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get the complete operas, or (better) see Joyce on DVD
on 12 June 2014
This kind of release gets under my skin in so many ways that I perhaps sometimes fail to appreciate the singing itself, so let me start by stipulating that Joyce DiDonato is a fine singer. What isn't so evident on a release like this is the fact that she's a fine singing actress -- her Elvira in the Keenlyside "Don Giovanni" (on DVD) is as good as it gets, and her Rosina in "Barbiere" is a delight. The voice itself has a lovely quality without being particularly characterful, to my ears -- so if you buy this, play it three or four songs at a time. It is basically a collection made up of selections from earlier collections, and it has the blandness that one often finds in a sequence of solos recorded as "greatest hits" rather than as parts of a developing dramatic structure. The excerpts here from complete opera recordings are more vividly done than the excerpts from the collections. One notices too a different sound-picture -- not that that's bad, except in the case of the Heggie ("Dead Man Walking"), where the voices sound a bit veiled in what, I guess, was a recording of a live performance. I also find it irritating that no texts are provided -- many of the selections here are not nearly as well known as "La donna e mobile," and the listener needs the text and a few words about the dramatic situation to orient him or her properly to what's being sung. I assume that DiDonato fans already have the individual collections from which so many of these numbers come, and these collections do provide texts and information. Given that the likely purchaser of this set is probably less familiar with the music, it would seem that texts would be especially useful here. I know . . . costs. But this set of already-released material surely wants to be more than another cynical business decision by Erato executives.
OK -- you see where my pet peeves are! There are some previously unpublished things here -- the musical selections at the end. They're well recorded but sung rather too reverently ("You'll Never Walk Alone" is VERY slow) and they show DiDonato taxed at the bottom of her voice: there isn't a lot of richness and color there. When she gets up into the middle of the voice and higher, she comes into her own. So -- more power to her, the best American mezzo since Susan Graham . . . but find a way, live or on DVD, to see her on stage.