The show starts even before the actual concert, as in the foyer one is handed over a Hallmark card in which Joyce Didonato asks us to reflect on what brings us piece in times of war. She and her topless male dancer are already on scene when the public enters the concert hall, she on an elevated stool, the dancer in a motionless dance-pose . The concert begins, the stage is barely lit, one can only discern the primadonna climbing off her stool in the back while the music starts. The first few pieces are by Purcell, Leo, Handel, and they are all very declamatory and highly dramatic. They talk about war and are accompanied by theatrical red lighting and unclear black-and-white projections of what seem to be flames, smoke, war-like scenarios and pulses of lights. All this while wafts of vapor are blown onto the stage projectors. So the first part clearly talks about war and ends with the primadonna, genuflected on stage and looking all misterious, while pinkish petals are projected onto the wall falling down while Didonato sings Lascia ch’io pianga.
Since a few years this fashion of dramatizing recitals is becoming a trend. I am just not sure what the purpose is. In this particular case my malicious mind made me want to think that Didonato had vocal flaws to hide. In the declamatory pieces she leaped and jumped from low to high notes with a voice not fully controlled, which resulted in notes being out of tune, screamed or sighed (“for dramatic purpose” I guess). The pronunciation was approximate also in English.
The second was the joyous part, with mainly Handel, but also an unknown (to me) Jommelli Par che di giubilo. A wonderful aria but which was full of picchiettati which didn’t seem to have a clear path, and again the jumps in the picchiettati were sometimes not fully in tune. Where Didonato was very good was Handel, especially the lyrical pieces and the coloratura. All was accompanied by different shapes of lighting propelled onto the ceiling, the background or the balconies. I think Didonato has more to offer than this. I would love to hear her in Vivaldi, Hasse, and all those composers between Vivaldi and Mozart, I think she would be excellent in it, Zingarelli, Portogallo etc. But in this particular evening everything was over the top, an Irish neighbour I had behind me leaned towards his friend asking her “what the fuck is the naked dancer about and what are these distracting helicopters (he meant the lights) for?” The Belgians erupted in thunderous applause…..But then the Belgians would rapturously applaud also a French fry lying all tragically on stage if it’s famous.
After the awful setting of The Munt/La Monnaie’s Capriccio by David Marton (it was the direction that bothered me. David Marton clearly does not know what to do with singing people on stage), I kind of hoped for Didonato to lift my spirit, but she succeeded only by half.
Photos from the http://inwarandpeace.com webpage.