Joyce DiDonato: In War & Peace
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Cat No: 9029592846
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 4th November 2016
ArtistsJoyce DiDonato (soprano)
Il Pomo d’Oro
ArtistsJoyce DiDonato (soprano)
Il Pomo d’Oro
Her aim is to “steer conversation and discourse … to help all of us find peace in our lives in a dynamic way … As I have tried to convey in this selection of music, the power to bravely tip the scales towards peace lies firmly within every single one of us.”
DiDonato, an opera singer who certainly does not live in an ivory tower, was motivated to assemble the programme after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015. She had been planning an exploratory album with an emphasis on rare arias, but in the light of the tragic events she rethought her approach, giving it wider and deeper implications.
In War and Peace: Harmony through Music was recorded with Il Pomo d’Oro under its principal conductor Maxim Emelyanychev. The programme comprises 15 arias divided into two sections: ‘War’ and ‘Peace’. Both contain music by Purcell and Handel – including, to close ‘War’, Dido’s dignified, but searing lament from Dido and Aeneas and Almirena’s haunting and heartbreaking ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ from Rinaldo. An excerpt from Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse is included in ‘Peace’, which concludes with Cleopatra’s spirited and defiantly optimistic ‘Da tempeste il legno infranto’ from Giulio Cesare. A further aria from Giulio Cesare is the bonus track for the album; it is Sesto’s touching apostrophe to hope, ‘Cara speme’, which Joyce DiDonato sings unforgettably on a floating whisper of breath.
In her search for peace and harmony, the American singer did not entirely desert her musicological quest, and the album also contains no fewer than three world premiere recordings: a ‘War’ aria from Andromaca by the Neapolitan composer Leonardo Leo (1694-1744), and two ‘Peace’ arias, from the operas Attila and Attilio Regolo, by another Neapolitan, Niccolò Jommelli (1714-1774).
When Baroque opera was at its height, the highly stylised art form was famously described by the English writer Dr Samuel Johnson as “an exotic and irrational entertainment which has always been combated, and always has prevailed”. It is nearly three centuries since he made that judgement, but opera has continued to prevail – by impassioning performers and thrilling and moving audiences: nothing rivals it in giving intense, compelling expression to matters of life, love and death. Over recent decades, opera of the Baroque era has gained a new and vigorous life, with frequent revivals of works by such masters as Handel, Monteverdi, Vivaldi and Purcell, and the rediscovery of operas by composers who had fallen into obscurity.
Fuelled by these arias, Joyce DiDonato is fervently committed the cause of engaging the hearts and minds of music-lovers around the world. As she leads the way forward, long may opera – and peace – prevail.
1. Handel – Jeptha: Scenes of Horror, scenes of woe (Storgè)
2. Leo – Andromaca: Prendi quel ferro, o barbaro! (Andromaca) world premiere recording
3. Handel – Giulio Cesare: Vani sono i lamenti…Svegliatevi nel core (Sesto)
4. Purcell – The Indian Queen: They tell us that you mighty powers above (Orazia)
5. Handel – Agrippina: Pensieri, voi mi tormentate (Agrippina)
6. Purcell – Dido and Aeneas: Dido’s Lament Thy hand, Belinda…When I am laid in earth (Dido)
7. Handel – Rinaldo: Lascia ch’io pianga (Almirena)
8. Purcell – Bonduca or the British Heroine: Oh! Lead me to some peaceful gloom (Bonvica)
9. Handel – Rinaldo: Augelletti che cantate (Almirena)
10. Jommelli – Attilio Regolo: Sprezza il furor del vento (Attila) world premiere recording
11. Purcell – The Indian Queen: Why should men quarrel? (a girl)
12. Jommelli – Attilio Regolo: Par che di Giubilo (Attilio Regolo) world premiere recording
13. Handel – Susanna: Lead me, oh lead me to some cool retreat…Crystal streams in murmurs flowing (Susanna)
14. Monteverdi – Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria: Illustratevi, o cieli (Penelope)
15. Handel – Giulio Cesare: Da tempeste il legno infranto (Cleopatra)
1Handel: Jephtha, HWV 70 - Act 1: Some Dire Event Hangs O'Er Our Heads...Scenes Of Horror, Scenes Of Woe
2Leo: Andromaca - Act 1: Prendi Quel Ferro, O Barbaro!
3Handel: Giulio Cesare, HWV 17 - Act 1: Vani Sono I Lamenti...Svegliatevi Nel Core
4Purcell: The Indian Queen, Z 630 - Act 3: They Tell Us That You Mighty Powers Above
5Handel: Agrippina, HWV 6 - Act 2: Pensieri, Voi Mi Tormentate
6Purcell: Dido & Aeneas, Z 626 - Act 3: Thy Hand, Belinda...When I Am Laid In Earth
7Handel: Rinaldo, HWV 7 - Act 2: Lascia Ch'Io Pianga
8Purcell: Bonduca, Or The British Heroine, Z 574 - Oh! Lead Me To Some Peaceful Gloom
9Handel: Rinaldo, HWV 7 - Act 1: Augelletti Che Cantate
10Jommelli: Attilio Regolo - Act 2: Sprezza Il Furor Del Vento
11Purcell: The Indian Queen, Z 630 - Prologue: Why Should Men Quarrel?
12Jommelli: Attilio Regolo - Act 1: Par Che Di Giubilo
13Handel: Susanna, HWV 66 - Act 2: Lead Me, Oh Lead Me To Some Cool Retreat....Crystal Streams In Murmurs Flowing
14Monteverdi: Il Ritorno D'Ulisse In Patria - Act 5: Illustratevi, O Cieli
15Handel: Giulio Cesare, HWV 17 - Act 3: Da Tempeste Il Legno Infranto
DiDonato’s own musical response is a journey through a variety of scenes and arias from Baroque operas and oratorios. The lion’s share goes to Handel, with Purcell not far behind; also included are Monteverdi (Penelope’s ‘Illustratevi, o cieli’ from Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria), and world premiere recordings of arias by Leonardo Leo and Niccolò Jommelli. A wide range indeed, from early to late Baroque, and DiDonato matches this with an enviable array of tone colours and expressive intensity. Hers is a voice of huge emotional power, yet with an entirely focused and controlled technique, and the results are profoundly moving.
The first half of the disc is devoted to arias focused on conflict (external or internal), while the second shifts the spotlight to piece. For vocal fireworks, try ‘Prendi quel ferro, o barbaro!’ from Leo’s Andromaca (1742), where DiDonato rises magnificently to the challenge of the vocal writing. Subtler shading is required in two items from Purcell’s The Indian Queen (1695), ‘They tell us that you mighty powers above’ and ‘Why should men quarrel’, the latter with delightful instrumental contributions from the musicians of Il Pomo d’Oro (the Monteverdi aria is similarly stylish). The two Jommelli arias – sung by two different characters, Regolo and his daughter Attilia in the 1753 opera Attilio Regolo – are finely characterised and full of spirit.
But the standout items here are the Handel arias: with their often contrasting middle sections, they provide perhaps the greatest expressive challenge to a singer, and DiDonato is matchless in them. From Agrippina’s searching, anguished ‘Pensieri, voi mi tormente’ to the lovely ‘Crystal streams’ from Susanna and Almirena’s hushed yet heartfelt ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ from Rinaldo, this is singing of superb artistry and rare intensity, matched every step of the way by Maxim Emelyanychev and his players. Special mention should be made of the outstanding obbligato playing of oboist Magdalena Karolak in Agrippina’s aria, and Anna Fusek sopranino recorder in ‘Augelletti, che cantate' from Rinaldo.
Finally, the highlight of the ‘War’ section must be one of the most memorable accounts of Dido’s Lament you’re ever likely to hear, beautifully contained, with exquisitely hushed tones where most singers are still going full throttle, and a tellingly inflected appoggiatura on the repeat of ‘Remember me’. If one track here sums up the whole disc, it is this one, for all its tragedy.
And the album as a whole? Be open to the question it asks of you, and find your own response with the aid of the music. One of the most striking and affecting discs of the year.
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