25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
A fine singer - but in the wider context of Rossini singing...?
, 2 Mar. 2010
This review is from: Rossini: Colbran, The Muse (Audio CD)
I expect that this review will attract opprobrium and corresponding negative votes, but I seriously wonder if any of the preceding ecstatic reviews are by listeners who are really familiar with some of the best recorded Rossini singing over the last thirty or so years. I dread turning into one of those old bores who intone, "Ah, but you should have heard [insert any singer of the "old school"]" but there is no way that Joyce DiDonato measures up to some of her predecessors. Technically, she is excellent, with a fine even range, a passable trill and admirable agility, but interpretatively she is virtually devoid of personality - and the top of the voice is more than a mite tremulous at times. I have for some time been sitting on the fence regarding her real worth, but have never been struck by any special individuality of timbre. I thought that this recital might settle for the matter for me - and indeed it has; I am moderately impressed but she in no wise eclipses the likes of Horne, Von Stade or Podles.
Let's start with emotional heart of the recital: the extended extract from Act 3 of that neglected gem "Otello". I made a point of playing in succession DiDonato and then Von Stade in the same music and asking my wife to listen too. She immediately confirmed what I first thought: DiDonato makes an impressive noise, but she sounds as if she has little idea of what she is singing about and manages to conjure virtually none of the plangency and tenderness so abundant in Von Stade's Desdemona, recorded in Lopez Cobos's complete set in 1978. True, Von Stade needs more breath and occasionally breaks a phrase where DiDonato sings through it, but emotionally and interpretatively she leaves DiDonato in the dust - not to mention sheer beauty of sound. It's a great pleasure to hear Lawrence Brownlee's mellifluous tenor as the distant gondolier (recorded too close) in the haunting snippet from Dante, but the comprimario soprano who sings Emilia is blowsy and wobbly; poor compared with Nucci Condo in the older recording. Similarly, DiDonato cannot approach the verve and bravura of either Horne or Podles in the more martial arias. I do not expect her, as a mezzo, to have their vocal heft but the comparisons are revealing and I find her lacking even in direct competition with more similar voices such as those belonging to Von Stade or Bartoli. Indeed, she often sounds very like the latter without her mannerisms - but also without her personality.
I suppose if you have no particular attachment to these older singers and prefer a lighter, less overt approach to Rossini, DiDonato will be fine, but I suspect that Colbran herself compensated for a declining voice with a great deal more art and maturity of expression than DiDonato is capable of here. She is a relatively young singer and clearly a fine one, but I wonder whether people's eagerness to hail a new star has warped their judgement; she really is not the Rossinian dream of the more effusive reviews and her lack of identification with the texts means that she has not made the transition from comedienne to the serious roles completely successfully. I hesitated to give this disc four stars and was inclined to award three, but admiration for her accomplishment prompted a more generous verdict.
PS Am I the only one faintly embarrassed for the singer when the cover photo depicts her in full pouting Playgirl pose with plunging cleavage on display? It's not very dignified when a serious artist lets herself be presented thus.
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