Cher Public

Fan service

It’s hard to come up with any sensible reason to dislike Joyce DiDonato. With performances at the Grammys, the last night of the proms, and HDs at the Met’s New Year’s gala, she’s become one of the most visible American opera singer of our time, second only to Renée Fleming. In recent years she has acquired a fan base of fierce devotion due in large part to her unprecedented and personal interactions with fans. In addition to a wonderfully detailed blog on which she recently took a stand for equal rights for the LGBT community, she has a YouTube channel dedicated to answering the questions of aspiring opera singers.

Her latest recording is a two-disc compilation of her first 10 years of recordings. In a rare move, she allowed her fans to come up with names for her CD and then vote for their favorites. The accompanying booklet even has pictures sent in from fans and it’s decked out with quotes from them as well. The result is a cornily named but very well sung album called Rejoyce! The Best of Joyce DiDonato that will delight all of her fans and serve as a warm welcome to those less familiar with her artistry.

The first disc is dedicated primarily to her work in Baroque period and earlier with a dash of Mozart thrown in for good measure. The disc opens with a well sung “Ombra mai fu,” but DiDonato does her finest Handelian singing on the disc in “Moriró, ma vendicata.” Those who heard her in The Enchanted Island two seasons past at the Metropolitan Opera will remember this as the sorceress Sycorax’s finger licking cavatina “Maybe soon.” The exquisite pianissimo singing and ornaments in the return of the A section in addition to excellent playing from the oboe echoing her voice and decorations make this one of the finest performances in the compilation.

Those familiar with her Handel album Furore or her gutsy reading of Dejanira in a fascinating production from the Opera National de Paris will be pleased to see her “Where shall I Fly” included. Earlier selections by Giacomelli, Porta, Vivaldi and especially Monteverdi in a fabulous reading of Ottavia’s “Addio Roma” will likewise delight early music enthusiasts and bore those who tire of the expressive tools readily available in that repertoire.

She caps the disc off with the finest “Voi che sapete” since Frederica von Stade, a “Parto, parto” with the most pristinely executed triplets I’ve ever heard in that aria, and a bizarre version of the duet just before the Act II Finale of Le nozze di Figaro in which she sings both Cherubino and Susanna. It’s interesting if slightly gimmicky and unnecessary, particularly given the magnificent Mozart singing she demonstrated in the other two selections from his operas. The one Mozart selection on the other disc also finds her in top form as Elvira in “Mi tradi” from Don Giovanni complete with an unbroken melisma à la Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Methinks the Met needs to mount some Mozart for Miss DiDonato.

Disc 2 opens with a jubilant and accurate “Amour, viens rendre à mon âme” and she puts her bel canto chops to to great use in a fiery and urgent account of Romeo’s “La tremenda ultrice spada,” but the bulk of the second disc is comprised of the Rossini that made DiDonato an operatic superstar. Indeed, her “Una voce poco fa” is currently best in the business by far, and her soulful interpretation of “Giusto ciel” and immaculate rendering of “Tanti affetti” make me very excited for the the prospect of finally hearing her in a dramatic Rossini vehicle as Elena in La Donna del Lago at the Met next season. Her masterful singing of ”Quis est homo” in the Rossini Stabat Mater is only slightly marred by the unidiomatic, labored mooing of Anna Netrebko.

The only real disappointments are in her forays into the full-out Romantic operas. Her oddly cold singing of “D’amour l’ardente flamme” did little to erase Susan Graham‘s searing account from my mind’s ear, and while Ariadne‘s Komponist may seem an ideal role for her, his aria finds DiDonato stretched to her vocal limits in much the way I noticed when she took on Maria Stuarda at the MET last season. The forte top takes on that unattractive bleat I found so jarring last winter.

For 20th century music, there are two pieces from Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, “You’ll Never Walk alone,” “Climb Every Mountain” and a particularly tedious rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” It’s unfortunate that the voice of such an honest singer can be so glacial in contemporary music. She sings the two showtunes honestly, but the instrument and her temperament do not suit these works. In one of those inevitable comparisons I found myself wishing she had an earthier instrument like Fleming’s for these songs, but coupled with her own less fussy interpretative abilities.

In “He Will Gather Us Around” (a short hymn from the Heggie opera) her Helen Prejean is more uptight choir girl than soulful southern nun. The other duet is not so nondescript as to question its inclusion, except that it briefly features von Stade in her last performance in an operatic role. As a Kansas native, DiDonato has tried to make Dorothy’s wistful lullaby her signature tune, but her tight vibrato and the overdone, grandiose orchestration do this simple song song no favors.

That said, the only other minor reservation I have about this collection is the repertoire included. Some of this may be the responsibility of the fans, as she allowed them to vote for many of the tracks that appear on the CDs, but with so much of this set dedicated to Handel, Rossini and Mozart (eight, five, and four tracks respectively or 17 tracks out of 31) I wondered why she didn’t just choose to either release one disc with less tracks of each of the aforementioned, or include a bit more variety. Perhaps there are copyright issues with her recording of Mark Adamo’s Little Women, but I would have loved to hear her definitive “Things change, Jo,” and a little more Romantic rep (Rosenkavalier? Cendrillon?) even though it isn’t always her strongest suit.

With those minor quibbles aside she is truly spectacular in the Handel, Mozart and Rossini arias and pretty damn good in most else, making this album well worth the price. She’s one of the finest singers and most generous operatic performers on the stage right now, and even with it’s shortcomings this collection lives up to her reputation.

  • semira mide

    Alex Ross has a feature about JDD in the current New Yorker. I’ve not had time to read it yet, but I expect that it will be a good read since Ross is such a good writer.

    Yes, you can look forward to “La Donna del Lago”. “Tanti affetti” is much more effective in the context of the opera, than sung as a show piece as she did for the Proms.

    Too bad for the singer that it comes at the end of the opera.Rossini has done this in other operas. He’s not always considerate of his singers!

    Joyce didn’t “run out of gas” when I heard her sing this at Covent Garden in May. Let’s hope that the Met presents a production worthy of her.

    • Satisfied
      • Flora del Rio Grande

        Boring? Yes; that’s just the opera — rather cobbled together series of set pieces lacking many essentials of good drama and not redeemed by the rather mediocre music …… but “disgusting?” Hardly! The set was a rather old-fashioned attempt at realism, quite uninteresting to the eye — I mean did they really dress that way in Scotland all those hundreds of years ago? Did the costumer take into account certain individual characteristics of the singers and work to make them more attractive? And the make-up people? Not that I could tell. The stage picture was often laughably bad, but hardly disgusting. Just uninspired.
        I do not doubt the Met will improve on all this quite a bit. They may use the basic design and plan of the Kevin Knight -- Paul Curran Santa Fe production but I’ll bet it will be much enhanced by the time it reaches the
        much larger aspects of the Met stage and house. Good luck to the Met on that, and to J. di D. for making an impression in that huge space; she is just about the only interesting thing in the show and she will carry a heavy burden of work.

  • operaassport

    She’s an absolute peach. I thought she was absolutely riveting in Maria Stuarda.

  • Feldmarschallin

    This CD got a horrible review in the SZ and I was pretty amazed when I read it. On the other hand they gave the Verdi Netrebko a rave which I found rather underwhelming and that is being polite. Seems like they have gotten things mixed up.

    • CwbyLA

      what is SZ? is it possible to provide links?

      • Camille

        Süddeutsche Zeitung, ah reckon. Feldy’s Evening News.

        • Feldmarschallin

          I find that their online version never has much about opera. I guess they want you to buy the paper or at least the online version. I buy it when I go shopping or into town but that is only about 3 days a week. There is so much to read anyway that if I were to get it every day I wouldn’t have time for anything else. Camille the garden is slowing down now but still have tomatoes coming strong as well as squash which I am making to soup and freezing for the winter. The fall crops are coming along nicely too.

          Here you have the link but do not expect to enter di Donato and find the review.

          • Camille

            Gnädige Feldy!

            You certainly MUST have had a very warm summer to still be left with tomatoes at this point. How lucky you are and how smart it is to put up all those good things for the coming winter.

            While we are reflecting upon foodstuffs, let us pray that our Genevieve makes it back safe and sound to Hiway 13 and the Rumpus Room. Life ain’t the same without her.

    • operaassport

      SZ? Is that some new sort of code? Is there a secret handjob, I mean, handshake.

      • It’s five codes in one!

        • antikitschychick

          Love that essay! good one m. croche :-P

        • antikitschychick

          momentary memory lapse: I have actually only read “Mythologies” by Barthes…luckily S/Z can be found (in its entirety) via a quick Google search.

          Thank you for providing me with another great work to add to my literary criticism must-read list m. croche :-D

  • antikitschychick

    Great review LW :-D. I love her and will totally be ordering this CD asap. No offense to Renee but she IS the real ppls diva. Her singing is not flawless and its true that she lacks the gravitas and grandiosity in some of the heavier repertoire but ya gotta give it up to her for taking artistic risks and stepping outside her niche.

    I also just wanted to comment about the lack of variety as I think it might be attributed to the fact that she did not re-record anything for this album and she mentioned on one of her yt videos that she didn’t want to release anything that she felt was sub par or did not represent her at her best, which might explain why she didn’t release some of the earlier rep that you mention.

    Also, I loved her rendition of “over the rainbow” from the LNOTP…how would you say the rendition on the CD compares to that performance?

    and finally THIS:

    “Her masterful singing of ”Quis est homo” in the Rossini Stabat Mater is only slightly marred by the unidiomatic, labored mooing of Anna Netrebko”

    made me laugh SO effing hard…the mooing thing was brilliant (and I say this as a fan)…OMG this needs to go in the annals of parterre quotes as one of the funniest and most clever descriptions ever :-P.

  • javier

    JDD has a lot of vocal fans. For a while I was becoming a fan, but Maria Stuarda caused me to have several doubts about her singing. Joyce seems nice and sweet when she does candid interviews or posts a casual blog, but I thought she sounded terrible in 80% of Maria Stuarda. All of the important scenes that are really exciting with a higher soprano were very dull with her lowered mezzo version.

    She was so much better as Isolier in Le Comte Ory and Elena in La Donna Del Lago. Donizetti Tudor Queens are just not for her, but she did since Elizabetta very well several years ago.

    The overwhelming response that Netrebko got as Bolena completely tramples over whatever praise JDD got as Maria Stuarda, no matter what her loyal fans said. JDD’s Stuarda was just such a waste at the Met. It could have been much better if she had sung Elisabetta.

    I don’t like how JDD is trying to step out of mezzo roles into roles we usually associate with sopranos. Joyce recorded Alcina not too long ago and it really wasn’t that good either. She needs to watch what she sings because I don’t like what she’s becoming. Also, her Last night at the Proms was very disappointing. her “Rule Britannia” really sucked. She messed up the first verse and her coloratura was not what I would expect from her. When Renee Fleming can sing it better than you and she’s older and not even considered an expert in that type of florid singing these days, you have a problem.

    • CwbyLA

      Javier, she corresponds with her fans regularly. Have you raised these concerns with her? What would you like her to sing?

    • Camille

      Javier, hon, you gotta lotta guts to say this.
      All I will say is that she’s got one HELL of an agent!

      Let me give you a word of advice though:: watch your back—the Joycester mafia is gonna getcha.

  • Ilka Saro

    JDD is a real artist. Offers gorgeous voice, subtly detailed musical interpretation, and lots of expression. Who could ask for anything more?

  • Marcello Finalmente

    The last American opera singer whose standard/jazz interpretations I enjoyed, was Sylvia McNair.”Come Rain Or Come Shine” was a Harold Arlen songbook disc that is worth tracking down.

    She really, really gets the idiom. Not many do.

    • armerjacquino

      Upshaw’s ‘crossover’ (hate that word) is brilliant, as is Von Otter’s.

      (Speaking of which, I was in a cafe the other day when the overwrought 90s ballad ‘Unbreak my Heart’ by Toni Braxton came on the radio and I suddenly started giggling because I could TOTALLY hear what Fleming’s ‘Dark Hope’ version of it would have sounded like. Try it.)

      • Buster

        McNair hated that word too. She always said it reminded her of cross-dressing. McNair in English is always a treat. I recently heard her in an all Gershwin program with Leonard Slatkin, and she is unbeatable in that repertoire, I think. Superb timing.

      • MontyNostry

        I always feel that Upshaw sings everything like it’s crossover.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Cesare Siepi was fabulous in Cole Porter etc.

  • peter

    The standard to which all other opera singers are measured when it comes to singing standards:

    • armerjacquino

      I dunno- I think Kirsten* was even better on all those Sinatra broadcasts. Farrell’s wonderful though, obv.

      *Dorothy, not Flagstad!