Joyce DiDonato

Joyce DiDonato with Il Complesso Barocco

Drama-queens-joyce-didonato* Notes * 
Last night Joyce DiDonato (pictured left, photograph by Josef Fischnaller) performed with Il Complesso Barocco at the Green Music Center in Sonoma County. The performance is part of DiDonato's "Drama Queens" tour, which involves a program of Baroque arias in Italian. Beginning with Antonio Cesti's "Intorno all'idol mio" from Orontea, it was evident how dramatic and expressive DiDonato's voice is. The high-spirited ensemble also had a great deal of energy, as seen and heard to best effect during Vivaldi's Concerto for violin and strings RV 242, known as "per Pisendel." Director and violinist Dmitry Sinkovsky seemed quite cheerful and everyone playing was fully engaged in creating music.

The high point of the evening was certainly "Disprezzata regina" from L'incoronazione di Poppea. DiDonato gave a theatrical, compelling account of Ottavia's anguish, her voice shows a lot of nuance and range of emotion. The second half of the concert paired two arias for Cleopatra, first Hasse's "Morte, col fiero aspetto," followed by Händel's "Piangerò la sorte mia." DiDonato sang with a gorgeous pianissimo in "Madre diletta" by Zeno.

The three encores were "Lasciami piangere," "Col versar, barbaro, il sangue," and "Brilla nell'alma." DiDonato spoke before each one, approving of the new hall and joking about how it was nice to sing in the Bay Area in a dress, which has not happened in a long time.

* Tattling * 
The audience was quiet but enthused. The modular Vivienne Westwood gown made especially for DiDonato's tour was much admired.

Joyce DiDonato Interview

Joyce-DiDonato_credit_Sheila-RockMezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (pictured left, photograph by Sheila Rock) is midway through a tour with Il Complesso Barocco. Their last stop in the United States is tonight at the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.

How did you get interested in opera?
I was studying Music Education in college, and could get a bit more scholarship money if I joined the opera, so I did. And I was hooked immediately. It was the marriage of everything I love: music, theater, emotion, physicality, intelligence. It requires everything that I am.

Your repertoire includes a lot of Baroque and Bel Canto roles. Is this different from working on new music like Dead Man Walking, or something like The Enchanted Island?
I don't actually see it as separate or different - to me it is all story telling. The structure is sometimes different, but the premise is the same. One thing I love about Baroque and Bel Canto roles, however, is the ability to ornament the vocal line, which provides a tremendous amount of freedom and liberation, allowing me to put a very individual stamp onto the role.

Was it stressful to be filmed in HD for the Met simulcast?
It was thrilling, but just a tad nerve-wracking, knowing that so many people are watching a live performance around the globe. However, the idea that opera can reach so many people at once far outweighs any nerves on my end. It is a tremendous undertaking!

How was singing in Bellini'’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi?
It is a role that I love deeply, for his youth, ardor, passion, and confusion ~ it is such a joy to play such extreme emotions. But it was also an absolute joy to play this piece with Nicole Cabell, who made a divine Giulietta. This is an opera that turns on the chemistry between to the two singers, and to find such a glorious singer and committed performer in Nicole was a real joy.

How did the CD Drama Queens come together?
I knew that I wanted to return to the Baroque world for my next disc, and the idea of the strong, powerful female prima donnas of that period really attracted me. They are larger than life, and I think brought out the very best in the composers who were inspired by the Royal ways. Without knowing which exact arias I wanted to sing, I started with the idea of the roles of Cleopatra and Octavia. At 3:00 am one night, I woke up out of a deep sleep thinking "DRAMA QUEENS" - and the idea was born.

What roles are you looking forward to most?
I'm very excited to revisit Maria Stuarda for the second time at the Metropolitan Opera this winter. The Met has never done the opera before, so it is a great privilege to bring this iconic role to such a storied theater for the first time.

Who do you look up to as far as musicians are concerned?
My greatest idol has always been Frederica von Stade - she is one of the greatest singers I know, who exudes buckets of generosity and sincerity on the stage, and has always been the model for how I have wished to build my career. Another favorite singer is Ella Fitzgerald.

You are an amateur photographer. What camera do you use? What do you like to photograph?
I use a Canon and love to photograph whatever I see: landscape, architecture, candid shots, backstage - anything that falls into my line of sight!

How did you start blogging and tweeting?
When I first started my website I wanted it to include a kind of journal (this was before "blog" was even a word!) It has morphed into a real dialogue with my fans, which is something quite special.

What sort of yoga do you do?
I love Hatha and Ashtanga yoga.

SF Opera's I Capuleti e i Montecchi

Capuleti-montecchi-sfopera* Notes * 
A new production of I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Act I Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera on Saturday. Conductor Riccardo Frizza had the orchestra sounding rather jaunty. The horn, clarinet, harp, and cello all gave solid performances. There were moments when the orchestra was much louder than the singers, but it seems that the stage direction is more at fault than the conductor or musicians.

This co-production with Bavarian State Opera, directed by Vincent Boussard, features a spare, stylish set designed by Vincent Lemaire. Unfortunately, the opera calls for three different scenes in each of its two acts, and the set had to be inelegantly rearranged simply bringing the curtain down in-between each change. This gives audience members a chance to chat or check their electronic devices, and this inevitably bleeds into the actual performance.

As for the set itself, the gleaming black floor is sleek, but often squeaks as people move across it. The metal stairs of Act I Scene 3 and Act II Scene 1 keep certain singers too far upstage to be heard well. Having supernumeraries parade in stilettos up and down these stairs is also noisy. Christian Lacroix's gowns are bold, often bright, confections. The lighting design, by Guido Levi, is stark and dramatic, and works nicely with the abstract images on the various walls. The surrealistic details of the production involving saddles, flowers, sculptures, and even a sink were confusing to the audience.

Eric Owens made for an authoritative Capellio. Ao Li made the most of the small part of Lorenzo. The role of Tebaldo seemed quite difficult, and Saimir Pirgu sounded powerful but choppy. He did clearly portray anger in his early scenes and sorrow in Act II Scene 2.

The stars of the show were clearly Joyce DiDonato (Romeo) and Nicole Cabell (Giulietta). DiDonato has a warm, resonant voice, and sang with a beautiful fluidity and a notable ease. Cabell's voice is brilliant and flexible, but seemed anchored and precise. The final duet between the two leads was both devastating and stunning.

* Tattling * 
A couple of women and their daughters in the balcony, Row J Seats 106 to 112, were the picture of bad-behavior. Not only did they take photographs of the performance, they talked, posted to Instagram and Facebook, and texted all evening long.

Alexander String Quartet's 30th Anniversary


* Notes * 
The Alexander String Quartet (pictured left with Jake Heggie and Joyce DiDonato, photograph by Brian Byrne) celebrated 30 years with a new commission presented by San Francisco Performances. Yesterday's performance at Herbst Theatre began with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato singing Hahn's Venezia, accompanied by Jake Heggie on piano. DiDonato sang these evocative songs with a beautiful legato line. Alexander String Quartet took the stage next with Debussy's String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10 (1893). The playing was balanced, and second movement Scherzo was especially charming.

After the intermission came the world premiere of Jake Heggie's Camille Claudel: Into the Fire, for mezzo-soprano and string quartet. The music was pretty and often wistful. DiDonato enunciated clearly and was clearly moved by the songs. The fifth song, The Gossips, was, for this listener, most striking. The quartet played all together here, and the rhythms were attractive. The encore was Richard Strauss' "Morgen!" with DiDonato accompanied by not only the string quartet, but by Heggie on piano again.

* Tattling * 
Members of the audience only occasionally whispered, most were quiet. I seemed to be seated next to the music historian-in-residence of San Francisco Performances and his date. It was entertaining to hear exchanges between the former and his various friends. At one point Italian was spoken, and this ended with someone saying "Spaghetti!" and someone else responding "Meatball!"

Enchanted Island Live in HD Met Simulcast


 * Notes *
The Metropolatian Opera's new Baroque pastiche, The Enchanted Island, was shown as a simulcast yesterday. The English libretto, created by Jeremy Sams, uses characters from Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream and The Tempest. "Arise, ye subterranean winds" from The Tempest, or, The Enchanted Island, which has been attributed to Purcell, was the only piece from this work. The score starts off with the overture from Alcina, and employs 26 other pieces by Händel, the majority of these from his operas and oratorios. The rest of the music is mostly Vivaldi and Rameau. Arias from André Campra's Idoménée and Jean-Marie Leclair's Scylla et Glaucus were included, along with dance music from Jean-Féry Rebel's Les Éléments, and a cantata from Giovanni Battista Ferrandini. It was a rather entertaining spectacle, and the music held together fairly well. I was disoriented at times by pieces I knew, as they had such different texts, but it was not unpleasant as much as vaguely dizzying.

Phelim McDermott's production has a lot of charm, in no small part because of the detailed set by Julian Crouch. The proscenium reminded me of H. R. Giger or Steampunk, and some of the projections used were rather ornate. Though some of the trees and roots looked inelegantly bulbous, overall, the aesthetic sense was consistent and attractive.

The orchestra sounded clean and speedy under William Christie. There were times when the singers were slightly behind. The quartet "Days of pleasure, nights of love" in Act I sounded somewhat chaotic, though all the singers had lovely voices. Luca Pisaroni made for a light, reedy Caliban, his lightly accented English was perfectly comprehensible. Plácido Domingo made two stunning entrances as Neptune, but his diction was less than clear. Anthony Roth Costanzo's Ferdinand sounded bright and winsome. Lisette Oropesa's Miranda was likewise pretty and mincing. Danielle de Niese acted Ariel with utter conviction, sprightly and breathy. David Daniels was strong as Prospero, and seemed as robust as ever. Joyce DiDonato (pictured above, photograph by Ken Howard) was splendid as Sycorax, her voice nimble, but she seemed unafraid to create ugly sounds when necessary.

* Tattling *
The placement of one of the microphones picked up the sound of objects striking the stage all too clearly on at least three occasions.

The Barber of Seville at LA Opera

Barber-of-seville-laopera * Notes * 
Last Sunday Il Barbiere di Siviglia opened in a matinée performance at Los Angeles Opera. The orchestra sounded unfocused under Michele Mariotti, often not with the singers. As Fiorello, José Adán Pérez sounded fine, as did Kerri Marcinko (Berta). Andrea Silvestrelli was an amusing Don Basilio, his throaty, resonant tones were spot on. Bruno Praticò looked and acted convincingly as Doctor Bartolo, but could not always be heard over the orchestra. both lacking heft and fullness.

Nathan Gunn (Figaro) moved so well, and he really has the physicality to pull off the humorous choreography in this production. His voice seemed just a little thin, especially for a baritone. Juan Diego Flórez was perfectly sweet as the Count, never straining. He started off slightly quiet, but seemed to warm up as the afternoon progressed. On the contrary, Joyce DiDonato (Rosina) was wonderful from the beginning. Full of sass, she sang with a gorgeous ease and good volume, but not overwhelming anyone else.

Emilio Sagi's production, directed by Javier Ulacia, was certainly informed by The Wizard of Oz, starting off monochrome and ending in lurid colors. The scenic design, from Llorenç Corbella, was perhaps overly precious. It was all terribly cute, especially Doctor Bartolo's tiny dog.

* Tattling * 
Everyone on the left side of Handrail Obstructed Balcony B was quiet, no talking, hardly any whispering. Unfortunately there was talking from the center, and of course, cellular phones rang during Act II, some more than once, even though we had all been reminded to turn off our electronic devices.