The sumptuously rich voice of Joyce DiDonato - even her name is plum-ripe - and the equally flamboyant, brightly-lit music of Gioachino Rossini were made for each other, exemplified to perfection on this 72-minute disc in tribute to the composer's muse and first wife Isabella Colbran, of choice Joyce in well-chosen arias from La donna del largo, Armida, Semiramide, Otello, and the rarely heard Maometto II and Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra.
It seems to me that here is a masterclass in how to sing this music. One quality I love in the singing of this great contemporary mezzo (my favourite type of voice) is its tonal variety, along with some spine-tingling low notes. We know she loves this music, and she lives it in each note she sings.
We are lucky to live in an age of many marvellous mezzos (mind you, we always did - think of, say, Baker, Ludwig or Fassbaender, in an earlier era) with their essentially different attributes, from the aristocratic Bernarda Fink or the coolly brilliant Anne Sofie von Otter, to the more opulent voices of Bartoli and Garanca, to name only a few obvious examples. Joyce DiD belongs in the latter group, her lavish tones able to hit the listener right between the eyes, as it were. Her accuracy of pitch is balanced by a willingness to not always sound 'beautiful', a certain superficial 'ugliness' suiting some of these roles - and heaven knows, there have been many great singers, in all genres, who have been great despite and/or because of their less than perfect sound, from Callas to Piaf.
In person (at least in interviews) this lady is quite obviously a woman of a warm and voluptuous sensibility, and I feel I need to take good-humoured issue with at least one fellow reviewer who has expressed regret at the choice of cover photo for this 2009 disc. To me, it suits both Rossini's music and the personality of this singer. Naturally, the record company will have encouraged such an image, but I honestly don't think it trivialises or vulgarises the music or the integrity of the recording one iota. Far from it, it's entirely appropriate. (There's also a less serious case to be made, to wit: if you got it, flaunt it!)
The booklet is excellent, with full libretti in four languages, plus a photo of conductor Edoardo Muller and an anonymous one of Colbran herself.
Joyce DiD, while honouring both letter and spirit of this sometimes astounding music, can and often does make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, and for that I'm eternally grateful.