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Music review: Joyce DiDonato in recital at the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage

February 13, 2011 |  2:16 pm

Joyce DiDonato won over local opera fans when she sang Rosina in Los Angeles Opera’s sparkling production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” in 2009. On Friday, the Kansas-born mezzo-soprano, named Gramophone magazine’s 2010 artist of the year, conquered again with a decidedly offbeat program in her first local recital.

She opened both halves of the evening at the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica with serious dramatic challenges, then followed each with lesser-known salon pieces. It was as if she took two Olympic high-dives, then puddled around in the shallow end of the pool.

Fortunately, the puddles had their charms, especially as DiDonato invested them with character and appropriate small-scaled feeling.

First, the gutsy challenges. She opened the program with Haydn’s “Scena di Berenice,” a juicy suicidal psychodrama that included shock, anger, despair, reproach and declarations of love in 11½ minutes. Not for the fainthearted. The silver-toned mezzo made it all compelling and credible.

She started the second half with the wistful Willow Song from Rossini’s “Otello,” a work that might be more of a staple had not Verdi recast Shakespeare’s tragedy in a more virile form. She was tender and touching.

Of the various salon pieces, the most memorable were Rossini’s “Children’s Lullaby,” Chaminade’s “Summer,” Hahn’s “The Little Boat” and Leoncavallo’s “French Serenade.”

Technically, DiDonato, who turned 42 on Sunday, is at a peak, and with such solid technique, she should be able to  continue for a long time and even reach new heights.

For encores, she sang “Tanti affetti in tal momento” from Rossini’s “La donna del lago” with astonishing ease and power, and, in a friendly gesture to a man who was in the audience and who had been the best man at her parents’ wedding in 1955, the unofficial Kansas state anthem, “Over the Rainbow.”

Throughout, pianist David Zobel was a superb collaborator.


Joyce DiDonato breaks the opera diva mold

Los Angeles Opera faces a modern-day dilemma

— Chris Pasles

Photo: Joyce DiDonato at the Broad Stage. Credit: Getty Images