Yeah, it's true, the danger of blogging about someone like Joyce DiDonato after a recital such as she gave at Zankel just now is that you run the risk of sounding like a blithering fanboi. But hey, at this point that's a label I'm comfortable with. Part of the problem is that JDD has a blogospheric presence that's so fan-friendly that I'm pretty sure we all have a sort of "our Joyce" feeling about her to begin with, so you're starting at level of admiration that may require insulin to read about, and then if the singing is good, forget about it...
Speaking generally for a second about the love of singing, here is what's confusing: unless I'm overgeneralizing my own experience, you start out as an opera fan loving the beautiful voices (Kathleen Battle's Pleasures of Their Company hung the moon for me), and then after a few years you discover the appeal of flawed voices, and at some point this becomes a dichotomy. You suppose that the prettiest voices rest on their laurels and that the monstrous ones just work the harder and are the more to be entrusted with the work of serious artistry.
But so unless I'm devising an imaginary dichotomy here, JDD doesn't have the innate tragedy in her voice, the tonal sob of, to pick the most obvious example, Troyanos. It is a sunny-colored voice that goes with the face (ok, fine, as long as I'm having a mock-heterosexual moment, it's probably worth noting that the lady, in photographs possessed of an agreeable Midwestern prettiness, is in person fairly dazzling.) So I suppose she must work very hard indeed, because here is art, no doubt about it. No, let's make use of the shift key. Here is Art.
It doesn't look like work. I overheard a gentleman at intermission saying "she'd better not keep singing like that--balls out all the time," and it was sweet of him, I thought, to be concerned for a singer he likes (well and obviously we do all like to play If I Were a Vocal Coach once in a while), but I'm pretty sure he's wrong. The strain of a hard sing is not in evidence; in this selection of tortured scenes from Handel what is heard is not that the sounds pain the singer, but rather that the sentiment does. If La DiDo were singing recklessly, the second encore, the lyrical and un-furious "Dopo Notte," could not have sounded so, well, bouncy.
That's actually the best word I can think of for how you have to sing it for the the repetitive figures in that piece to sound like anything but a repeated poke in the ear--LHL knew this, too, as evidenced on record. And in fact, between vocal passages, the singer bounced on her feet perceptibly to the music. Hey remember that time I was in Zankel for four or six hours of Meredith Monk? And Bjork sang and I was all "whatever, Bjork" until she got out there and, hang on, gotta self-google here...sang Gotham Lullaby "in the kind of tightly coiled, in-the-moment performance I'd like to see more on opera stages, wringing her hands and pacing with a little dance in her step--pacing not from lack of things to do, but apparently from inner reaction to the music that required kinetic expression."
Right, that. The physical engagement in the scenes from Teseo was gratifying, the braced-for-battle stance somehow not impeding but perhaps somehow aiding the lengthy roulades. In the justly famous "Joyce DiDonato decompensates in front of you" scene from Hercules, it was what I can only happily call harrowing. I wonder if this is all about trusting that a curl of the lip that may not be seen even in a small hall may still be heard, and so doing it regardless of whether it is seen.
What I'm getting at is the gestures were generally not large. Which of course means that the ones that were something ferocious. So, for instance much of the "I'm fixin' to fall out" vibe of "Where shall I fly?" (apparently first performed at Carnegie by no less than the Heink--big shoes to fill, and you know what they say about a Contralto with big shoes, don't you? Neither do I) was put across by means of a mix of gestures small and large. By the time she ever so slightly messed up her hair, something chameleonic had occurred, and for a moment you might have felt she was standing up there looking a fright instead of still working a dashingly bazoomatic red frock.*
If I were better able to access the emotion in Handel, I assume my head would have exploded at some point, and then once I'd put it back together, I'd have more useful commentary for you. To my mostly post-baroque ear, in any case, this was a real Sternstunde, and certainly (with the exception of the two gentlemen in good seats who almost started whapping each other with programs over something or other...one is curious but will never know) the mistake of putting a concert that could have filled Stern in tiny Zankel did pay off in terms of its friendly, intimate feel. If you want to judge for yourself, there is, you know, a CD with a notably similar program.
Next up, probably a few sour words about the Orfeo production and a few happy ones about Blythe, this already seen and heard at the time of final mouseclick.
*Right, Parterre is the one where they coherently describe clothing. MFI: colors are about as detailed a description as you're going to get.