Joyce does the Wigmore

Friday’s recital by Joyce DiDonato, with David Zobel at the piano, was a thoroughly uplifting affair, though by no means straightforward repertoire.

Themed around Venice, we were treated to two arias by Vivaldi, some Fauré, a couple of Schumanns and a Schubert, a dash of Rossini, some Hahn, and songs by a composer previously unknown to me, Michael Head. Joyce was on tremendous form, but it wasn’t her typically secure coloratura that impressed, but the stunning legato lines and vivid characterisations. To be particularly singled out would be the second of the Hahn settings (Five Songs from Venezia: La barcheta), each verse ending with a vocalise of heart-stopping, tear-inducing beauty, and La regatta Veneziana by Rossini, with tremendous panache brought to the presentation of the alternately saucy and coy heroine.

I wasn’t enamoured of the Vivaldi, finding it a little repetitive, and it very immediately brought out what I thought was a heaviness about Zobel’s accompaniment, which intruded to differing degrees throughout, though they were clearly ‘in tune’ with each other. Though slightly apprehensive (on a tired Friday evening) about a ‘new’ composer, I found the Michael Head songs to be quite captivating, very immediate in their conjuring up of images of Venice, especially as the last song drew to a close on images of the slowly sinking city: “Until the winter flood turns back no more/To lose in the drowning tide/A city more beautiful than any other“. It all added up to a less-than-easy recital, with relatively few items that might be considered to be on the ‘well-trod’ path. It was a nice little treat for us, therefore, that the encores were so familiar and so entrancing: Sposa son disprezzata from Vivaldi’s Bajazet (a return to the heart-stopping stillness), Nacqui all’affanno from Rossini’s La Cenerentola (with coloratura just a smidgen more effortful than in past experience) and, quite simple and all the more stunning for it, Somewhere over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz.  It was very welcome that she spoke between groups of numbers throughout the recital, introducing them: it is something I wish more singers would do, particularly if they are as warm and engaging as DiDonato is.

After a very trying week this recital quite restored me to a semblance of proper balance… especially ahead of Sunday’s epic…

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