BWW Review: Joyce DiDonato Brings WAR & PEACE, Baroque-Style, to Carnegie Hall

Joyce DiDonato. Photo: Chris Lee

At IN WAR & PEACE, HARMONY THROUGH MUSIC, her Carnegie Hall concert the other night with the Baroque ensemble, Il Pomo d'Oro, mezzo Joyce DiDonato was in fine voice, if not in high spirits--and who could blame her? The state of the world is about as bad as it has been for a long time, with death and taxes far from the only certainties, starting in our own backyard.

The concert--part of a tour that's an offshoot of her recent album of the same name released by Erato/Warner Classics--was a semi-staged affair, directed by Ralf Pleger with lighting design by Henning Blum and video design by Yousef Iskandar. The performance was filled out with the ensemble headed by Maxim Emelyanychev (also on harpsicord) filling the hall with magical sound, the dancer/choreographer Manuel Palazzo providing some Martha Graham-like moves and DiDonato doing much of what she does best: singing the heck out of a program that leaned heavily on Handel.

The evening was broken into two sections, though it was best not to look too closely about the content of the arias that constituted WAR and what PEACE. The program was assembled, it seems, to let DiDonato get a few things off her chest about the state of the world since the bombings in Paris last year. She asks, both in the concert's Playbill and in her closing remarks, "In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?" She has been posing this question since the album was released and the tour started at the end of November, with a website (http://inwarandpeace.com/) available for posting responses; she has received answers from the man and the woman in the street (or, more likely, the concert hall) as well as such notables as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

During the first half of the program, I found the music gorgeous but the presentation pretty downbeat, with DiDonato acting as if she had the weight of the world on her shoulders (granted, understandable under the circumstances), even in the luscious "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Handel's RINALDO and the astounding "Pensieri, voi mi tornmentate" (also Handel).

The power of music to transform feelings of hopelessness, even if only for a short time, began (for me at least) with the second half of the program, when the singer had the chance to show her astonishing range to best advantage. Whether soothing, as in Handel's "Crystal streams in murmurs flowing" from SUSANNA, or blowing the roof off with the joyous sound of "Da tempeste il legno infranto" from GIULIO CESARE (Cleopatra celebrating her brother's defeat in battle), DiDonato wowed the audience. I loved her "Augellati che cantata," another aria from RINALDO, that included a bird-like riff with one of the ensemble's violinists, Anna Fusek, performing, instead, on recorder, and the incredibly animated "Par che di giubilo," a fairly obscure piece by Niccolo Jommelli from his ATTILIO REGOLO that seems a justifiable favorite of DiDonato, who encored it after the printed program concluded.

The last of her encores was as far from Baroque as she could get: Richard Strauss's song, "Morgen" ("Morning")--a kind of lieder version of "Tomorrow" from the musical ANNIE--which left the audience with a greater sense of hope, perhaps, than the rest of the program combined.

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From This Author Richard Sasanow

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