By Madison Schindele
Listening to the recording Joyce and Tony Live at Wigmore Hall with a glass of wine in hand is a gift that everyone should experience. Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, winner of the 2016 Grammy for best classical solo album, and pianist Antonio Pappano teamed up to bring an audience at London’s Wigmore Hall a taste of their multi-genre platter. A sweet and salty mixture, the program consisted of classical, musical theater, and jazz favorites. The 2-disc Erato album takes you on vacation, first to 18th- and 19th-century Italy, then to Tin Pan Alley in New York City.
DiDonato begins with Haydn’s cantata Arianna a Naxos and dazzles the audience doing what she does best: singing Italian literature with great charm. She obviously feels at home with the Rossini works, having sung Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Covent Garden under Pappano in 2009. The same charm can be heard flowing through her velvety voice as she tackles Francesco Santoliquido’s late Romantic song cycle I canti della sera.
On the second disc of the album, DiDonato switches into her native language and takes a flight to New York. While some die-hard Tin Pan Alley fans may be thrown off by DiDonato’s take on these classic tunes, they must admit that her vocal honesty and consistency are admirable. Pappano’s playing is luscious yet precise, like melted sharp cheddar. Primarily known as an English conductor and music director of the Royal Opera House, Pappano surprises by playing as if he had trained with Duke Ellington.
DiDonato sings crowd favorites, such as Kern’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ dat Man,” with the nuance of Ella Fitzgerald — as if she’s wearing white gloves and sporting a long cigarette holder. The vocal twang she occasionally uses on words and her stylistic choices make her album sparkle and stand out from the occasional opera singer who attempts jazz (here’s looking at you, Renée). A standout on the album is Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine.” DiDonato uses straight tone, as she usually only does in Baroque singing, to evoke a jazzier feel. As they continue, Joyce and Tony show us their sense of humor through the lens of William Bolcom’s “Amor” and Villa-Lobos’ “Food for Thought.” She interweaves these selections with Havelock Nelson’s Irish Songs, a nod to her heritage.
To finish the album, DiDonato serenades us with “Over the Rainbow,” bringing us back to her native Kansas with a hint of nostalgia. It’s hard to resist beginning the album again and refilling the wine glass.
Madison “Maddie” Schindele is in her last semester at Oberlin Conservatory, studying Vocal Performance and Musicology. Hailing from a big Greek family in New York, Madison enjoys visiting museums and eating lamb when she’s not singing or writing. Next year she will continue on to her Master’s in Historical Musicology at the Goldsmiths University of London.