Arianna a Naxos – rec: Teseo mio ben; aria: Dove sei, mio ben Tesoro? and rec: Ma, a chi parlo?; aria: Ah! Che morir vorrei?
Johann Adolph Hasse
Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra – Morte col fiero aspetto
Giulio Cesare in Egitto – É Pur così in un giorno… Piangerò la sorte mia
Les Troyens – Ah!, Ah!, Je vais mourir… Adieu fière cité
Caro mio ben [arr. Craig Terry]
Alessandro Parisotti & Salvatore Rosa
Se tu m’ami/Star Vicino
Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington
(In My) Solitude [arr. Craig Terry]
La Vie en Rose [arr. Craig Terry]
Joyce DiDonato (mezzo soprano) & Craig Terry (piano)
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: 26 October, 2021
Venue: The Hall, Barbican Centre, London
It is not just for her beautiful voice, astonishing technique and dramatic sensibility that Joyce DiDonato has such a major following around the world, although all those qualities were in abundance here. It is surely also her engaging personality, generosity, eloquence, and her seriousness of intent, allied to sharp wit and intelligence. She has that habit of drawing an audience in. She creates ‘atmosphere’. This was evident from the start – almost a jolt from the sense of expectation into a spot-lit Grand scena encapsulation of Arianna’s desolation and gradual awareness of her desertion on Naxos and her betrayal by Theseus as realised by Haydn. Craig Terry, making his Barbican debut as DiDonato later revealed, provided a cool classical introduction of the dramatic recitative that starts this monodrama, and then sparks flew. The variations of mood and emotion experienced by Arianna were minutely chartered by both in a breath-taking performance (literally, as we all sat masked).
DiDonato spoke – movingly – of life as an artist and an audience member during the pandemic period, particularly praising the managements of venues and their staffs, the artist agencies working so hard to keep the flame alight and adapting to novel technological methods of delivery. This recital was to be different – no microphones, no phone cameras, no viewing of a flat screen and listening to digitally reproduced sound. We had to relish the thrill of moment, of being there, seize the hours and go with her and Terry on their journey, back to our true nature and to nature. And we were at Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder – sung in a way that contrasted extraordinarily with the Haydn in that it sounded so expressionist and exploratory – DiDonato using all the colours of her various registers allying this with extraordinary control of both vibrato and dynamic in service of the texts. Risks were taken too. Terry was her equal; the opening of the second song ‘Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft’ was given an astonishingly airy introduction whereupon DiDonato brought a tinge of bitterness to the sentiment expressed.
The second half opened with two contrasting Baroque realisations of Cleopatra at the time of her impending suicide, both allowing DiDonato to display her formidable coloratura technique in extracting the most from this type of music, and again with a fine sense of theatricality. Then she really let rip with Berlioz’s Dido at a similar juncture in her tragedy – this was as operatic as we could get without a full staging. One then realised how the paths of these noble ladies follow a similar trajectory of betrayal and respond so individually. Great programming.
For the rest of the evening, we were in lighter and more whimsical territory. DiDonato explained the origins of the arias for teaching that Terry had created revised versions. This included a vividly enacted description of how singers might approach a first lesson on their path assuming they were the next Callas until nerves and self-doubt took over. Terry’s arrangements proved to be comic classics allowing DiDonato’s impish and self-mocking diva humour to come right to the fore, aided by his own ‘knowing’ virtuosity. But the wit belied the quality of the singing. Giordani’s Caro mio ben started off classically, moved into the realms of a cabaret song and culminated in bluesy bravura. Luoisguy’s La Vie en Rose completing the quartet of songs felt like a demonstration of what might have happened had Callas sung cabaret – with an extensive bel-canto mock-cadenza full of sonorous chest notes and dazzling forays into the stratosphere at the coda.
As encores we had a ‘post-teaching’ performance of a singer essaying ‘her first’ Cherubino – nice touch that – and then some rousing Berlin and a wistful yet optimistic ‘Over the rainbow’ to send the company home happy. How lovely this treasure of a recital must remain solely in the memory.