This is Joyce DiDonato singing Mi tradi from Don Giovanni in a production from the Royal Opera House. I love the idea of having Donna Anna and Zerlina there, less keen on her costume (she looks like she’s wearing a towel!)
Some genius got hold of two videos of Joyce DiDonato singing different roles in Maria Stuarda and edited them to go together and this is the glorious result.
Ages ago, I went to my third ever Met HD broadcast, of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. This was the first time this opera has ever been performed at the Met. I can’t help but feel that this is a fairly big omission from their repertoire. Donizetti is underrated, in my opinion.
Anyway, back to the performance itself. Joyce DiDonato (in the title role) was spectacular, but I feel that equal credit should go to Elza van den Heever as Queen Elizabeth, Matthew Polenzani as Leicester and the composer himself for making me enjoy it so much. Nobody in the cast was significantly better than the others, but they were all wonderful and together they made the performance outstanding.
The production was very good – it created the right atmosphere without interfering too much with the singing and acting. In terms of directing, all was well apart from the whole Queen-Elizabeth-walking-around-like-an-old-woman thing which didn’t work for me; it felt very over-emphasised. But maybe I just want to say that just for the sake of saying something negative.
This is the great saga of my visit to London last night. A warning: most of this will be fangirling and waffling, of the strange variety.
So, I left school early (awesome thing number 1), at 4:30, on Wednesday afternoon and went to the station to get a train to London (awesome things number 2 and 3), accompanied by my dad. On arrival in London, we went from the station to the Barbican using the Underground (which I find both exciting and slightly terrifying). When we got to the Barbican, the concert was just about to begin. So we took our seats and waited for it to start. At half past seven, when it was meant to begin, there was still no sign of anything happening. Finally, at twenty five minutes to eight. Il Complesso Barocco (awesome thing number 4) came onstage, followed immediately afterwards by Joyce DiDonato (awesome thing number 5). Cue huge applause from the audience.
The concert began with Intorno all’idol mio, from an opera called Orontea, by Antonio Cesti. It was very well performed but the aria itself is not particularly outstanding. It was followed by the ensemble performing the Sinfonia from Tolomeo ed Alessandro by Scarlatti. This was, again, very well played and nice enough to listen to, but not really any more than that. Then Joyce got up from the chair she had been sitting on during the Scarlatti piece in order to sing her next number: Disprezzata regina, from L’incoranazione di Poppea by Monteverdi. This, I felt, was where the concert really got going and transformed into something spectacular. This aria was magnificently queenly and dramatic. The next one, Sposa, son disprezzata, from Merope by Geminiano Giacomelli, was even more so. Then she took a break and Il Complesso Barocco took centre stage once more, for a concerto for violin and strings by Vivaldi. This was the moment when it became totally clear that they were not just there to accompany Joyce. They were every bit as much a part of the music as she was, right from the beginning. But in this piece, they really showed what they could do by themselves. Dmitry Sinkovsky, the lead violinist, was especially impressive (awesome thing number 6). As someone who has been attempting to learn how to make a violin produce a sound that does not make people run away screaming for the last 3 and a half years, I can vouch for the fact that he was seriously good. He played ridiculously fast and confidently and the rest of the ensemble easily kept up to his level. Joyce came back on stage for the final piece in the first half: Da torbida procella from Berenice by Giuseppe Orlandini. This was one of those cheerful, fast, I’m-in-love Baroque arias and she moved around the stage a bit as she sang it. It rounded off the first half of the concert very nicely.
During the interval, I went and bought some (not very nice) coffee because I had had to get up at 7 that morning and it was a loooong day. Then we went back to our seats and waited for the second half to begin. The concert was held in the Barbican (awesome thing number 7) and the concert hall is one of the nicest I’ve ever been in (I went there once before for an orchestral concert – the London Symphony Orhestra performing Bruckner 6). It’s a very nice, big, airy space with a modern wooden design.
When Joyce came back on stage for the second half, her dress had transformed (awesome thing number 8). It was still the same material and design – a kind of deep red with a pattern on that I couldn’t see much detail of (the dress that she wore in the photos on the cover of the Drama Queens album). In the previous half of the concert, it had been quite simple, just falling straight to the floor, with a kind of bustle at the back. However, for the second half, the skirt had expanded outwards. It’s quite hard to describe, but it made her a lot more visible and took up a lot more of the stage. She did a little twirl (awesome thing number 9) as she reached the centre of the stage, just to show us what it looked like. Then she got down to some more singing. First of all, she sang Morte col fiero aspetto from Antonio e Cleopatra by Johann Adolf Hasse and then Piangero la sorte mia from Giulio Cesare by Handel. Both of these were as before: appropriately dramatic, queenly, exquisitely sung etc. etc. Then there was another piece for the ensemble – Passacaglia from Radamisto by Handel. Once again, it was nice to listen to but not really memorable. Joyce then came back on stage for her penultimate aria – Madre diletta, abbracciami from Ifigenia in Aulide by Giovanni Porta (awesome thing number 10). This aria is an abandoned jewel. It thoroughly deserves to be picked up and shown to the world and that is exactly what Joyce has done. She sang it beautifully, managing to precisely sing each note and yet still make it flow. I can only hope that this aria will be sung more now that it has been dug up for this album. Il Complesso Barocco then performed their final solo piece – the ballet music from Armide by Gluck. See comment on the Passacaglia. Then Joyce stood up again to sing her final aria – Brilla nell’alma from Alessandro by Handel. Another spectacularly bright aria. When she had finished, the applause was huge. After the routine presenting flowers/walking on and off stage (including walking up and down some steps with that enormous skirt, which I think she managed quite well), she spoke to us (awesome thing number 11).
Firstly, she talked about the research that she had done with Alan Curtis, the founder of Il Complesso Barocco, searching through archives of Baroque music and picking out the best bits for her to sing. Then she sang her first encore, Lasciami piangere from Fredegunda by Reinhard Keiser. Then she talked about her dress, designed for her by Vivienne Westwood (awesome thing number 12). She said how much fun it was picking out the fabric for the dress and then she pointed out Vivienne Westwood herself (awesome thing number 13), sitting in one of the front rows!
Then came the second encore, Col versar, barbaro, il sangue, another aria from Ornaldini’s Berenice.
Then there was a lot more applause (most of the audience were on their feet applauding by then) and a lot more walking on and off stage and then she sang Brilla nell’alma again. Then she walked offstage for the final time and it was all over.
After the concert had finished, I went straight downstairs and joined the already long queue for signing. Although I do not yet have my own copy of Drama Queens, I had brought by recording of Don Giovanni with her as Donna Elvira and the programme for her to sign. Unfortunately, we were told that she had something to do after this, so she would not be posing for photos. Anyway, I waited in the queue for about 5 minutes and then she appeared and began to sign stuff (awesome thing number 14). The queue went quite quickly and soon I was second in the queue and shaking slightly from nerves/excitement. Then it was my turn to see her (awesome thing number 15).
The conversation went like this:
ME: (in weird excited squeaky voice, placing programme and CD on table) Hi Joyce! Thank you so much for the concert, it was amazing!
HER: (signing programme) Oh, thank you.
ME: Also, thank you for the Maria Stuarda. From the Met. I saw it in HD at the cinema. It was beautiful.
HER: I’m glad you enjoyed it. (Pointing at inside of CD case) Where would you like me to sign it? Here?
ME: Yes please. (grinning uncontrollably)
HER: (signing it) There, I’ll do it small so the others [the other performers in the recording] can sign it as well. Make sure you meet him (pointing at the picture of Ildebrando D’Arcangelo). He’s lovely. (does girly look)
ME: (does awkward laugh) Oh, I will. Thank you again!
HER: Lovely to meet you!
ME: (runs off to unobtrusive corner) OMG I JUST MET JOYCE DIDONATO AND WE TALKED AND SHE KNOWS I EXIST AND OMG I AM DYING I AM DYING THIS IS THE PINNACLE OF EXISTENCE I MET JOYCE DIDONATO (does happy dance by spinning round and round in circles and gaining numerous odd looks from people still waiting in the queue)
After that, we walked back to the Underground and got a train to the main station, with me still jumping about and laughing and doing my circles dance of happiness. Then I got a cheese and ham croissant (awesome thing number 16) and we got on the train home and arrived back very late. So I am still very tired but ridiculously happy and chirpy (although, Joyce, when you next to a single concert in London, please could you try not to do it on a school night, or at least on a night where I don’t have THREE maths tests the next day. Thanks). All in all, a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful evening that I am still recovering from the awesomeness of.
NB You may notice that there are only 16 awesomeness moments in this. I think, going by the performance given by Il Complesso Barocco and Joyce, I can justify changing that to awesomeness ∞.
This is a documentary that was broadcast on Arte TV last week, about the making of Joyce DiDonato’s Drama Queens. It is, however, in French, so if you can’t understand it well enough, some of the interviews are available without the French voice-over.
And the English:
For the second of my catch-up videos, here is a video to lighten your life and remind you that however much opera singers may seem to be ‘divas’, they are in fact mortal, some of them embarrassingly so. Just a reminder to all of you who, like me, cannot dance as well as Anna or Elina, you’re not alone.
Link here. (Embedding not allowed for this one)
For today, here’s Joyce Didonato singing ‘Non piu mesta’ from Rossini’s La Cenerentola. Her brand new album, Drama Queens, is now out and you can buy it here.