Tag: DiDonato

Rossini – La Donna del Lago / Metropolitan Opera 3-10-15

I have said it before, but I have yet to leave a performance of anything involving Joyce DiDonato without a big silly grin on my face by the end. This performance resembled the one of La Cenerentola that I saw last spring, in that 1. It also involved Juan Diego “Watch how long I can hold this high note! And now I’m holding it even longer! Did you catch that? No? That’s ok, because I’m still doing it!” Florez and 2. JDD did the usual grin-making JDD thing in the opera’s final big number (here, “tanti affetti”). I enjoy her performances of Baroque material more than the bel-canto reperatoire, but hearing her voice go zooming around in all that ornamentation is still a pretty rip-roaring good time. 

This is not an opera I know well. I’ve never seen it, and I’ve heard only the arias that tend to end up on recital programs, like the aforementioned “tanti affetti.” It is one of those 19th-century history-with-the-politics-taken-out operas – the story centers around a bunch of highlanders who are at war with James V of Scotland for reasons that are apparently unimportant; one of them, Ellen (Elena in Italian), is loved by both a highland chief named Rodrigo and this other guy who turns out to be James V; she prefers a mezzo named Malcolm, and it all turns out fine. I think Rodrigo dies, but that is probably not important either.

Two stray observations about the staging. One, I think they stole the patch of barren heath that represents Little Mankie or wherever the hell this takes place from their production of Parsifal. Either that or the Met has two big movable patches of grayish ground that can split open in the middle.  Two, during the first act when everyone is cheerfully celebrating the betrothal of Elena and Rodrigo that they assume will soon take place, Elena has to just sort of stand there looking agitated and twisting her hands together for quite a while – from the cheap seats, the stage direction gives the impression that Elena definitely doesn’t want to marry Rodrigo, and that additionally she really really has to pee.

Finally, one unexpected bonus was mezzo Daniela Barcellona as Malcolm. She got overpowered by the orchestra now and then, but the solo moments, both early on and in Malcolm’s last aria in Act II were impressive – committed acting and some very smooth and well-executed Rossini singing.

Today in things we are finally getting around to

In my case, watching Joyce DiDonato’s recent Carnegie Hall recital on medici.tv. I really like this live broadcast/archive thing that Carnegie Hall has started doing – it’s free to watch, for one thing (yay!) and it’s a bit of concert stress insurance: if they do this for the concerts I really reallycare about, I know that if something weird happens and I don’t make it to New York, I can still hear them.


There was a mild technical problem with the audio/video synch when I was watching this. The video was a few seconds ahead for most of the second half. Not a big deal, but mildly irritating (I was watching it on my iPad, which may or may not have made a difference).

No subtitles either, though the website has a list of the pieces and may or may not have the texts – I didn’t check, because I found I was interested enough in the music that I didn’t need to worry about the words I didn’t catch. Some of this material I had heard many times before, like the willow song from Rossini’s version of Othello, and several of the pieces are on a CD I have of a live recording of DiDonato giving a similar recital in London a few years ago. I will also agree with the New York times critic who notes that DiDonato’s singing is far more interesting than what she says when she pauses to talk about the music.

And what is it about Fauré songs? The past two or three reviews I have read of mezzos and sopranos who are not French singing Fauré have noted that the singer’s French diction is iffy. Is French really so much more difficult than English or German or Italian to get right? Perhaps the French have tricked us into thinking so. Certainly I never hear anyone say “his German is very . . . French” the way people say “her French is very . . . English.” Or maybe the “his/her French diction is bad” is a criticism that one can always make because no one is going to go out on a limb and defend the French of a non-French speaker. Or perhaps it is really the case that all of my favorite singers (except Natalie Dessay and Patricia Petibon for obvious reasons) are bad at French. Fair enough, I suppose. I can live with that.

Handel – Alcina / Carnegie Hall 10-26-14

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.)


Joyce DiDonato / Stella di Napoli

One of my fondest opera memories is of being at the Houston Grand Opera a little over two years ago to hear Joyce DiDonato in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. It’s one of those operas that I seek out more as a chance to hear specific performers than for the opera itself. In Houston, I remember being simply mesmerized listening to the way her voice could sail through all the little twists and turns of ornamentation in a way that was both technically a thrill to listen to and dramatically compelling. There were several moments where she made the vocal line stop, hang in the air, and then in the same breath moved it on in a different direction – it was stunning. This recording reminded me of that experience, and not just because there is a selection from Maria Stuarda on it (it’s the prayer scene from the finale).


Maria Stuarda / Met Opera 2013

I saw the live performance of this (twice!) and I was not sure what my reaction to the DVD would be.

vlcsnap-2014-05-18-21h23m12s1It’s a different experience seeing it from close up – and hearing the commentary. Elizabeth’s odd rolling gait was the director’s idea (the singer, Elza van den Heever, had initially gone for ‘royal’ but McVicar had other ideas), and according to Deborah Voigt, who does the interviews/introductions, the second act is supposed to take place ten years after the first. This was news to me. I don’t think there’s a ten year gap at any point during Schiller’s play – at least, I don’t remember one – and I had no idea there was supposed to be one in the opera. I don’t think it’s necessary; the drama, such as it is, works without it, and as far as structures for stories are concerned I’d rather have one seamless arc than two chunks with a hole in the middle. (Mary was involved in a series of plots in the 1580s before her execution in 1587 – maybe the idea is that those happened in the interim, making her innocence less obvious and changing the game a little post-confrontation scene? Maybe if I paid more attention to the libretto this would be obvious. Then again, Mary had been accused of all kinds of sketchy things even before the late 1570s (i.e. the end minus ten years) so I’m not sure that works either. This is probably one of those questions that is not worth pursuing.) But it does make some visual details of the second half easier to explain – the fact that Leicester’s hair and Cecil’s beard are grayer.

There was one thing that I suspected I would find slightly irritating close up on DVD: Mary’s constant trembling in the second half. I was right, although it wasn’t as distracting as I thought it might be. And besides, when DiDonato sings the way she does here, she can basically do whatever else she and the director want as far as visuals and I do not mind at all.

La Cenerentola / Metropolitan Opera 5-10-14

I have yet to attend one of Joyce DiDonato’s concerts or opera performances and not spend some portion of the program with a big stupid grin on my face. It took a while to get to the grin in this case, but it happened by the end.

I had never seen this opera before or heard it the whole way through – there are bits of it, like Cenerentola’s last aria, “Nacqui all’affanno e al pianto . . non più mesta” that are recital staples and which I have heard before, but that’s about it. It’s a bit different from the Cinderella story most of us read as as small children. There’s no fairy godmother or wicked stepmother. Rather, Cenerentola lives with her stepfather and his daughters, and her trip to the ball comes because an angel witnesses her kind-hearted nature and decides to cut her a break. There’s no time limit, no magic carriage, and no glass slipper. Rather, C and her prince have a pair of matching bracelets. Which I will admit is rather sweet. And it’s not the failure of the stepsisters to get their big feet into C’s missing Jimmy Choo that nixes their chances: it’s that they’re obviously not very nice people. In addition, Cenerentola falls for the prince when he is disguised as his own valet (long story) and the story makes clear that she loves him because he’s a nice guy, not because he’s a prince.


Mozart – La Clemenza di Tito / Lyric Opera of Chicago 3-14-14

This performance confirmed me in a few longstanding opinions and made me rethink a few others. The production, billed as “new to Chicago,” is by David McVicar and for me it slotted in neatly with my pre-existing constellation of opinions about this opera. The costumes – empire-style dresses for the women and late 18th-century (somewhere between 1790 and 1815?) suits for the men – evoked a sense of classical revival, which of course what this opera is in several different senses.


Massenet – Cendrillon / ROH 2011 (2)

(Previous section here.)

Cendrillon3Visually there is a gesture or two at Perrault’s seventeenth-century France – the ministers at court are dressed in wigs and suits that evoke the late 1600s. Some of the imagery is vaguely Victorian. In Act III, for instance, the prince and Cendrillon wander in search of one another not in a forest of trees but through a forest of rooftops and glowing chimneys. When she’s in her grimy rags, Cendrillon’s black boots and stripey tights are also imaginary-Victorian-urchin like.

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Massenet – Cendrillon / ROH 2011 (1)

Are there any head-banging Massenet fans left in the world? Or maybe that’s the wrong question. My experience of Massenet has been primarily as vehicle for mezzos – in this case, two of them, Joyce DiDonato (Cendrillon) and Alice Coote (Prince Charming). But a few others too. I encountered Massenet for the first time twice, once on Magdalena Kožená’s French Arias recording in about 2003, which contains selections from Cléopatre, Don Quichotte and Cendrillon. It was not until some time later that I realized that Massenet was also responsible for the “Meditation from Thaïs” that my violin teacher and I had mutually inflicted on one another ten years previously. I say mutually because she assigned it to me – but then she also had to sit there and listen while I played it. I didn’t know then what it was about, and since there was no such thing as the internet in 1993 I didn’t find out until later. This is not one of those anecdotes that goes anywhere.

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Just finished listening to that CD of baroque laments by Haïm and company. It’s a series of little pieces for solo voice and chamber accompaniment, with one or two ensembles, performed by a variety of singers with Le Concert d’Astrée It begins and ends with Rolando Villazón, which strikes me as unfair, since if someone is going to get two solo turns, I’d rather it be Jaroussky, or DiDonato, or Lemieux or Gens or Lehtipuu. I have no quarrel in any deep way with Rolando Villazón. I am merely pointing out that even within the constraints of this particular recording there are other options.

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Vivaldi – Ercole sul Termodonte

20130610-205337.jpg When I first saw the title of this opera out of the corner of my eye, my brain read ‘Ercole sul Termodonte’ as ‘school on top of something that might have to do with baths.’ This did not seem like an extraordinarily winning concept for an opera. Fortunately ‘ercole’ is not the Italian word for school. It is the Italian word for Hercules. And while ‘terme’ is the Italian word for a spa or Roman-style public bath, Termodonte is something rather different. It is a type of dinosaur prone to sticking its head into hot springs; the name means “thermal-toothed” the place where the Amazons live.

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The question now is, what do I do with the DVD?

I am still not exactly sure why, but I watched the DVD of the Met’s ‘baroque pastiche’ The Enchanted Island over the weekend. I saw this live way back when, primarily because Joyce DiDonato was in it, and my stance as far as she is concerned is that if there is a thing she is in and I am in the general vicinity of the thing, I am going to buy tickets. Sometimes even if I am not in the general vicinity of the thing, I will make arrangements to be in its vicinity at the appropriate time, and I will buy tickets.

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Handel – Hercules / Opéra National de Paris 2004 (3)

(Previous section here.)

And then there’s all the sand and the fruit. The action in this production takes place in a large, dark, cell-like concrete space. Sometimes there is a set of big square steps to the left; at times, during Dejanira’s “Cease, ruler of the day, to rise” aria at the end of Act II and when Hercules is dying, we see sunlight through an opening. Otherwise, things are dark.

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Handel – Hercules / Opéra National de Paris 2004 (2)

(Previous section here.)

The key item in this production is probably the black marble statue of Hercules that we see in pieces throughout, and then whole at the end. It’s one of the first things to appear on the stage. In Act I, as Lichas (Malena Ernman, who has a lovely big solid voice) explains what is going on, she lifts up the billowy dark front curtain to reveal the despondent Dejanira (DiDonato), who is curled up on a few pillows on the floor with a row of pieces of fruit by her feet and her head and arms resting on the head of the statue.

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Handel – Hercules / Opéra National de Paris 2004 (1)

JDDHerculesThis musical drama is a little bit like Handel’s Semele. It’s in English, it’s based on a story from classical mythology, and the chorus sees a little more action than it does in many of Handel’s Italian operas. Apparently it was a gigantic flop the first time it was performed. Too bad they didn’t have Joyce DiDonato around back in the 1740s. (Though I give you, that would have been a little confusing. “The mezzo is from where?”)

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“Cold is God’s way of telling us to burn more Catholics” / Maria Stuarda – Metropolitan Opera 1-19-13

You know the prayer scene in the second half of this opera? Every time I see it, I always end up wondering, who are all these people? If they’re supposed to be Elizabeth’s courtiers and they all think that Mary Stuart is really great, I begin to see William Cecil’s point, if you know what I mean.

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