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Three Centuries of “Amore” - A programme of Italian Love Songs by various composers across more than three centuries: Joyce DiDonato (mezzo soprano), David Zobel (piano), Lucy Wakeford (harp), Wigmore Hall, London, 26.1.2010 (MMB)

Danza, danza, fanciulla gentile

Pergolesi: Se tu m'ami

Caccini: Amarilli mia bella

Rossi: Mio ben, teco il tormento

Paisiello: Nel cor piu non mi sento

Rontani: Or ch'io non seguo più Pause

Beethoven: Four Ariettas, La partenza

Rossini: Assisa a’ piè d’un salice from Otello

Santoliquido: I Canti della Sera (four songs)

Pizzetti: Ocsuro è il ciel

Toselli: Serenata (Rimpianto)

Donaudy: O del mio amato bene

Castelnuovo-Tedesco: La Pastorella, Ballatella

Buzzi-Peccia: Lolita (Serenata spagnola)

Leoncavallo: Serenata francese

Giuranna: Canto Arabo

Di Chiara: La Spagnola

American mezzo, Joyce DiDonato [ hot from Barcelona's Liceu  on 24.1.10. - see review by JMI Ed.]  was in London to continue her European tour with a programme of Italian love songs, which she began earlier in January in Spain. I attended the first of her two London recitals at the Wigmore Hall and, as has often happened before, I felt privileged to witness Ms DiDonato perform: she was quite simply magnificent!

It was obvious even from just reading the programme that a lot of care and hard work went into putting it together. During an interview that she kindly gave me on 12th January, I asked her how she had chosen this music; how the selection came to exist, particularly because of the presence of Beethoven, the only non-Italian composer. Interestingly enough, she replied that actually, it had all started with Beethoven and his five little pieces: the four Ariettas and the song La partenza. According to her own words, Ms DiDonato loved the music and the fact that, in one instance, Beethoven used the same text but composed two completely different pieces of music. She was referring to the lovely little gems entitled L’amante impaziente Opus 82, numbers 3 and 4. The text is by Metastasio and genially, the composer wrote the first as a buffo style aria: lively, funny and energetic; and the second as a sad lament, deeply moving, with a beautiful melodic line. Joyce DiDonato performed both with great quality as well as authenticity; and by this I mean that she is like a chameleon, easily slipping into character and making each piece completely believable.

The common thread of the recital was on one hand the theme of love, presented in many different ways, and on the other the fact that the music was set to Italian texts! As Ms DiDonato said, during the interview, she feared that the recital could have “too much sugar”, however, “as it is the grey of winter... and when one thinks of Italy, one thinks amore”, she simply wanted to offer the public some “Mediterranean sun” and the audience to revel in the melodies. This she certainly achieved but the selection was much more than that! It was eclectic and demonstrative of the journey of music through history. It comprised charming songs from the baroque and early classical period, which became well known under the three-volume series Arie Antiche, as mentioned in the programme notes, to the purity of the classical period with Beethoven, the apotheosis of bel canto with Rossini and finally to virtually unknown composers of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Santoliquido or Donaudy.

From the most simple of songs to spectacular operatic arias, Joyce DiDonato’s performance was a delight. She is a singer that never ceases to amaze me. Her natural generosity, sincerity and enthusiasm were present throughout the performance. She sings every song, every aria with her heart and soul, giving it all, both physical and artistically. But these are just some of the features of her talent! The musical integrity and the respect that she demonstrates for each composition make her a naturally shining star in the operatic world, too often filled with huge egos!

DiDonato possesses a rare voice, with a pure, liquid quality of sound as well as authentic human warmth and heart-felt expression. Her diction is clear and her technique impeccable: she transitions seamlessly from a delicate legato line, as in some passages of Desdemona’s beautiful Assisa a’ piè d’un solice (the famous Willow Song) from Rossini’s Otello, to the sparkling fireworks in another Rossini aria Tanti affetti from La donna del lago, which she sang as her last encore at the end of the recital (both are part of her latest CD of Rossini music “Colbran, the muse”). Besides these attributes, DiDonato is also a consummate actress; and this dramatic quality makes the audience relate to and share in the feelings of each character. Therefore, one felt romantic in Paisiello’s Nel cor più non mi sento; sincerely sad in the second of Beethoven’s compositions to L’amante impaziente while genuinely laughing during the first, written and perfectly delivered as a piece of comedy; or one simply delighted in the exquisite beauty of Santoliquido’s L’incontro and Giuranna’s Canto Arabo. Each piece, without exception, was sung with true commitment and musicianship of the highest quality, exceptionally accompanied by France’s David Zobel, a very fine pianist, and harpist Lucy Wakeford, a “beautiful musician” to use Ms DiDonato’s own words.

To top this deliciously “sweet”, heart warming recital, DiDonato gave three excellent encores. The first, spontaneously, at the interval, apparently to use Lucy Wakeford’s artistry once again before allowing her to go. Here she sang a short but lovely, gentle, sensitive piece from Rossini’s Maometto II. Then, at the end, she returned to the stage to sing Cherubino’s beautiful aria Voi che sapete from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, delivering possibly the best interpretation of it that I have ever heard. She followed it with Tanti Affetti from Rossini’s La donna del lago, which I mentioned above, and that allowed her to show off the fantastic range and fabulous coloratura that her voice possesses.

I have watched Joyce DiDonato perform many times and, each time, I always felt that besides everything else, she possesses another rare quality: to give one the impression that whatever she is singing was specifically written for her by the composer. This is an extraordinary attribute and one that I can only remember noticing in another American artist: the great soprano Jessye Norman.

As one surely gathers from what I have written, I loved Joyce DiDonato’s recital at the Wigmore Hall. Not only does she deserve praise for bringing to light such obscure, forgotten composers as Francesco Santoliquido or Ildebrando Pizzetti but she also managed to create an unusual, delightful and varied programme of popular songs, operatic arias and unknown precious little pieces. This was a glowing performance from an accomplished, mature, sensitive artist at the absolute top of her game.

Margarida Mota-Bull

Margarida Mota-Bull's operatic e-novel, Canto de Tenore is available Here


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