Four years ago a mezzosoprano well-known to the New York Met´s public gave recitals for the Mozarteum Argentino´s two subscription series at the Colón and was an immediate success. Joyce Di Donato had conquered Buenos Aires with her vocal talent and easy communication. She came back in 2014 and now she punctually returned after another two years. She is one of the few undisputed stars that has made it a point of visiting us regularly.
Her recitals always include bel canto arias, for she is a specialist in the fine art of expressive roulades of enormous difficulty. This season she sings at the Met Donizetti´s "Maria Stuarda" and Rossini´s "La Donna del Lago": an aria from the latter closed her B.A. recitals.
She brought along a splendid pianist: Craig Terry (debut). Throughout he displayed not only an infallible technique but an exquisite ability to play very softly; and unexpectedly he showed his capacity as a jazz player (more on it later).
There was a problem: with the exception of three songs by Granados and one by Strauss (an encore), which are legitimately for voice and piano, all the rest were arrangements. Of course, if you include zarzuela and opera, this is inevitable. But I can´t help feeling that Ravel´s "Shéhérazade" loses a lot (even if the arrangement is by the composer) without its sumptuous, perceptive orchestration.
Joyce, beautifully dressed (she changed after the interval), has a commanding presence, and talks to the public in Italian, a bit of Spanish and some English and French. There´s people that like this sort of communication, others think that the music speaks for itself and you have the information in the hand programme. And that the personality of the singer should only exude from the music she interprets.
Her first selection was a famous fragment from a zarzuela: "De España vengo", from Pablo Luna´s "El niño judío". The voice wasn´t quite settled in it, with some incisive tones and not completely accurate florid singing.
She said that she felt very Spanish but curiously she was immediately much more convincing in "Shéhérazade", that delicious suite of Oriental songs that Ravel composed on texts by the poet with the Wagnerian pseudonym Tristan Klingsor. Her French is very accurate, and after a couple of fixed notes she found her voice, which can be quite powerful but also be subtle, soft and insinuating. The very long "Asie" goes through various moods and is in fact a narrative rather than a song; "The enchanted flute" and "The indifferent" are sensual portraits of girls attracted by men. Di Donato conveyed all this with great art and Terry almost (not quite) made me forget the orchestration.
And now, Rossini: "Bel raggio lusinghier" from "Semiramide" was as expected dazzling; in this music, ornaments are the melody and the fluidity with which she accomplished it is the necessary and rarely heard condition to fully appreciate the Rossinian style.
I love the tonadillas of Enrique Granados but they require a fully idiomatic acquaintance which seems to elude non-Spanish singers: "La maja dolorosa" in its three parts was sung in correct Spanish and let us hear Di Donato´s deep lows, but something was missing: the Spanishness of Berganza or De los Ángeles.
Di Donato was splendid in that stately and noble aria from Händel´s "Rinaldo": "Lascia ch´io pianga"; her Baroque style is impeccable and the ornaments were all the right ones.
Now we come to a moot point: three "arie antiche" from Parisotti´s famous recopilation (1885-8) which still are the way the Baroque is learnt by students, notwithstanding its Romanticized harmony: Giordani, "Caro mio ben"; Pergolesi, "Se tu m´ami"; and attributed to Salvator Rosa, "Star vicino". Most of the audience, I presume, were set to hear them from a great professional singer: what they got was very different (no warning in the programme). After a few seconds, jazzy sounds came from the piano, and from then on we had an excursion into a popular Twentieth-Century style; it was fun of its kind but many would have preferred the first option.
Finally, more Rossini: from "La donna del lago", based con Scott´s "The Lady of the Lake", the scintillating final rondo in which Ellen expresses her joy, for the benevolence of the King allows her to celebrate her reunion with Malcolm (the man she loves) and her father Douglas. Three reflexions: the splendid version with Di Donato of the whole opera was offered last year by the Met and I commented it on the Herald; this is the same Ellen that sings her prayer in the famous Schubert Ave Maria; and both "La Donna del Lago" and "Semiramide" should be considered for future seasons of the Colón: neither has been ever done there, which is a shame.
Encores: Irving Berlin´s "I love a piano" comes from the film "Easter Parade" and was originally sung by Judy Garland; it is an unabashed romp and was done to a T by singer and pianist. Then, in total and lovely contrast, Richard Strauss´ dreamy "Morgen", so ecstatically sung and played that I was sorry they didn´t include more Lieder. Finally, another Garland standard, Arlen´s "Over the rainbow" from the film "The Wizard of Oz", in the nicest of performances.
To complete the mezzosoprano Heaven it would be wonderful to have in the future the visit of Elina Garança.
For Buenos Aires Herald