United States Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano), David Zobel (piano), Carnegie Hall, New York City. 11.4.2014 (RDA)
On November 4, for the first time in its history, Medici TV (www.medici.tv) broadcast a live concert from Carnegie Hall: a recital by the American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, accompanied by David Zobel at the piano. The quality of the broadcast—both in image and sound—was impeccable, and the recital itself a colorful one, in which Ms. DiDonato had lots of fun performing a number of salon pieces in Italian and French, both languages in which she sounds idiomatically comfortable.
She opened the evening with two arias from Antonio Vivaldi’s Ercole sul Termodonte. “Onde chiare che sussurate” is a sustained description of nature in stillness, with plenty of measured trills and even divisions, which she capped with a couple of nicely-delivered high notes that could be the envy of many a lyric soprano. From the same opera, “Amato ben” allowed her to display her knack for imaginatively embellishing the dacapo passages of this or any Baroque aria.
The intoxicating languor of Cinq Mélodies de Venise is not material usually associated with DiDonato’s Italianate sound and Rossinian agility, so it was all the more surprising and revelatory that she inhabited this world with complete ease. The mezzo-soprano even reined in her customary fast vibrato to better navigate the textual subtleties of Verlaine’s poetry and the delicate music of Gabriel Fauré. Playful in “Mandoline” and “Green,” subtle in “En sourdine” and “À Clymène,” impassioned and sensual in “C’est l’extase”—all-American DiDonato is authoritative and convincing, sounding for all the world like the most Gallic of French recitalists.
Rossini’s three-song ditty, La regatta veneziana is one of the many gems the composer penned after retiring from the stage before the age of forty. He called these and many other voice and piano pieces Péchés de vieillesse (“Sins of Old Age”), and they have long belonged to the mezzo-soprano recital repertory. In them the eponymous “Anzoleta” sings before, during and after a Venetian boat race in a down-home Venetian dialect, which calls for agility, declamatory flair and above all, personality—all three qualities which DiDonato delivers in spades.
Throughout the recital, pianist David Zobel was a wonderful partner, not merely an accompanist, supporting the singer with weight when sonority was called for and with elegance and delicacy at times when musical sleight-of-hand was in order.
With Desdemona’s scena from Rossini’s Otello. Ms. DiDonato got down to serious business. In “Assisa a piè d’un salice,” her instinct for what the Italians call la parola scenica served both music and drama. This singer has risen to a position of preeminence among interpreters of the Rossini repertory because she is smart, musical, vocally supple and has a sharp instinct for the stage.
DiDonato next returned with three rare songs by British composer Michael Head, Three Songs of Venice, which on first hearing sounded charming and worthy of return visits. The same could be said about the somewhat better known Reynaldo Hahn, whose Venezia is a delightful five-song homage to Italy’s most is sung-about city.
Though she looked ravishingly beautiful and elegant in her red concert gown, DiDonato managed to be down-to-earth throughout and earnestly communicative with the fans who packed Carnegie Hall. After an ovation at the end of the generous evening, she returned the love with two splendid encores: Rossini’s “Canzonetta Spagnuola” and Ernesto de Curtis’s “Nonti scodar di me.”
Rafael de Acha