I heard Joyce DiDonato in concert on 9/12/20 the as part of the Met Stars Live in Concert series. She performed with pianist Carrie-Ann Matheson and the instrumental ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro.
The program was hosted, as all of the Met Stars Live in Concert performances are, by soprano Christine Goerke. She brought in Met General Manager Peter Gelb to explain about the changes in venue for the concert. It was originally going to be done in Barcelona, where DiDonato lives, but Spain became a COVID hot spot, so it was moved to Antwerp. Then Antwerp became a hot spot, so it was moved again to the Jahrhunderthalle in Bochum, Germany.
DiDonato opened with Ottavia’s aria “Addio Roma,” from Monteverdi’s *L’Incoronazione di Poppea.* This led straight into the grand end-of-life lament by another queen of myth, Dido’s final scene from Berlioz’s *Les Troyens.* The Monteverdi was done with the instrumental ensemble and DiDonato pivoted around 180 degrees to face the pianist for the Berlioz. Both were sung with grandeur, laser focus, and white-hot intensity. She has an extraordinary connection to the text and isn’t afraid to sing a bit out of tune to communicate something extra.
She sat on the floor at the end of the Berlioz, took a moment, and sang Mahler’s heartbreaking song “Ich ben der Welt abhanden gekommen,” continuing the theme of saying farewell to the world, but thankfully ending with a peace and transcendence that was missing in the earlier two arias. The whole set was a stunning way to open a program and a masterpiece of programming.
The concert was much more theatrical than the other Met Stars Live in Concert presentations I had seen. It was in a large theatrical space, there was something resembling a set, dramatic lighting, and the mise-en-scène of the camera seemed to be more creative. It was a nice change of pace.
The next set opened with “Oh Shenandoah.” I was surprised that the program online didn’t list an arranger, but it’s because she sang it a cappella. It was tender, sweet, honest. This led to “As with rosy steps the morn” from *Theodora* by Handel. She has a way with early music, she makes it seem fresh and vital, she brings something personal and distinctive to the music. She sang another limpid number, “Illustratevi, o cieli” from Monteverdi’s *Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria* and then another Handel aria, “Dopo notte atra e funesta” from *Aridodante.* I think she included the *Ariodante* aria to show that she can lay out some old school vocal display, and do it as well as anybody. She was cooking with gas. Il Pomo d’Doro was an essential partner to her in this set, they played with snap and color. Here she is singing that aria in 2009:
The next component of the presentation was a pre-recorded conversation between DiDonato and Sister Helen Prejean. Sister Helen wrote the book *Dead Man Walking* about her experience with a man on death row. The book was turned into a movie in 1995 (starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn) and then into an opera in 2000, with music by Jake Heggie and a libretto by Terrence McNally. DiDonato didn’t sing in the premiere of the opera but sang in a few subsequent productions and recorded the role. As of this writing, she’s scheduled to sing the role in the Met premiere of the opera in the spring of 2021.
They were joined at the end of the conversation by composer Kenyatta Hughes. Hughes was an inmate at Sing Sing for 13 years and wrote the next piece on the program, “I Dream a World,” a setting of a poem by Langston Hughes. The song was beautiful and DiDonato sang it with a purity of purpose. This led to another Baroque aria, “Intorno all’idol mio” from Cesti’s *Orontea.*
She spoke to us before the final set, saying that the way we’ll get through this crisis is with love. She opened with “Voi che sapete” from Mozart’s *Le Nozze di Figaro.* Cherubino was her Met debut role, so it must have been sweet for her to revisit that aria. This led to “La vie en rose,” which she sang with genuine French café style.
She ended with a Ginastera song, “Canción al árbol del olvido,” and that mawkish old tearjerker, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from *Carousel.*
“Addio Roma” from Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea
Didon’s Final Scene from Berlioz’s Les Troyens
“Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” by Gustav Mahler
“Oh Shenandoah,” traditional
“As with rosy steps the morn” from Handel’s Theodora
“Illustratevi, o cieli” from Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria
“Dopo notte atra e funesta” from Handel’s Ariodante
“I Dream a World” (World Premiere) by Kenyatta Hughes, arranged by Craig Terry, with text by Langston Hughes
“Intorno all’idol mio” from Cesti’s Orontea
“Voi che sapete” from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro
“La vie en rose” by Louiguy, arranged by Craig Terry
“Canción al árbol del olvido,” Op. 3, No. 2 by Alberto Evaristo Ginastera
“You'll Never Walk Alone” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, arranged by Craig Terry