Friday, January 23, 2009

United States of Joyce DiDonato

Tonight's concert was quite a festival of darkness: "Anger, scorn, and fury," "I shall die, but avenged," "Within my soul it rises," "Fierce furies"… Except Tristan and I weren't at a black-metal gig (even if that Bathory guide has put me in the mood) but at an all-Handel recital by the French ensemble Les Talens Lyriques and mezzo Joyce DiDonato.

As we waited for the evening to start, Tristan and I were mistily reminiscing about seeing DiDonato in Hercules at BAM three years ago; glancing down at the program, he gasped "Oh my god, she's going to do my favorite aria from Hercules, the one she sang face down in the dirt!"

There was no dirt at Zankel Hall, but no matter: this concert rocked so hard!

Topped by a rather voluminous blonde mane, DiDonato looked like a lioness. Which felt particularly appropriate when she unleashed "Where Shall I Fly?" This aria is just so over the top that listening to it is like going through all the emotions of watching the craziest action movie ever. It was like watching someone who loses her mind then rides a rollercoaster then swims through a river full of piranhas, then stops for a cigarette break, but right away she starts hallucinating and after that she engages in a high-speed chase with a serial killer—except it lasts four minutes and she barely moves.

But then there were the moments when DiDonato was tender and broken-hearted, the ones where she was thoughtful, the ones when she was exuberant (the second encore, "Dopo Notte" from Ariodante, brought tears of happiness to my eyes). She could do it all, sometimes in such quick succession, it was like the classical version of Toni Collette in United States of Tara. I'm pretty sure I forgot to breathe at some point.

By the way, one of the reasons I love baroque is that it combines economy when it comes to lyrics with batty excess when it comes to vocal lines and emotions. Thus you get an aria like "Crude furie," in which four lines are heatedly sung over and over for something like three and a half minutes. The word veleno alone gets stretched to endless seconds each time. (I just saw that there's a CD alluringly titled Evil Arias by G. F. Händel, which once again shows it makes total sense to dig both baroque and metal; the genres also share a taste for highly technical pyrotechnics, even if metal could learn a thing or two from baroque when it comes to lyrical economy.)

This promo video shows DiDonato explaining her approach to Handel and then killing us softly with madness. You get to see the same lovely outfit she wore tonight, plus you hear the endearing accent of dashing Talens Lyriques conductor Christophe Rousset.

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