Joyce DiDonato

A night of jubilant, infectious pleasure

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. (more…)

A reigning monarch

Mary, Queen of Scots, after Cornelius and William Cure, plaster cast of head, (circa 1606-1616) [NPG Creative Commons]

Mary, Queen of Scots, after Cornelius and William Cure, plaster cast of head, (circa 1606-1616) [NPG Creative Commons]

The Royal Opera have assembled a wonderful cast for their performance of Maria Stuarda, but one performance reigned supreme: Joyce DiDonato as the titular Queen of Scots.

First, though, much has been said of the production by returning directorial pair Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser – and equally by those who would lambast the production and by those who would reserve their ire for the booers on the opening night, each in their own rather sanctimonious terms. At the risk of joining the former group, having been at both the opening night, and not having booed, as well as a second viewing, I’m afraid I don’t have much beef with those who did boo. It’s a messy, lazy, clumsy affair which, given how much time productions have lavished upon them for designed, prototyping, development and rehearsal, ought certainly to have been much, much better. (more…)

My week at the Metropolitan Opera

Lincoln Center - Metropolitan Opera House

The Metropolitan Opera House at night, as the audience files out of Madama Butterfly

I have just returned from New York, a trip that was based around celebrating a ‘significant’ birthday. During the 8-day stay, we took in five operas at the Metropolitan Opera House and, since I didn’t take a laptop with me, one post-trip round-up will capture thoughts on them all.

Overall, it was great to ‘live’ a different operatic experience for a week: everything about the Met is gargantuan, including (to be blunt) its own sense of self and the resulting hyperbole. In contrast, those fellow audience members with whom we chatted were reassuringly down-to-earth, and we had some great discussions, comparing notes on singers and performances across the Atlantic. And yet, from the security guards, to the rather prickly (and not particularly well-informed) backstage tour guide, to the social conventions around the front of house, it is all just slightly starchy when compared, dare I say it, to Covent Garden: more emphasis on a ‘sense of occasion’ than a night in the theatre, perhaps.  Maybe it’s the shades of all those Rockerfellers, Astors and Vanederbilts etched into the marble foyer. (more…)

Scott-land comes to the Royal Opera House


Sir Walter Scott, 1827 (Wikimedia)

John Fulljames’ new production of La Donna del Lago by Rossini opened last night at Covent Garden. The piece itself is based on a narrative poem of 1810 by Walter Scott, which took only 9 years to make it into operatic form, with La Donna premiering in Naples in 1819. This gives some sense of the popularity, not only of Scott himself, but the general themes of Scott’s work that chimed so well with the Romantic appetites of the contemporary audiences: real characters, perhaps a bit of supernatural intervention, brooding landscapes, the odd Gothic ruin.  The production’s muse, if I’ve read it correctly, is the early 19th Century creation of the ‘myth of Scotland’, which was entirely entwined with these themes of the Romantic movement, and amongst whose proponents Scott sits pre-eminent. The first act was a little opaque, but it came together nicely at the end. (more…)


I just don’t seem to have the time, or perhaps it’s the energy, to keep on top of jottings about things I’ve seen. So, one concert and one cinema screening… (more…)

ROH canters to a close for 2011/12

Notes and half-formed thoughts on three performances from the closing weeks of the Royal Opera season are still hanging around, not set down for posterity. Since posterity likes completeness (not that it ever gets it), I’d better crack on. (more…)

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. (more…)