I have Joyce DiDonato’s Handel recital Furore for a while and have been listening to it trying to form an opinion. She is a singer I like and, while I try to be objective about her, I am afraid I end on being rigorous. Anyway, a recital of arie di furie, especially live as she has done around the time of this CD’s release, is far from an easy task. The point of these arias is to be beyond oneself – and it is very difficult to do that for a long time span, especially in a repertoire that demands absolute technical abandon. That is precisely the challenge – how to reconcile the demands of technical control and emotional explosion. I believe that Joyce DiDonato has achieved an optimal compromise – every item displays thorough technical control and perfect understanding of dramatic situations. But how effective such a compromise could be in music that should show you beyond any kind of compromise?
For example, Where shall I fly? is a great improvement on her performance on DVD, in which she gets overwhelmed by the theatrical demands and sacrifices too often musical values – in the end she seems to be having far more fun than the audience. Not here – her portray is very detailed, extremely musical and expressive. If I am not entirely convinced, it is because the despair is conveyed from declamatory effects added upon rather than presented in her voice. This is probably why her Scherza, infida, beautifully and sensitively sung as it is, does not really move me when I compare her to Lorraine Hunt, who does not need to make any particular point: the voice alone expresses it all. The sound carries that intensity in itself. And Ariodante is not trying to convincing anyone about anything, he is just experimenting that pain by and for himself.
I can hardly blame DiDonato for the elegant quality of her voice that makes her too chic for the circumstances, but the portrait of fury requires something really wild and dangerous in the proceedings. I have recorded a CD of arie di furie for a friend and the first item that came to my mind was Voglio strage from Graun’s Cesare e Cleopatra, as sung by Iris Vermillion. It seems her voice is going to get out of track in the next moment – she sings some key words such as superbo and ingrato in raw chest voice, produces some rather strained high options, keeps a certain pressure in her voice – it is all overblown, but it keeps you to the edge of your seats and you REALLY believe her character is truly freaking out right then. The problem about those performances is to discover the limits of exaggeration, going dangerously close but not trespassing them. But you have to throw some dishevelment in the procedures. If it sounds too proper, then it is not working. In her performance of Tu me da me divide from Pergolesi’s L’Olimpiade, Simone Kermes really throws protocol to the airs stressing key words through dynamics, spitting her text as if she was really frantic and no-one will ever doubt how enraged she is. Is this over-the-top? Yes – but when one looses one’s temper, one is not supposed to stay put. Of course, this is a difficult balance. Kermes herself, for example, went way beyond that line in her recent appearance at the AIDS Gala in Berlin, in which she got so overwhelmed by her own attitude that in the end the whole thing had little to do with Hasse. (I still like her customary “I’m-not-a-diva-with-a-fragance-with-my-name”-approach though…).
Back to DiDonato, I don’t feel that danger in her performances in this disc. Even Crude furie from Serse, which she sang really forcefully on French TV with Jean-Cristoph Spinosi, sounds here relatively tame, the important low notes not truly percutant as they should, the runs too poised… No one can accuse her of not trying in Teseo’s Morirò ma vendicata, but she does not seem on top of the game as she should there, rather fazed with the difficult fast declamation than fully invested in it.
If I have to point out one item in Furore that really works for me, this would be Amadigi’s Desterò dall’empia dite. Although Melissa feels spurned by Amadigi and revengeful towards Oriana, in this aria, she seems very much mistress of herself, while invoking the forces of hell to fight for her. In it, DiDonato sounds rightly formidable and the chic makes her sorceress particularly effective. It is also a soprano role, which seems to seat better in her voice in those arie di furie. You just have to listen to Alan Curtis’s Alcina, in which Joyce DiDonato dispels any doubt of her ability to portray fury in Ma quando tornerai. More Handelian soprano roles from her then? Time will tell.