Cenerentola and the incredible Americanness of Joyce DiDonato

Nice People Win
Last Monday
I went to Cenerentola at the
Bayerische Staatsoper. I’m sorry I didn’t write about it faster but lots of
work and this fast-track six day Ring
have limited my blogging time. (I expect the shorter operas of this week as well as the imminent departure of my drinking buddy will make keeping up easier soon.)  Also I had
one of those crappy limited-view seats of which this opera house has so many, and I missed a
lot of the action. So here are some brief thoughts on what I heard and managed
to see.

Rossini, La Cenerentola. Bayerische Staatsoper, 7/9/2012.
 Musikalische Leitung Antonello Allemandi
Inszenierung Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Bühne und Kostüme Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Don Ramiro Lawrence Brownlee
Dandini Nikolay Borchev
Don Magnifico Alessandro Corbelli
Clorinda Eri Nakamura
Tisbe Paola Gardina
Cenerentola Joyce DiDonato
Alidoro Alex Esposito

Ponnelle’s production has classic status here. It’s a storybook style with highly
choreographed action and giant costumes befitting the opera’s bouncy,
repetitive music as well as its over-the-top villains and manic action. This is the
treatment this opera almost always receives, but this production is old enough
it may have been what others copied. (Personally I love Achim Freyer’s production–which is similar except for the whole Achim Freyer part.) It’s charming enough, and from what I
could see of it this revival was neatly directed and the physical production is
in good shape.  In exchange for getting to see so many big-name casts in such a short period of time at these Festival performances one must be prepared for a degree of sloppiness, but this cast did a full run in May and most of the rehearsal
seemed to stick. The orchestra showed signs of underrehearsal, but nothing too dire. One clarinet had a little
too much squawky fun in the overture. Antonello Allemandi (a wonderful surname for an Italian conducting in Germany) led ably with appropriate zippiness.

The big draw
was Joyce DiDonato in the title role. She is possibly the most quintessentially
American of major opera singers. She has a bright, modern, and very relateable presence onstage; she could be that outrageously successful friend of whom you would be very jealous if she weren’t just so darn nice and
unconceited. DiDonato’s vocal success is a triumph of effort, of polished
technique and preparation. It’s not that the kind of virtuoso coloratura she
sings necessarily requires more technique than any other kind of singing. But when you’re singing all those quick runs. the technique is in the foreground to an unusual extent. Presence plus technique plus looks, she’s one of
those singers the media would call a “complete package.” But there’s something
missing: a distinctive and attractive basic sound. When not singing fast notes,
her voice sounded tense, fluttery and in higher registers screechy, or at least
that was the case on Monday night. What strikes you is not her sound but her mastery of the notes.

and hard work are the most American of virtues, mystery is not. Sometimes
incredible voices emanate from disconcertingly ordinary people, other times the people onstage seem not quite human, otherworldly, possessed. DiDonato contains
no such surprises, she just does what she should in an exceptionally gracious
and accomplished fashion. Cenerentola is the perfect role for her because it makes her play, more or less, her offstage persona: it’s
about a normal person who is rewarded for being nice and hard-working. Isn’t it
sweet to see someone so deserving get her prince and attendant big poofy dress? To be honest I would
prefer to see something whose result I didn’t already know. That Joyce DiDonato as Joyce DiDonato will get a happy ending is pre-ordained.
Her Prince was Lawrence Brownlee, who I first saw sing this role in Philadelphia in 2006 or so. He
sounded fabulous then and sounds even better now, and picked up a lot of confidence and flair in the intervening years too. For some reason I find him
more genuinely charming onstage than DiDonato, perhaps because he didn’t seem so pre-plannned in every particular. In the rest of the cast, Alessandro
Corbelli has the perfect personality for Don Magnifico but, based on this and
his recent Dulcamara, his voice has exited stage right while he remains on the boards.
He was often unaudible and speaking through the patter.  The rest were better, particularly Alex
Esposito’s resonate Alidoro. Nikolay Borchev was sometimes blustery as Dandini
but warmed up well. (Doesn’t this opera seem to feature one more low male voice than it
should?) As the sisters, Eri Nakamura and Paola Giardina camped it up, with
Giardina in particular having some genuinely funny moments.
As a Festspiele
performance, this was perfectly as advertised.

Photos copyright Wilfred Hösl.

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  1. I just checked, and it looks as though you didn't catch the Met's Comte Ory. I am not a big fan of Rossini comedies, but maybe I'm just not a fan of the four most overdone comedies, which seem to have so damn much schtick attached. I liked the look of the cast so much that I went to the HD broadcast of Ory and DiDonato was just fantastic. It wasn't just the singing; she put the Isolier across in a complex way, because she does pants roles so well and because of the specificity of her longong. Alex Ross said something about her being in a different opera from JDF and DD, and I wish they had all been in that opera.

    Must note, also, that she simply stole the show at the von Stade retirement gala last December. I never blogged it, but maybe I should. JDD: incredible singing – of course what she sang was "Non piu mesta." 🙂

  2. You point exactly at what I feel prevents Joyce DiDonato's performances to move from perfection to genius: genuine spontaneity or risk taking . I attended last fall Rosenkavalier and Donna del Lago in Milano and more recently Maria Stuarda in Houston (yes I am a fan!): I was delighted to get what I expected. The 2 belcanto perfromances were amazing of technique and control. I checked afterwards the available youtube versions of the final rondo in Donna del Lago by DiDonato: identical to every note, variation, intonation, etc… Where is the risk? where is the danger? where is the passion?

  3. I completely agree about JDD. I apprecaite her sincerity and technique but never warmed up to the basic sound. just an average voice in my book. Garanca has far more attractive voice but do not like her acting.

  4. I'm sitting here listening to the best of Joyce DiDonato on spotify and I can't for the life of me figure out why she has an international career. Yes, her voice has agility, but no accuracy in that the intonation is so bad. Anything above an E becomes shrill and rides high on the pitch just from pushing and "over-singing." The vibrato is often brittle sounding and leans toward a shotgun effect. Her high notes consequently retain no warmth of the bottom sound and the bottom sound is somewhat affected.

    I love to watch her in her master classes because she approaches the task with a lot of humility, but ultimately the voice is painful to listen to.