In just one week two important singers have shown their art at the Colón: American mezzosoprano Joyce DiDonato and Korean soprano Sumi Jo. The first made her debut in our city with two concerts for the Mozarteum, accompanied by David Zobel (also debut). The second is here as part of the jury of a singing competition in which she has as co-jurors (among others) no less than Kiri Te Kanawa and Sherrill Milnes. Her presence induced the Korean Embassy to organize a concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the start of diplomatic relations between Korea and Argentina. It was free, Argentine tenor Darío Schmunck also sang, and the Orquesta Académica del Instituto Superior de Arte del Teatro Colón was led by Enrique Diemecke.
DiDonato has been considered for years one of the very best Rossini mezzos, along with Cecilia Bartoli and Elina Garança; some add Viveca Genaux to complete an illustrious quartet. We may say that in this particular repertoire we are traversing a golden age. In opera DiDonato also sings Mozart, Händel, Massenet, and even Richard Strauss. In her recitals she alternates songs with operatic arias. I found her choices very interesting and out-of-the-way, which certainly has merit. Fernando Obradors (1897-1945) is little-known, but his seven "Canciones clásicas españolas" are gems, especially "Del cabello más sutil". They were sung in correct though not quite idiomatic Spanish, with fine comprehension of their subtleties and superior vocal refinement. The timbric quality for my ears isn´t always beautiful but most of the time it is; sometimes she uses a guttural tinge for expression affecting the vocal line. Zobel is French and a master of the art of the accompanist, blending a perfect mechanism with the utmost sensitivity of phrasing; he is the habitual partner of DiDonato and they mesh wonderfully.
The two Händel arias showed two sides of the singer: sweet and fluid in "Semele" (Oh sleep why dost thow leave me), virtuoso florid singing in the terribly difficult "Dopo notte, atra e funesta" from "Ariodante" (if I prefer Janet Baker, it is because I am very partial to her timbre and artistry; in agility they are even).
Then, arias based on Beaumarchais: two from Mozart/Da Ponte´s "The Marriage of Figaro": Cherubino´s "Voi che sapete" and Susanna´s "Deh, vieni, non tardar" (with the previous recitative); the third from Rossini/Sterbini´s "The Barber of Seville": Rosina´s "Una voce poco fa". Cherubino suits her perfectly, and this particular Susanna aria also, although it is a soprano role (the whole thing wouldn´t be convincing probably). I was disappointed by "Una voce poco fa", very willful and plagued with doubtful aggregates.
I was much happier with "Assisa a piè d´un salice", Desdemona´s marvelous aria from Rossini´s "Otello", sung with a refinement and beauty that rivalled Von Stade´s recording. Then came quite a treat: "Venezia" (1901), five songs in Venetian dialect by Reynaldo Hahn, charming and melodious, done with insinuating inflexions by this versatile artist. Stefano Donaudy´s "O del mio amato ben" used to be a Muzio specialty; it was beautifully phrased by DiDonato. The brilliant "La Spagnola" by Vincenzo Di Chiara (1880-1937) ended the programme.
Encores: following a similar line, though previous in date, the funny "Canzonetta spagnuola" by Rossini. An agreeable version in homage to our country of Ginastera´s "Canción al árbol del olvido". Then, the best thing of the night: an absolutely stunning demonstration of technical ability in "Tanti affetti" from Rossini´s "La donna del lago". And a curious adieu to our public: "Over the rainbow" from Arlen´s "The Wizard of Oz"; it certainly didn´t trump the exquisite innocence of the teenager Judy Garland, but it was nicely sung. Zobel was a tower of strength throughout. I disliked the very American comments (quite unnecessary) of the singer at various points of the evening.
Sumi Jo had great successes at the Colón: Gilda in "Rigoletto" (1997), "The Queen of Night" in "The Magic Flute" (1996) and Zerbinetta in "Ariadne auf Naxos" (1993) are fondly remembered as high examples of the art of florid soprano singing. I´m happy to report that her comeback concert was impressive. After Beethoven´s "Coriolan" Overture (a bad choice for this context) we heard the variations on "Ah! Vous dirais-je Maman" from Adam´s "Le toréador", where, well-partnered by flutist Gabriel Romero, she sang fast scales with bell-like, pure tones. She still looks very beautiful, although her dressing style was kitschy. "Caro nome " from "Rigoletto" was admirable except for poor diction. Then Schmunck sang two arias with a small but accurate voice: "Una furtiva lacrima" from Donizetti´s "L´elisir d´amore") and Lenski´s aria from Tchaikovsky´s "Evgeni Onegin". The duet "Lippen Schweigen" from Lehár´s "The Merry Widow" was played for laughs and was quite un-Viennese.
A Korean song, "Ari arirang" by Jungjoon Ahn, was preceded by the orchestral "Can- Can" from Offenbach´s "Orphée aux enfers", and followed by the automat´s song from the same composer´s "Les contes d´Hoffmann", marvelously well sung and acted. The concert, without interval and short, had the compensation of four encores: a lovely "O mio babbino caro" (Puccini´s "Gianni Schicchi"), a curious homage to Argentina with Panizza´s "Canción de la bandera" (from "Aurora") sung by both artists, another Korean song, and the Toast from "La Traviata" with both singers. The orchestra under Diemecke played agreeably, and the conductor showed his proverbial adaptability.
For Buenos Aires Herald