I try to catch mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato wherever she appears, whether at the opera house or concert stage. Her performance in the title role of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda” last season at the Metropolitan Opera was one of the year’s high points. The Kansas native was just as effective at her Carnegie Hall concert performing arias from her “Drama Queens” album.
Erato/Warner Classics has just issued “ReJOYCE! The Best of Joyce DiDonato,” a 2-CD collection of pieces culled from the Grammy Award-winning singer’s first 10 years with the labels.
DiDonato had her admirers come up with the title of the album, select the material, and even provide the album cover photo (by Xenia Varelas). Fortunately, her fans have good taste, though it would be hard to find any sub-par recordings by the artist.
The 31 tracks show off the singer’s extraordinary technical facility with florid music as well as her ability to convey the inner turmoil of many of her heroines.
In addition to baroque operas and bel canto works, she has had a fruitful professional relationship with American composer Jake Heggie. There are two selections from his opera “Dead Man Walking,” which was one of the singer’s early triumphs.
DiDonato portrayed Sister Helen Prejean, who ministered to a prisoner on Death Row. “You’ve been so good to him and all of us … Who will walk with me?” is a duet with Frederica von Stade, a star mezzo of the previous generation. (Incidentally, Prejean wrote the words for a piece that Heggie set to music especially for DiDonato. She performed it at her Carnegie Hall solo debut concert.)
Other duet partners on “The Best of” set include Patrizia Ciofi on two Handel works: “Addio mio caro bene” from Handel’s “Teseo” and “Io t’abbraccio” from “Rodelinda”; and Anna Netrebko on “Quis est homo” from Rossini’s “Stabat Mater.”
In fact, there is a generous sampling of Rossini, displaying his lighter (“Una voce poco fa” from “The Barber of Seville”) and darker sides (“Tanti affetti in tal momento” from “La donna del lago”).
The singer’s graceful Mozart style is displayed on arias from “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Don Giovanni,” and “La clemenza di Tito.”
The two show tunes from Rodgers and Hammerstein are the inspirational “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from “Carousel” and “Climb Every Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.” As with the Heggie pieces, they are reminders of the singer’s clear articulation of language.
DiDonato ends the album, as she often does her concerts, with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz.” The rendition on the set is a live recording with the Kansas City Symphony conducted by Michael Stern. The song has special meaning for DiDonato since it was the last piece her father heard her perform.
The liner notes contain photos of DiDonato and her fans as well as their comments about her. Personally, I would have preferred translations of the texts since words are especially important for this singer.
If you don’t have any of her albums, this collection is a well-balanced introduction.
DiDonato’s next New York appearance will be with James Levine conducting the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 13 at 3 p.m. The program will include Rossini’s “Giovanna d’Arco” (orchestrated by Salvatore Sciarrino) plus Mozart’s “Deh, per questo istante solo” and “Non più di fiori” from “La clemenza di Tito.”
DiDonato will return to the Met next April and May in “La Cenerentola,” Rossini’s sparkling version of “Cinderella” with tenor Juan Diego Flórez.
Barry has been a music, theater, and travel writer for over a decade for various publications.