Recently I wrote a post about a concert of all pants role scenes and duets. By coincidence, I knew the day I posted to be the day that dear Joyce DiDonato's concept CD Diva/Divo would be released officially. (You can buy it at my Amazon store at the right, sitting there forlornly waiting for your clicks!) I made mention of the CD at the time and theories about how Joyce--we're on first-names basis already-- would handle such a program. I've since gotten my hands on a promotional copy of the CD through the wonder that is the intarwebz, and shall endeavor to scribble a few thoughts about it. I do this without having read any published reviews.
As I say, it's a bit of a concept album. Remember those? We have Joyce singing arias from both male and female roles of the same story, but different operas. For example, from Mr. Beaumarchais's trilogy, we have an aria from Mr. Massenet's Chérubin (Cherubino), the expected Le Nozze di Figaro (Susanna and Cherubino) and, of course, Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Rosina). From La Clemenza di Tito we have an aria from Mr. Gluck's setting of the story (Sesto) as well as the beloved Mozart setting (Vitellia). Another of Mr. Massenet's operas, Ariane (Ariane), is dusted off to provide contrast to Mr. Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos (Komponist). And more.
I've said before I'm a big fan of Joyce. I think her singing and her acting are top-notch, and she has a very warm relationship with her audience, both on and off stage. On this CD this feeling holds true, especially in the repertoire she's closely identified with, Mozart and Rossini. In fact, although my favorite tracks on this CD were the excerpts we all love to hear Joyce sing--Cherubino, Rosina, Komponist, even Siébel--listening to the arias that were new to me--Massenet's Chérubin, Cedrillon and Ariane, Bellini's I Capuletti e i Montecchi, even Gluck's La Clemenza di Tito--was a revelation.
The Sesto aria from Gluck's Clemenza is beautiful in that stately Gluck way. A very measured but passionate declaration of Sesto's love for Vitellia. In an unexpected turn, Joyce sings the Vitellia aria from Mr. Mozart's treatment of the same story, "Non più di fiori". Mozart's Vitellia is the provenance of big soprano voices. My first Vitellia was Carol Vaness, and I still sometimes need a moment alone when I think upon that performance. It pains me to admit this, but I prefer it in sopranos' hands. The aria was perfectly beautiful as an exercise, and of course very well sung and presented, and there were no problems to point out, but I want to hear a soprano timbre with that aria. It's not as unusual to hear a lyric mezzo sing Susanna, as with "Deh, vieni, non tardar" on this CD, but the charcater of that aria is quite different from "Non più di fiori", so the difference is more palatable.
Mr. Massenet is presented three times on this CD, with arias from Chérubin, Cendrillon, and Ariane. The Ariane recitative and aria, "Ô frêle corps.... Chère Cypris" give us Ariane's anguish as main squeeze Theseus is to brave the labyrinth and face the Minotaur. In the aria, particularly, we feel Ariane's vulnerability and intense longing. The male counterpart is, of course, the Composer (Komponist) from Ariadne auf Naxos. (If you wanted to quibble, you would point out that, strictly speaking, the Composer isn't part of the Ariadne story, but who cares?)
The Faust legend is represented by Mr. Gounod's opera, with a beautiful presentation of "Faites-lui mes aveux"--and you can be sure Joyce does not mime picking flowers--while the female side of the equation was an aria from La Damnation de Faust by Mr. Berlioz, "L'amour l'ardente flamme". Another beautiful piece new to me.
I can't write about every track, and I don't want to gloss over Joyce's performance of the repertoire she's known for. Her Cherubino is a world standard. A great wail went up throughout the land last year when, after a successful run of Cherubino in Chicago, Joyce mentioned in her blog that she had no more Cherubinos on her schedule, and stated frankly that her age--a little over 29, if I recall--might prevent her from being cast as a teenage boy again. But who can deny the beauty of the "Voi che sapete" on this CD? Not to mention a stunning "Naqui all'affanno" from Cenerentola, and a Rosina aria from Barbiere. We know why she is in high demand and so highly respected.
Among my very few quibbles I would mention the design of the CD booklet and cover. Some of the design is dreadful, and makes reading the contents difficult. A sort of flattened sans-serif font for the names of male roles, and a script font for the names of female roles, with a normal, Times New Roman-like font for the actual listing. Did someone get paid for that design?
I need to mention L'Orchestre de l'Opéra National de Lyon under the company’s Principal Conductor Kazushi Ono. Well done!