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Joyce DiDonato at Wigmore Hall 2006-2008

La regata veneziana
Head – Songs of Venice
FaureCinq melodies de Venise Op 58
HahnVenezia: chansons en dialecte venetien

Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano) Julius Drake (piano)
BBC Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall 16 January 2006

Radio 3 presenter Stephanie Hughes began with a New Year greeting, and there was indeed a festive buzz in the Wigmore Hall, packed to its seams with an expectant audience and joined no doubt by many thousands more listening on radio or via the internet. No surprise that the pleasures of Venice should prove a powerful lure on a wet January afternoon, but it was the prospect of being transported there by the voice of Joyce DiDonato that provided the real excitement.

She has been delighting Covent Garden audiences with her Rosina during recent weeks, and Rossini was her opening choice. La regatta veneziana is a late piece, intended for private performance within the composer's circle of friends, a 3-song miniature dramatisation of a gondola race seen through the eyes of Anzoleta. She encourages her gondolier lover before the race with a mock heroic aria, follows with a frenzied commentary on the race itself and rounds off with a gleeful celebration and elated cry of ti puo star. Not only did we get all the virtuoso trimmings, but also a full range of expressions and gestures aptly capturing the parody of the piece.

Michael Head's Songs of Ve nice don't turn up too often in recitals. They were written in the last year of the composer's life and are set to three poems by Nancy Bush, entitled The Gondolier, St Mark's Square and Rain Storm. At first glance they are straightforward word paintings, but Head has converted them into rather attractive musical vignettes: the gondolier calls out “Ohe, Ohe, Ohe” which is echoed back very neatly, and DiDonato made much of the “shower of pigeons which arch over the rooftops”, projecting their imagined flight up into the arched roof of Wigmore Hall.

Back to more familiar ground with Faure's Cinq melodies de Venise which are the musical equivalent of the holiday postcards written after the traveller has returned home. Nonetheless there is a luminous quality to the music highly evocative of the city, and they were delivered with languorous perfection.

Reynaldo Hahn's six Venezia pieces completed the advertised programme. Their jaunty tone suits the slightly guttural nature of the Veneto dialect and whilst Joyce DiDonato did not miss a single snappy consonant, Julian Drake's piano sent the water rippling by with a sparkle. The long flowing lines of the final poem ended in a rich crescendo and resounding applause.

There were further treats in store for the audience in the hall, contrasting coloratura arias by Handel and Rossini, tossed out with bravura and breathtaking virtuosity.

A splendid concert and one that showed off every facet of this delightful singer's voice. The audience was asked to disperse quickly before a ‘patching' session - as well as the Radio 3 broadcast, the recital was destined for future release on the admirable “Wigmore Hall Live” series. Certainly a CD I shan't want to miss.

Serena Fenwick


Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano)
& Julius Drake (piano)

Georges Bizet: Ouvre ton coeur : Douce mer : Pastorale : Chanson d’avril : Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe
Gioachino Rossini: Giovanna d'Arco
Enrique Granados: Elegia eterna : La maja dolorosa I : La maja dolorosa II : La maja dolorosa III : No lloréis ojuelos
Manuel de Falla: 7 canciones populares españolas
Xavier Montsalvatge: Cuba dentro de un piano from 'Cinco canciones negras' : Punto de Habanera from 'Cinco canciones negras' : Canto negro from 'Cinco canciones negras'

Wigmore Hall 29 March 2007

Joyce DiDonato holds an audience in the palm of her hand, and was on her reliable top form at Wigmore Hall, where her 2006 lunchtime recital has deservedly become one of Wigmore Live's best seller CDs.

She effuses pleasure in singing and in the company of a hall full of knowledgeable and responsive song-fanciers. This recital, which she is touring extensively in America and Europe, showcases her new CD of Spanish folkloristic song, for which the signing ritual afterwards was set up.

The first half explored the slender song output of Bizet, some of them cobbled together posthumously from other works by his publisher. My attention was often riveted on the sophistication of Julius Drake's playing, especially in relatively simple pieces like Bizet's Ouvre ton coeur (the accompaniment not even the composer's own) and in the unpianistic Rossini scena, a coloratura soprano's showpiece; his timing and voicing of chords perfectly in tune with his partner. She finished (as too in that CD) with a Rossini encore, here Rosina's Una Voce Poco Fa to remind us of her triumph at Covent Garden.

From Joyce DiDonato's notes it is interesting to read that before hearing a song of Obradors (1897-1945), which captivated her a mere fifteen years ago, the Spanish repertoire had been marginalised "on a very low, unattended shelf"; that moment determined the future star's concert career, instead of her settling to become a high school teacher.

So perhaps she can be excused for (so far) exploring only the well trodden path of these easy-to-like folkloristic composers; let us hope that marketing prerogatives don't prevent her extending her interest to later music by the still-too-little-known revolutionary Generation of '51 (Luis de Pablo pictured in Madrid with PGW; snap found in a copy of Marco's Spanish Music in the Twentieth Century) and their younger successors.

These composers have created a fount of music which remains infrequently performed in England. The greatest musicians - and DiDonato is established as one of those - can be hugely influential in extending the 'canon'; let us hope DiDonato will bring us a more adventurous programme next time?

Peter Grahame Woolf


Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano) & David Zobel (piano)

Vivaldi Col piacer della mia fede from Arsilda, Regina di Ponto; Vedro con mio diletto from Il giustino; Da quel ferro che ha svenato from Il Farnace
Chausson Hébé; Sérénade; Le colibri; Les papillons Turina Poema en forma de canciones
/Emily Dickinson: Nature, the gentlest mother; There came a wind like a bugle; Why do they shut me out of heaven?;
The world feels dusty; Dear March, come in!; Sleep is supposed to be; Going to heaven; The chariot;
The Man I Love; By Strauss (arr. James Lowe)
R. Strauss The Composer's aria from Ariadne;
Handel Ombra ma fui
Arlen/Garland 'Somewhere over the rainbow'

Wigmore Hall, 6 September 2008

In London for her debut as Donna Elvira at Covent Garden tonight 8 September, Joyce DiDonato opened the Wigmore Hall's 2008/2009 season with a keenly anticipated reappearance, having so impressed at previous recitals there. She sang very well again but the evening was a disappointment, mainly because of the repertoire chosen.

Chausson is surely the least interesting of the famous French song composers of the period, and her Copland selection (eight of his twelve Dickinson settings) disappointed too. DiDonato seemed to think London was not ready for the whole set (" - - I have done a recording of Copland's Dickinson songs - - not necessarily easy for an audience - - a very distinctive sentiment which not everyone likes - - as an American, I feel a real sense of pride - - my musical language, my heritage - - a good opportunity to bring them in person - - knowing that that's demanding on the audience - - etc [Musical Criticism]). This was strange, because the set of twelve are well established in the UK song repertoire (e.g. Karina Lucas & Simon Lane PLGYA2007).

Pending a hearing of DiDonato's Copland recording [Eloquentia “The Deepest Desire” - which has gained good reviews] I have to say that last night's rendering of American poems by an American singer in perfect Queen's English (leesure for leisure was the only clue to her nationality) made less than the expected effect, and sent us back over breakfast to the lovely Roberta Alexander/Roger Vignoles recording, with crystalline clarity and focus in the piano score [ETCETERA KTC 1100].

One problem seemed to lie with the French accompanist/repetitur David Zobel, whose playing was rather generalised, and anachronistic for Vivaldi and Handel, the opener and last encore. The Wigmore Hall audience were delighted in Gershwin's By Strauss by their witty confusion with "the other Strauss"; for many, I'm sure, the highlight of the evening.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Another response to the recital from our contributor Nina Drucker, who almost lives at Wigmore Hall and spurns modern technology: "Spot on tone,admirably hitting the centre of each note" -

Recommended recording by Joyce DiDonato & Julius Drake:A journey through Venice: Songs by Faure, Hahn and Head, Arias by Rossini and Handel WHLIVE 0009

See also Musical Pointers reviews of Joyce DiDonato in Il barbiere di Siviglia and Hercules (Live & on DVD)

And reviews of Joyce DiDonato as Elvira in Guardian, Classical Source and The Stage 'Joyce DiDonato adjusts her honeyed bel canto mezzo to project the desperation of a Donna Elvira costumed to resemble Miss Havisham.'