At the end of last month, Erato released a two-CD album of the opening concert for the 2014–2015 season at Wigmore Hall in London. The was a recital by Joyce DiDonato accompanied by Antonio Pappano, best known as music director of the Royal Opera House, at the piano. For those who like to follow rank orderings, the album debuted at the top of the Classical Chart for the United Kingdom. However, it was not released in the United States until the middle of this month, meaning that those who could not wait had to visit Amazon.co.uk. However, as of this past September 11, Amazon.com has been selling the album, entitled Joyce & Tony – Live at Wigmore Hall.
The album follows the neat division of the recital program into two separate parts. In an introductory statement for the booklet, DiDonato calls the first “my beloved Italian repertoire.” She calls the second “Great American Songbook,” which is a bit of a stretch but far from enough of a stretch to be a bother. As with so many of her other performances and albums, DiDonato used this occasion as a platform for lesser known corners of both of these repertoires.
She also began her recital with a bit of a historical twist. Her opening selection was Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken XXVIb/2 cantata Arianna a Naxos, which she had previously selected for the program of her Wigmore Hall debut recital in 2003. Haydn composed this cantata in 1789. It is structured as two arias, each introduced by a recitative, the second following the classical style of a “rage aria,” depicting Ariadne realizing that Theseus has deserted her on the isle of Naxos. Given the date, it is reasonable to assume that Haydn was familiar with how his friend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had composed some particularly striking rage arias, including Elettra’s at the conclusion of Idomeneo (K. 366) and several for Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni (K. 527). As might be expected, however, Haydn was perfectly capable at finding his own voice for this genre; and it is pure delight to listen to DiDonato breathe life into his result.
Indeed, except for two songs by Gioachino Rossini, the Italian portion of this album is likely to be a fascinating journey of discovery. The other major selection is the cycle of I canti della sera (the songs of the evening), four songs by the twentieth-century composer Francesco Santoliquido. This is followed by “Non ti scordar di me” (do not forget me), by Santoliquido’s contemporary compatriot Ernesto De Curtis, better known as the composer of “Torna a Surriento” (come back to Sorrento). (For some reason the text and translation of “Non ti scordar di me” is missing from the booklet.)
The second CD is divided into three sections: Four Dream Boats, Five Views of Love, and Two Welcome Compulsions. The songs themselves show a marked preference for Jerome Kern, and DiDonato knows how to land right on the money for each of the lyrics that Kern chose to set. (Two of them are from Show Boat.) The “welcome compulsions” are actually two more views of love. DiDonato’s approach to Bolcom’s “Amor” (from his Cabaret songs collection) is particularly delightful; and the wild card in the deck is “Food for thoughts” from Magdalena, a light opera by Heitor Villa-Lobos, sung in its English translation. The disc concludes with three encores, the last of which has become a DiDonato signature, Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow.”
Knowing a thing of two about DiDonato’s stage presence, it is easy to assume that experiencing her delivery of any of these songs in Wigmore would have been half the fun; but this new release definitely captures the spirit behind that delivery.