Joyce DiDonato and the Troubled Opera Royals

By Barry Bassis Created: November 4, 2012 Last Updated: March 29, 2013
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Joyce DiDonato's new album “Drama Queens.” (Courtesy of EMI Classics)

Joyce DiDonato's new album “Drama Queens.” (Courtesy of EMI Classics)

Joyce DiDonato is one of those artists I try to catch whenever she appears. Last year, I saw the Kansas native at the Metropolitan Opera in Rossini’s comic opera “Le Comte Ory” with Juan Diego Florez, and I also attended her Carnegie Hall debut. She ended the concert with a heartfelt rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” the last song her father heard her perform.

Aside from having a glorious voice and dramatic flair, DiDonato comes up with clever ideas for her albums. She won the Grammy Award last year for Best Classical Vocal Solo for her gender-bending album, “Diva, Divo” in which she performed arias from trouser roles and female heroines from different operas.

DiDonato’s new album, on which she is accompanied by conductor Alan Curtis leading Il Complesso Barocco, is titled “Drama Queens.” In real life, a “drama queen” can be a pain in the neck. (The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term as “a person given to often excessively emotional performances or reactions.”)

On the opera stage, though, drama queens are usually royalty and face serious predicaments. For example, Ottavia in Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea” (1643) bemoans her fate as a “despised queen, wretched wife of the Roman emperor” when she discovers that she has been jilted by her unfaithful spouse.

In another opera based on the same events, Keiser’s “Octavia,” she expresses the thought that “love betrayed turns into martyrdom.”

Similarly, Cleopatra turns up in several operas, facing “Death’s grisly aspect” (Hasse’s “Antonio e Cleopatra”) or losing her privileges and titles as well as the life of her lover Julius Caesar “in a single day” (Handel’s “Giulio Cesare in Egitto”).

Giuseppe Maria Orlandini’s Berenice (the title character of his opera) is “tossed like a ship on stormy seas” while Ifigenia (from Porta’s “Ifigenia in Aulide”) embraces her mother and asks her to forgive her father, who is about to put the young woman to death.

Needless to say, these heroines are not overdramatizing their dire situations. As DiDonato observes in the liner notes, “The Baroque drama queen apologizes for nothing, hides nothing (unless it suits her purposes of course), lays herself bare without filter, and through glorious, magisterial vocal music gives us permission to dare to do the same.”

We would add that the singing on this CD is also glorious and magisterial. One other point worth noting is that some of these works from the 17th and 18th century are quite obscure. The two Orlandini arias from “Berenice, Queen of Palestine” (1725) were, according to conductor Alan Curtis, thought to be lost, but were found in a California library.

Joyce DiDonato will perform her Drama Queens program with Il Complesso Barocco, conducted by Dmitry Sinkovsky, at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m.

She will return to the Metropolitan Opera as another ill-fated ruler, Mary, Queen of Scots, in Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda.” The opera will be performed intermittently between Dec. 31 and Jan. 23.

More about Il Complesso Barocco

Founded in Amsterdam in 1979 by Alan Curtis, one of the most acclaimed specialists in the interpretation of pre-romantic music, Il Complesso Barocco, has become a renowned international baroque orchestra with a focus on Italian Baroque opera and oratorio.

Their high standard for interpretation, intonation, and stylistic accuracy has led to their being requested in the most important concert venues and festivals in Europe and America.


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