Joyce DiDonato


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Songplay Review

by James Manheim

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato is adventurous in everything she does, but perhaps nowhere more than in this collection. DiDonato begins her booklet note by describing beginning voice students' encounters with the volume 24 Italian Songs and Arias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, which is remarkably still in common use coming up on a century and a half since its compilation. She reinforces the connection with a bonus track (it's appended to track 14) that is remarkably virtuosic: an accomplished singer makes herself sound like a freshman voice major. In that bonus track, DiDonato sums up the project as an exhortation to "play with these songs." Yet most of the material does not come from 24 Italian Songs and Arias, although Conti's Quella Fiamma is present in the longer version of the book, called Arie Antiche. That gets turned into a tango, which lets you know that you're dealing with something other than the usual too-pat equation of Baroque music and jazz. Other Baroque arias get jazz treatment from a band led by pianist Craig Terry, but this is not the end of it. Some are turned into piano ballads (one wouldn't think Caccini's Amarilli, mia bella would have been susceptible to this, but in DiDonato's hands it is), and there is a pair of Vivaldi arias, not from Arie Antiche at all, treated in entirely different ways. Then there is a good deal of music from the American pop songbook. Most such pop excursions by opera singers don't work well; the resources of one vocal tradition are being forced onto another. DiDonato's operatic readings of the likes of Duke Ellington's (In My) Solitude may not be for everyone, but the fact that she introduces some improvisation into these is remarkable in itself. The bottom line is that the whole thing may seem to be all over the map, and perhaps it is, but DiDonato's personality holds the project together, and collectively, the songs represent some fairly deep explorations of the relationships among Baroque music, jazz, and American pop. This release earned a 2020 Grammy award in the U.S.

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