January 22, 2018
Saturday, August 23, 2014

Great art from Di Donato, good chamber music

Joyce Di Donato in a 2012 performance at the Carnegie Hall.
Joyce Di Donato in a 2012 performance at the Carnegie Hall.
Joyce Di Donato in a 2012 performance at the Carnegie Hall.
By Pablo Bardin
For the Herald
At the top of her career, New York Met star offers welcome rarities along with famous pieces

Two years ago the Mozarteum Argentino presented with great success the local début of US mezzosoprano Joyce Di Donato. Now, again at the Colón and for the Mozarteum, she made a trumphant return. She is, no doubt, one of the best of the bel canto mezzos of the world, along with Elina Garança and Cecilia Bartoli. Di Donato is currently one of the big stars at the New York Met, especially as Angelina in Rossini’s La Cenerentola, and she culminated her recitals here with the final scene, Nacqui all’affanno.

As in 2012, she had the ideal accompaniments of French pianist David Zobel, who, apart from immaculate playing, is an admirable stylist who can make convincing the absence of an orchestra.

Di Donato, tall, extrovert (she loves talking to audiences), blonde, in her early forties, probably is a good actress, for her voice alone manages to express a world of emotions. I believe she is at the top of her career, and I hope we can have her eventually in an opera.

I also welcome the intelligent programme she offered, although one could cavil at the fact she sang only in Italian, except for the second encore (De Falla’s Nana, of course in Spanish, and very sensitive). But she does what she knows is best for her voice and instincts, and gave us welcome rarities along with famous pieces.

People who sing Rossini have precise, accurate, flexible voices, and she has these qualities, but she adds a rare ingredient: volume. The impact of her full voice is great and she filled the vast hall many times. Also, she has an a powerful centre and very good highs; the lower tones, however, are less substantial (that’s why she has avoided —and she’s right — the heavy Verdian parts). But I am curious about whether she wouldn’t be right in some French parts such as Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther, for the timbre can be warm and she has a fine line in slow “cantabile” music.

The classic maturity of Joseph Haydn is fully expressed in his cantata Ariadne auf Naxos (two recitatives, two arias). Fortunately the programme contained full texts of all the pieces, as it always should but often doesn’t. And she gave such intensity to Ariadne’s despair that it made evident that Haydn’s way is dramatic; at times she makes her voice incisive, in a deliberate gamble to lose natural beauty but gain emotional communication.

One of her CDs is Drama Queens; from it, three selections: Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783) was immensely popular during his life, and in recent decades he is being taken out of the obscurity in which he had fallen. She chose an aria from the serenade Marc’Antonio & Cleopatra sung by the Egyptian Queen, originally sung by the castrato Farinelli. Then, the other Cleopatra, from Händel’s best opera, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, in fact for soprano but she managed it well: Piangerò la sorte mia. And finally, the exciting and difficult Dopo notte from Ariodante, also a castrato part; the protagonist is vassal prince of the King of Scotland. I do have a soft spot for the marvellous Janet Baker in this music and I prefer her to Di Donato, but still it was well worth hearing.

The Second Part amazed me initially, for the aria Dopo l’oscuro nembo has such a strong personal style that I couldn’t believe that Adelson e Salvini was Bellini’s first opera (1825); its melancholy long line can be no one else’s and was very beautifully expressed, with touching pianissimi. Then, two Rossinis, an unknown and quite operatic song, Beltà crudele, and then, the famous tarantella La danza, done with infectious brio.

A surprise. What is surely a local première and a complete change of pace: I canti della sera (The songs of the afternoon), by Francesco Santoliquido (1883-1971), four sweet, pleasant songs with a Puccinian tinge by a composer who lived mostly in Tunis. She sang them warmly and in style, showing quite another aspect of her art.

And finally, La Cenerentola (Cinderella), where she was predictably wonderful, with much ornamentation not generally heard (perhaps her own contributions?). As first encore, more Rossini but unknown: Riedi al soglio (Return to the throne) from Zelmira, of course terribly difficult and stunningly sung. And to quiet things after the fireworks, the aforementioned Nana.

Trio Franco-Argentino. The presentation of the Trio Franco-Argentino at the Soirées Musicales Premium of the Sofitel organized by La Bella Música was a positive surprise. The string players are French: Guillaume Barli (violin) and Arthur Lamarre (cello); the pianist, Roberto Buffo, is Argentine. They accomplished the tour-de-force of playing the 55-minute complete version of Tchaikovsky’s enormous Trio Op.50 (the Pezzo elegiaco and the Tema con variazioni in which generally the Fugue and part of the final variation are cut). Many notes and sometimes too many, but important Tchaikovsky done with true professionalism by three solid musicians.

The rest was well-chosen and little known. A charming ‘Promenade sentimentale’ by Théodore Dubois, the concise Trio Nº 2 by Joaquín Turina and the well-developed Danzas españolas by Enrique Fernández Arbós, generally known as the orchestrator of famous pieces by Albéniz. The encore: La muerte del Ángel by Piazzolla arranged by José Bragato.

These are sensitive players who have full command of their instruments. They provided an interesting night in the cozy ambience of the small hall.

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