JOYCE DIDONATO Diva, Divo
La tremenda ultrice spada
BERLIOZ Le damnation de Faust – D’amour l’ardente flame; Roméo et Juliette – Premiers transports
GLUCK La clemenza di Tito – Se mai senti
GOUNOD Faust – Faites-lui mes aveux
MASSENET Ariane – Ô frêle corps… Chère Cypris; Cendrillon – Allez, laissez-moi seul… Coeur sans amour; Chérubin – Je suis gris! Je suis livre!
MOZART La clemenza
di Tito – Ecco il punto, oh Vitellia… Non più di fiori; Le nozze di Figaro – Giunse
alfin il momento; Deh veni, non tardar; Voi che sapete
ROSSINI Il barbiere di Siviglia – Contro un cor; La Cenerentola – Nacqui all’affano e
R STRAUSS Ariadne auf Naxos – Seien wir wider gut!
Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano),
Orchestre et Choeur de l’Opéra National de Lyon / Kazuko Ono.
Virgin Classics 641986 0 6
From literally the first note – an ecstatic F sharp over an arresting harmony (the submediant in A major), which launches ‘Je suis gris!’ (‘I am tipsy’) from Massenet’s Chérubin – this disc is a joy.
It doesn’t take long to realize that its title, Diva, Divo, is not just a label for what a mezzo would sing anyway, what with all the trouser and castrato roles, but rather supplies an arresting organizational principle. The arias come in pairs – each pair incorporating both a male and a female role taken from two different yet related operas – as I caught on (no great feat) during the second such grouping, ‘Se mai senti’ from Gluck’s La clemenza di Tito (a
great choice, which may sound familiar because its music was reused
in Iphigénie en Tauride) and ‘Ecco il punto, oh Vitellia… Non più di fiori’ from Mozart’s opera of the same title. Neither text appears in the other opera, yet the arias perfectly complement each other. In the first young Sesto, in long phrases compellingly spun out by DiDonato, prepares to be executed for a crime his lover Vitellia induced him to commit; in the second Vitellia expresses deep remorse in a scene that, as DiDonato’s vivid performance makes unmistakable, is charged with terror and pity.
DiDonato excitingly captures the manic and dreamy sides of the Komponist’s discourse on music (Ariadne auf Naxos), but what to
pair it with? How about the title character’s soliloquy from
Massenet’s Ariane, which draws on the composer’s special skill in depicting female loneliness? This damsel has more to worry about
than Strauss’s heroine because the part-man, part-bull Minotaur is on the loose; accordingly, she directs a haunting prayer, exquisitely sung, to Aphrodite.
If the disc bogs down at all, it is when two long and slow Berlioz arias (not part of a pairing) happen to appear consecutively – ‘D’amour l’ardente flamme’ (La damnation de Faust) and ‘Premiers transports’ (Roméo et Juliette). DiDonato sings them beautifully – indeed the luminous voice sounds splendid in everything she sings – but we’re still happy when the dramatic temperature rises with Romeo’s double aria from Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. DiDonato delivers its aggressive cabaletta with strong attacks and a solid lower range that allows the coda’s vengeful phrase “Ma su voi ricada il sangue” to tell.
On the other hand, for beguiling simplicity, you can’t beat her serene accounts of two Figaro arias: ‘Deh vieni non tardar’ and ‘Voi che sapete.’ Her lively, dramatically charged singing in Siébel’s aria (Gounod’s Faust) cannot go unmentioned. And the ‘Lesson Aria’ from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia brings unexpected pleasures, its trills, staccati and runs demonstrating that the singer learned her lessons impeccably. She ends the cabaletta with a stylistically ill-placed cadenza, but in this context it is part of the fun. More troubling is the big ritard and fermata at the end of her brilliantly sung ‘Non più mesta’ (La Cenerentola). If singers of DiDonato’s caliber don’t set an example in ridding us of such unwelcome ‘traditions,’ who will?
Still, this disc documents a major artist at the height of her powers and can hardly be recommended too warmly.