The Daily Telegraph
Joyce Didonato grips the soul in this heavenly Baroque recital
Joyce Didonato and Il Pomo d’oro Edinburgh Academy Junior School
It is a sign of our times that on Monday evening, the great American mezzo-soprano Joyce Didonato thanked the Edinburgh International Festival effusively for inviting her to sing in what is, in effect, a gazebo in a field.
To be fair, the vast, temporary auditorium the festival has erected in Inverleith, in the north of the city, is impressive enough to host a royal garden party. However, no one could claim that the makeshift venue, on the playing fields of Edinburgh Academy Junior School, has the acoustics of a great opera house. Not that this mattered to Didonato, who spoke passionately about the social importance of the return of live music at a time when news headlines threaten to overwhelm “the light” that the art form brings us.
Didonato, who is Irish-american and from Kansas (the Italian surname comes from her first marriage), was joined by the extraordinary Italian period instrument ensemble Il Pomo d’oro, singing a rich and diverse selection of her favourite arias from the Baroque operas. The concert opened with the ensemble offering a virtuosic and dynamic rendering of Sinfonia grave à cinque voci by
Salamone Rossi. Then, Didonato came on stage to the unmistakable strains of Monteverdi’s ‘Illustratevi o cieli’ from
Il ritorno d’ulisse in patria.
Does the music of any composer, apart from JS Bach, come closer to expressing the voice of God than that of Monteverdi? To hear Didonato perform from the operas of the great innovator of the Italian Baroque was to be transported to the outer edges of human experience. Il Pomo d’oro, for their part, delivered the music with an energy and zest that spoke to the predominant youth of the ensemble.
When Didonato sang of spiritual self-realisation, as she did in Johann Adolph Hasse’s Antonio e Cleopatra, she was gloriously exultant. When, by contrast, Monteverdi transported her to bitter sadness, as in L’incoronazione di Poppea (“Farewell, Rome... farewell homeland friends, farewell! Though
innocent, I must leave you”) her anguish was devastating.
One often hears singers talk of their voice as their “instrument”. A truly great singer, such as Didonato, proves that, no matter how splendidly tuned that instrument is, it grips the soul only when it is coupled with a deep and intelligent emotion.
This was made abundantly apparent in her performance of ‘Dopo notte’ from Handel’s Ariodante. By the time, in lines that express her socio-artistic creed, she had sung the Italian words that translated as, “For in the midst of a violent storm my boat was almost sunk, but it grasps the shore as it returns to port”, the audience was cheering her to the temporary rafters.