Joyce DiDonato

Diva Divo

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The frequency with which mezzo sopranos are called on to play male roles lies behind the ingenious premise for Diva Divo. Joyce DiDonato has selected pairs of operas that basically have the same plot or source, and sings an aria from a role written for a male character from one, and for a female character from the other. Sometimes both of the operas are well known, as in the case of Faust and La Damnation de Faust. Generally, though, this involves pairing a familiar opera with one less familiar (La Clemenza di Tito by Mozart and Gluck, two of the nearly 40 settings of Metastasio's libretto), with the prolific Massenet providing three of the dark horses: Chérubin for Le nozze di Figaro, Cendrillon for La cenerentola, and Ariadne for Ariadne auf Naxos. Because of the composers' differing styles and sensibilities, it would not be immediately evident to someone unfamiliar with the music to detect which of the paired arias was for a man and which was for a woman. Mozart's Vitellia, in fact, sounds considerably more forcefully masculine than Gluck's Sesto. DiDonato's performances are absolutely first-rate throughout, proving her equally up roles assigned to either gender. Her voice is notable for its clarity, evenness, and agility, and it's beautifully showcased in a virtuoso aria like Rosina's "Contro un cor" from Il barbiere di Siviglia. She is just as effective in the long-breathed lyricism of Susanna's "Deh, vieni, non tardar" from Le nozze di Figaro, "Premiers transports" from Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette, and Siébel's "Faites-lui mes aveux" from Faust. Each of the selections demonstrates DiDonato's acute musicality and her gift for probing characterizations. Kazushi Ono leads the Orchestra and Chorus of l'Opéra National de Lyon in respectful accompaniment. Virgin's sound is clear and clean, but favors the orchestra at the expense of the voice on several tracks.

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