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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine singer - but in the wider context of Rossini singing...?, 2 Mar. 2010
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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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Showing 1-10 of 29 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Mar 2011 16:23:12 GMT
About the cover-girl: This is a trend now-a-days that starlets of opera gives themselves the tasteless freedom to pose like pin-up girls. Elena Garanca did almost the same on her CDs. Bad taste.
As for your struggle with her art, one should hear Jennifer Larmore (Callme Mister) first; that would make your life much easier and would refine your taste too.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2011 17:42:19 GMT
Last edited by the author on 10 Mar 2011 19:13:41 GMT
Ralph Moore says:
Your point eludes me, Judy. I like Larmore's voice very much - much more than DiDonato's - although I have complained that she is sometimes a little placid (as in her Berlioz version of "Orphee et Euridice" conducted by Runnicles). Do you mean that she is more vulgar in that album or that you like her? I'm always happy to "refine my taste" - I've spent many tears listening to do that and now I like to think I've got a fair bit of it. I don't "struggle" with my reaction to DiDonato at all; I remain, as I said, "moderately impressed".

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2011 19:16:30 GMT
I was trying to make a point about the voice qualities: I find Larmore voice to be very, very special: I hope you will read my comments and reviews of Larmore's Callme Mister CD, of "the spectacular voice of Merilyn Horne" Cd, and of Elina Garaca "bel Canto" (three reviews) - so as to get a better picture of what I think everyone should know about these Mezzo-Soprano voices. I did not include DiDonato almost in purpose, because I do not grade her singing ability to be anything out of the extraordinary or even something interesting.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2011 21:16:10 GMT
Ralph Moore says:
Got it - and quite agree about Horne, Larmore (both wonderful) and Garanca (hmm). I really don't understand the fuss about DiDonato but have quite a long list of mezzo voices (such as Berganza and Von Otter) whose popularity has always puzzled me, as I find them bland.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2011 21:43:58 GMT
Berganza (sorry to say this) has a very limited range (although a very attractive ring to her voice), and Von Otter looses steam quite rapidly...

Posted on 25 Mar 2011 15:22:27 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 31 May 2011 13:49:52 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Mar 2011 15:32:39 GMT
Saying that you have rarely heard a voice like Joyce DD - this tells us all that your exposure to Altos and Mezzo-Sopranos is quite limited. Never-the-less as long as you enjoy what you have paid for...

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Mar 2011 15:40:49 GMT
Last edited by the author on 28 May 2013 13:14:06 BDT
Ralph Moore says:
It's not daft to compare singers if they sing the same repertoire. I really don't diss Miss DiDonato, I just don't find her very exciting compared with other favourite singers.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Mar 2011 16:13:55 GMT
Judy say: I agree with you, Ralph Moore... Let's note that there are those youngster who have their first peeping into the Mezzo operatic repertoire and as long as they tend to be happy with their purchase (because they paid for it - which makes it valuable for them), as long as that is the case...well...

Posted on 1 May 2011 16:12:30 BDT
Davie C says:
A very useful review there Ralph - I too own the recordings you refer to from 30 years ago or so, and have chosen not to lighten my wallet by purchasing something which looks like it may not be up to those high standards.
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