Commentary on Joyce Di Donato’s ‘Malibran’ Concert at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro on August 19th, 2008

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Di Donato being greeted by the audience at the Rossini Theater in Pesaro on August 19th, 2008.

Interview With Joyce Di Donato

Q. Why did you decide to do a concert in Pesaro this summer?

I was asked by Maestro Zedda if I would come to give a tribute concert to Maria Malibran in honor of her bicentenial, and the timing worked out perfectly for my schedule, so I jumped at the chance to return to this very special festival where I debuted 5 years earlier.

Q. Why did you select the pieces you performed?

They were all chosen from repertoire that Maria had sung over the course of her career, and I knew that I wanted to feature the Romeo from Capuleti in the second half, as well as Desdemona’s grand willow song. The Mozart were just a delight to program, and the Una Voce was sort of a “must sing”!

Q. Is Rossini’s Desdemona one of the new roles you are preparing? What roles were you working on in Pesaro?

I don’t have plans as of yet to perform Desdemona (not enough months in the year!), but it is an aria that I have long aspired to sing, and this was the perfect opportunity. I was heavy into preparation for my first Elvira for the Royal Opera House (which just opened last night!). I was arriving to a very short rehearsal period, and since this was a new role, I knew I needed to be overly well prepared, so my days were spent with Mozart instead of at the beach, sadly!

Q. What key did you sing in for the mezzo Desdemona? What key is it in for a soprano?

I sang in the original key, as I don’t believe there is a difference.

Q. Did I hear you say that Malibran did not sing Susanna’s aria? If so, why did you include it?

No, she did perform Susanna – my comment was that I doubt she performed both her and Cherubino in the same evening!

Q. How did it come about that you sang with Amanda Forsythe? Did you work with her previously?

Maestro Zedda suggested her, and I was happy to accept his recommendation, but then we ended up working together in “Ariodante” in Geneva last fall, and as soon as I heard her Dalinda, I knew she would be a lovely Giulietta.

Q. How did you find the rehearsals for the concert? Was it a pleasant experience? How much time did you and Forsythe devote to rehearsal? I just read in an article that you are married to Leonardo Vordoni? How is it working with someone so close?

We had a 2 hour piano rehearsal where things came together very easily, as she was extremely well prepared. And yes, “The Maestro” and I are married, and it was a delight to be able to make music together.

Q. How was the working situation in Pesaro? How different is it from working for other theaters?

It’s actually quite lovely – I think the main difference is that the beach is so close! But the atmosphere is a lovely combination of very serious work and a near “vacation” feeling, so everyone is mostly relaxed and enjoying great food and sun!

Q. During your talk, you refered to a gentleman in the upper box, who is he and what is his position?

This was Maestro Alberto Zedda – the great Rossini conductor and founder of the Rossini Festival. He has been a big champion of mine, we have recorded “Cenerentola” together, and I’m very grateful for his contribution to the world of opera.

Q. What is your overall impression of Pesaro and do you plan to return?

I love being in Pesaro and it has many special memories for me – I would love to return, but these days, the problem is always one of the calendar, so we will have to see how the next few years shape up. Sadly, there is not enough time to do it all!

Q. Considering the length and depth of your program, I think the audience did not expect an encore. Where did you find the strength to sing the Rondo from La Cenerentola? The response was lovely to hear!

I’m not entirely sure where I found the strength, as I was quite exhausted at the end of the program. But I had a feeling that the audience would appreciate it quite a lot, and because it’s a role that is very engrained in my body/voice, it carried me through. I got a bit lucky, I think!

Di Donato as Romeo in V. Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi with conductor Leonardo Vordoni and Orchestra Haydn Di Bolzano E Trento.

Commentary on Joyce Di Donato’s ‘Malibran’ Concert at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro on August 19th, 2008

When mezzo-soprano Joyce Di Donato travelled to Pesaro to celebrate the bicentennial of Maria Malibran’s birth at the Rossini Opera Festival, she brought with her a suitcase stuffed with artistic goodies. Invited personally by ROF’s Artistic Director Alberto Zedda, Di Donato had prepared a program of arias and scenes that Malibran performed for her public before her tragic death at the age of 28. Di Donato, blessed with an inviting and creamy lyrical voice and a prodigious technique, seemed to conjure up Malibran’s ghost with a natural stage presence which totally captivated her audience. Hers was a performance to which opera lovers gladly succumbed.

Di Donato offered a generous program. She started with Cherubino’s two arias and Susanna’s recitative and aria from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. For the Rossini section, Di Donato gave a poignant account of Desdemona’s Canzone del Salice and Preghiera from his Otello and a lively Una voce poco fa from his Barbiere. Then for her final section, she turned to V. Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi singing Romeo’s Cavatina, Se Romeo t’uccise un figlio, followed by the love duet, Si, fuggire, and the Second Act finale with soprano Amanda Forsythe. Taken with the moment, Di Donato gave a delightful rendition of Angelina’s Rondo from Rossini’s La Cenerentola as an encore.

Di Donato, an artist who is at the top of her game, dismissed any concerns about the program’s length, and dove in with skillful exuberance. This combination of passion and craft reached a most gratifying level in the Rossini and Bellini sections.

Di Donato imbued Desdemona’s Willow Song and Prayer with such vocal pathos, it seemed to carry the young girl’s transition from youthful naivete to tragic reality in one remorseful breath showing Rossini’s music at its most sorrowful.

But it was Di Donato’s three scenes from I Capuleti that brought the audience into that Bel Canto world where Bellini and his librettist Felice Romani lived their lives to the fullest. With great assist from conductor Leonardo Vordoni, Forsythe’s Julliet, Coro Da Camera Di Praga and Orchestra Haydn Di Bolzano e Trento, Di Donato created operatic scenes filled with great beauty and artistic honesty. Of course, Di Donato and her forces had plenty of help in conveying these moments. Leslie Orrey in his book Bellini, says that, “Romani’s book is logical and compact and…it is lyrically expansive enough to provide the composer with the opportunities he needs for his music to soar.” In Romeo’s Cavatina, mentioned above, the mezzo immediately established her character’s persona, looking every bit the boyish lover in her black trousers and a vest over a white shirt and gray tie.

As Di Donato began the love duet with Forsythe, she easily connected Romeo’s love with Giulietta’s awakening pangs of desire. Forsythe proved an admirable partner, her clear and textured vocal expression matching Di Donato’s supple and plangent sound.

For Romeo and Giulietta’s death scene, Vordoni and his orchestra created an exquisite symmetry that heightened Bellini’s elongated musical sadness and Romani’s auguished text while Di Donato and Forsythe were scaling down their performances to fit the recital setting. A heart stopping moment broken only by the audience’s timely affectionate outburst.

Photos courtesy of Studio Amati Bacciardi.

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