Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Joyce DiDonato @ Wigmore Hall, London

26 January 2010

It might have been tempting for Joyce DiDonato to simply replicate the track list from her recent recording of Rossini arias for her current tour. It would no doubt have saved time. With Three Centuries of Amore, however, she was able to display not just her generosity of spirit but also her astonishing vocal capabilities.

There was room for a couple of Rossini arias that feature in the album but otherwise the programme took an exhilarating, intoxicating and sometimes disorientating journey through the theme of love in Italian song. Many of these works are largely unknown, others are more usually recited as exercises, but here each was given lavish exposure.

We began with a clutch of seventeenth and early eighteenth-century songs, or Arie antiche: Francesco Durante’s “Danza, danza, fanciulla gentile” was predictably jaunty, Giulio Caccini’s “Amarilli mia bella” plangent and darkly shaded, while “Or ch’io non sequo pi” by Raffaello Rontani was rustic in spirit. In each case, DiDonato shaped the poetic lines with a glowing, focussed sound and economy of gesture. The assortment of Beethoven’s Italian songs that followed felt a little anomalous but they were finely wrought nonetheless.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the real highlight of the first half was the ‘Willow Song’ from Rossini’s Otello, for which DiDonato and her wonderful piano accompanist David Zobel were joined by harpist Lucy Wakeford. This aria sounds both natural and intensely dramatic, and is so irresistible in this pared-down arrangement that DiDonato followed it with the little “Giusto ciel”, also with harp accompaniment, from Rossini’s rarely-heard Maometto II.

As we pushed through the late nineteenth-century and into the fin de sicle era there was a nostalgic feel to songs by a loose group of Italian composers known as the generazione dell’ottanta who attempted to re-establish a national music tradition. DiDonato matched this lighter and more overtly erotic repertoire with something of a gypsy spirit, and although the individual pieces were less intriguing than those in the first half, it was an appealing way to end. The formal programme concluded with the sensuously melismatic “Canto arabo” and the flirtatious “La Spagnola”, but we were treated to two encores: Cherubino’s “Voi che sapete” and an aria from La donna del lago.

DiDonato is so accomplished one could write a review, of sorts, by simply listing the various techniques she nailed, but what makes her such an exceptional performer is that this facility is coupled with a warmth of communication and effortless charm: this recital was not just impressive but great fun, too.

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