Joyce DiDonato is one of those rare singers whose sheer joy in everything that she performs never fails to engage an audience. She wears her heart on her sleeve but never in a self-conscious way and her love of music in general, and song in particular is infectious.
Given her ebullient musical personality and commitment to American music, the programme she chose to open the 2014-5 season at the Wigmore Hall was a judicious mixture of the familiar, obscure and popular, whilst many of the items from the second half were well known lollipops from some of the 20th Century’s greatest American musicals.
The evening began with Haydn’s cantata Arianna a Naxos, and with Antonio Pappano as her sensitive accompanist, DiDonato captured the whole gamut of emotions that Haydn’s heroine experiences; love, vengeance and desolation. Her technique is second to none, and there seems to be nothing that her voice won’t do. She found some exquisitely burnished tones in the opening recitative and aria, giving way to quite frighteningly intense vocalising in the final presto section.
Two Rossini numbers Belta crudele and la danza followed, where DiDonato revelled in Rossini’s cheeky word painting and cruelly demanding roulades. Known for her relaxed platform manner, she then introduced the rarity of the evening, Francesco Santoliquido’s song cycle I canti della sera; a heady romantic concoction written in 1908 which nevertheless gave DiDonato ample opportunity to tease out its languid phrases with a smokiness that more than matched the mood of the piece.
Whilst there can be no doubt that this remarkable American mezzo has a sure grasp of the emotion and technique required for the Italian repertoire, the American song that made up the second half of this recital is in her blood, and each number was treated with due affection, care and, where necessary, abandon.
From the hushed introduction to Foster’s ‘Beautiful dreamer’ any doubts that their over-familiarity might dull their impact were immediately dispelled by the infectious joy with which DiDonato dispatched each number. With Pappano slipping into the mantle of lounge pianist with consummate ease there was hilarity in abundance in both Dougherty’s Love in the dictionary and Bolcom’s Amor from Twelve Cabaret Songs, whilst DiDonato found the right sense of desolation for Rodgers’ My funny valentine.
Given DiDonato’s exuberant performing style her final song, Lowry’s How can I keep from singing? was a fitting climax to such a generous recital in all respects. Three encores followed; the last of these an exquisite rendition of Over the Rainbow, which left barely a dry eye in the house. None of those present at this recital will ever forget it, especially given that Joyce DiDonato is at the peak of her very considerable musical powers.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.