Mezzo-soprano superstar Joyce DiDonato’s latest album of Baroque opera arias started life as a project to bring to light some Neapolitan rarities, but it took a swift hairpin turn in November last year following the brutal terror attacks in Paris. The Kansas diva and the crack Il Pomo d’Oro under their exciting young Russian Chief Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev ditched the programme and came up with a selection of “war and peace” arias, all of them sending a strong message in troubled times. “As I have tried to convey in this selection of music, the power to bravely tip the scales towards peace lies firmly within every single one of us,” DiDonato says.
Drawing mainly on much-loved arias from Handel and Purcell, the mezzo is in sizzling form, attacking the bellicose material with gusto. She looks like a lioness in profile on the cover and that is the feeling she brings here – you’d be a fool to mess with her! In stark contrast the “peace” songs, including back-to-back “swoon” tracks of Dido’s Lament by Purcell and Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo, are delivered with a glorious mixture of grace and irresistible sweetness. She does include some rarities – a “war” aria from Andromaca by the Neapolitan composer Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) and two “peace” arias, from the opera Attilio Regolo, by another Neapolitan, Niccolò Jommelli (1714-1774). And there is also a delicious dash of Monteverdi with Penelope’s aria Illustratevi o cieli from his final opera Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria.
The singing is magnificent – at 47, DiDonato’s voice is at its very peak – the diction is exemplary and the playing of the Italians is simply to die for. This recital is probably her most personal project to date and represents one of the most eloquent and moving pleas for peace in a long time.