I ended the last post saying I would write something about the Last Night of the Proms but the title of this post doesn’t refer to that evening. The Last Night was fun, and more benign in its flag-waving daftness than I had expected (a greater diversity of flags being flown than appears on the telly, I thought), and it was good fun to join in the community singalong, but it was some way from jubilant. I’d be very surprised if most of the people around us had been to the required five Prom concerts, either: if they had, they would have known that, during the music, it is unacceptable to take photographs, record videos, update Facebook, send text messages, talk, rummage for sweeties, or leaf through the programme like they were at the hairdressers, distractedly flicking through an old back-issue of Cosmopolitan. Not a concert, more a social occasion; although its reputation as part of the annual round of totemic events for the upper middle classes seemed distinctly wide of the mark. They may as well move it to the O2 and be done with it.
For sheer delight in music making, ending in a festive atmosphere that never detracted from the serious business of making art, the Barbican Hall was the place to be on 25 September 2014, as Joyce DiDonato ran through her recent CD release, Stella di Napoli, exuberantly supported by the Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon conducted by Riccardo Minasi. For encomia on the renowned American mezzo, any Google search will turn up page after page, and her tremendous vocal gifts were admirably displayed at this concert.
The programme was a judicious selection of pieces by less well-known composers such as Mercadante and Pacini, as well as less popular pieces by repertory stalwarts like Donizetti and Rossini. Unfamiliar and yet engaging, the pieces encompassed coloratura dazzle and a more sombre legato. The first half ended with a rumbustious final scene from Rossini’s Zelmira, sending us out elated to our interval wine. The final number, from Saffo by Pacini, ended with a tremendous, sustained final cry of ‘Addio…’, in which we could revel. The encores included Tanti affetti, from Rossini’s La Donna del Lago, touchingly introduced by the diva from the platform as a celebration of peace after the Scottish referendum.
The orchestra were fabulously vivid in their support, with wonderful woodwind and harp playing in solo passages. They had a couple of orchestral fillers to show off their vibrantly theatrical playing: the sinfonia to Rossini’s Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra (more familiar, if here sounding somewhat more in the grand manner, as the overture to the Barber of Seville), The Ballabile III from the same composer’s La Siège de Corinth, the sinfonias from Bellini’s Norma and Verdi’s Alzira, the latter being a particularly noisy affair. Riccardo Minasi was, to put it frankly, hilarious as conductor: a fabulous bundle of energy, his drawing out of such vibrant playing from the orchestra seemed to involve him in considerable exertions, and some endearingly camp jigging about, right down to an occasional back heel-kick and bob to negotiate the orchestra round a tight bend…
I can’t remember an evening of music making of this quality that was so sheerly joyous, and sent me out into the night quite so thoroughly elated. Glorious.