oboist should be commended here as well!)

Even were there no “programme” per se, this would be a worthy, in fact stunning achievement. Maxim Emelyanychev leads Il Pomo d’Oro with verve, compassion, and tone that ranges from vicious to caressing depending on the situation. And the last two tracks–Penelope’s quiet joy near the close of Monteverdi’s Ulisse, and Cleopatra’s “Da tempeste” leave us elated. Just buy this.”

Robert Levine – Classics Today


In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?

In War & Peace – Behind the scenes

"I had last heard this aria in Susan Gritton’s trim, well-mannered reading on the Sixteen’s recent recording of the complete oratorio. DiDonato’s version is something else entirely. The sharp attack of her singing gives it an almost shocking immediacy; the hammer-stroke articulation of the line “rising from the shades below” makes it seem as if the “scenes of horror” were indeed dredged up from hell. The barbarities she describes, rather than transpiring in the conveniently distant past, could be in Aleppo or at Pulse in Orlando. By making the aria so visceral, DiDonato tells us that the act of performing music—and of listening to it—needn’t be a purely aesthetic endeavor but a means of understanding the world we live in. The entire recital benefits from the American mezzo’s warmth of tone and prodigious technique—fully expected but nonetheless welcome. (The pinging staccato arpeggios in “Par che di giubilo,” from Niccolò Jommelli’s Attilio Regolo, all but defy credibility.) Under Maxim Emelyanychev, the musicians of the Italian period-instrument orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro play with vigor, commitment and emotional specificity, co-navigators on DiDonato’s voyage of exploration."

Fred Cohn - Opera News

Album info

Release date: November 4, 2016
Number of Discs: 1
Format: Studio
Label: Erato