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Briefly Noted: Drama Queens

available at Amazon
Drama Queens (Handel, Hasse, Monteverdi, et al.), J. DiDonato, Il Complesso Barocco, A. Curtis

(released on November 6, 2012)
Virgin 5099960265425 | 67'54"
We are longtime fans of mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, especially for her contributions to the series of Handel opera recordings from the historically informed performance ensemble Il Complesso Barocco and conductor Alan Curtis. Sadly, the concert tour coinciding with the release of her new album of Baroque arias did not come through Washington this time: the experience of DiDonato's charming stage presence in live performance would likely increase one's enjoyment of this new disc. Certainly, it is all music beautifully performed, both the blazing vocal pyrotechnics of DiDonato, with florid embellishments worked out to maximum effect, and the refined, perfectly scaled sound of Il Complesso Barocco, all sensitively brought together under Curtis's direction. No complaints about the choice of repertory, either, as beyond two familiar arias by Handel (from Alcina and Giulio Cesare in Egitto), one from Haydn's Armida, and Octavia's showstopping "Disprezzata regina" from Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, the selection consists of composers rarely recorded, including Giuseppe Orlandini (two arias from Berenice, recently rediscovered), Giovanni Porta, Reinhard Keiser, Johann Hasse, Antonio Cesti, and Geminiano Giacomelli. At the same time, this disc does not strike me as standing out that much from what DiDonato has done before, certainly not to the degree that the many rapturous reviews thus far have seemed to indicate. It is a voice with many delights to offer, including pinpoint accuracy in the rapid passages, a simple, warm tone that can float at pianissimo, and also powerful zing at the top when it is at full bore -- in some ways, powered by the slightly obtrusive vibrato flutter that can mar intonation in the middle range and at softer dynamics. Worth a listen, definitely, but not a must-hear.


bronzino said...

OK, so I listened to this--and wound up throwing the CD away! As a countertenor, I should be thrilled that Baroque opera is being marketed with this, right? And that is exactly it--it was marketed, with gimics (flashy title, lazy/fluffy liner notes, and worst of all: a separate line item and logo identifying the manufacturer of the TEXTILE that went into making the dress that seems to be just as important here as the music!). How can I take this seriously?! Please someone guide her into concentrating on the musical content, not the sizzle.

Charles T. Downey said...

Sorry that your comment got caught in the pile for some reason. You write many of the things that I thought about -- DiDonato is now at the head of a crushing PR juggernaut -- but decided against devoting too much space to it.