Today was, as they say, a good day. No barking from the dog; no smog; I went to see Alcina and the ensemble went whole hog.
But enough of that. (Someone was playing Ice-Cube from their car as I was walking home from the subway, and one thing kind of led to another in my head.) I am not sure where to start, this performance was so much fun. Perhaps the obvious. How much do we love Joyce DiDonato? We love her plenty, including her fabulous dress and knee-high boots. I heard some people behind me commenting that they didn’t like her hair. These people are clearly without any taste in haircuts whatsoever. Fauxhawks are AWESOME. (I love writing about opera. I can have crushes and get squealy and indulge my inner fourteen-year-old and just GO ON AND ON IN ALL CAPS ABOUT HOW AWESOME THINGS ARE and I feel not a bit ashamed.)
But of course what we really love about JDD is not her haircut but her voice. Many if not most reactions to Joyce DiDonato performances turn upon the question not of whether the house was brought down, but when. My vote for the down-bringing of the house is “ah, mio cor” in Act II. Because holy moly. The A section had a kind of controlled wildness to it; the B section cut loose with Alcina’s anger and frustration, and in the A section repeat I just got lost in all those ripples and movements of sound, that swelled to fill the hall and then drew back – Alcina is truly a sorceress, a little bit strange and eerie even when she is doing something as conventional as being in love, and this aria as DiDonato performs it reveals that fully. Other highlights included “mi restano le lagrime,” which singer and ensemble took at a quicker pace than I’m used to, but there was plenty of space for the JDD magic to happen – all those perfect little moments of phrasing, or dynamics, or a vocal line drawn out to just the right place; “si, son quella,” especially the bits with the solo cello and – well, I guess it was sort of one continued highlight in some ways. I remember thinking as we got into Alcina’s very first aria, “di, cor mio” how much I love hearing this voice in this hall. I am developing layer upon layer of DiDonato/Carnegie Hall memories.
DiDonato had ample assistance in the bringing down of the house. I thought Alice Coote as Ruggiero was fantastic. She sings this role with a kind of easy, effortless characterization, from Ruggiero’s quite funny rejection of disguised Bradamante early on to her completely spellbinding performance of “mi lusinga il dolce affetto.” There was a beautiful intimacy to this performance; you feel close up to what she is doing, but it never feels small; this was particularly evident both in this aria and in “verdi prati.” And “sta nell’Ircana” was a pretty rip-roaring good time too. (I can’t quite read all of my notes for this last one – I have “exciting” underlined, and then there’s another word, but I’m not sure what it is. I underlined it twice, though, so it seems it was important.)
Anna Christy as Morgana started off a little fluttery, but “torna a
vag-hedgy-whatsit vagheggiar” (I can never spell that aria right the first time) was charming and funny, and the rest of the performance was most entertaining – she and Christine Rice as Bradamante were occasionally quite the comedy duo. The English Concert, directed by Bicket from the harpsichord, was as much fun to listen to this time as they were the last time I heard them. I have absolutely no problem with period instruments in a big modern hall (though there seemed to be a bit of technical difficulty with the horns during “sta nell’Ircana” – but perhaps I heard wrong). The violin solo in Morgana’s “alma sospira” and the solo cello at other points both carried just fine. The orchestral sound in general was light and dry, but in a pleasant way, and having a small ensemble like this makes the opera an ongoing conversation between singers and orchestra. One example of this was during Oronte’s (Ben Johnson’s) “semplicetto a donna credi” aria in Act I – you could feel the pulse of the music passing back and forth between tenor and orchestra. I have “I love the orchestra” written at several points in the margin of my notes and I see no reason to reconsider my judgement of six or seven hours ago. Finally, Anna Devin as Oberto got her moment too, with the boy’s “Barbara!” aria near the end of Act III – what sounded like a smallish, light soprano was perfectly capable of filling the hall.
So. When are we having Alcina fully staged at the Met? Soon, right?