I returned to the Barbican, to watch American mezzo Joyce DiDonata who gave a supreme evening of hand picked songs and arias inspired by the thrill of nature. Even as we sat down, seeds had been left on our seats for us to take home, a sweet little gift. This had the feel of an ambitious work, the small platform Joyce loiters was constantly shifting, with two silver orbs courting around her, her own ring cycle if you will. Ives’ The Unanswered Question lost the trumpet and Joyce took on the role in an ethereal change to the notation. Rachel Portman’s premier of The First Morning of the World was a luscious evocation, leading to some Mahler, Copland and Gluck. Opera lovers will relish this buffet of sweet treats from Theodora, Orfeo ed Euridice and La Calisto.
I was filled with sheer joy to hear Joyce sing, the world simply glows when she does. There is a grand, sumptuous quality in her execution, I now know what all the fuss is about. Different languages are easily converted, Joyce easily going in between English, German and Italian with ease. A funny moment came when a part of the rotating rings disconnect and with a smile, she put a finger to her lips. The concluding Mahler, the final song from Rückert-Lieder was of such a devastating impact, I found it hard to keep things together. The words are of a figure dying, leaving the world to the feel of some of Mahler’s finest, calmest music. Joyce captured the intensity of the lieder and is one of perhaps the finest living singers to tackle it. I could have cried for longer.
Encores of Wagner and Handel were so appreciated. It also has to said how wonderful Joyce’s time spent with children in music workshops is, leading to a touching new song delivered by them all and performed to the audience of opera lovers and proud parents. She spoke of how we’ve changed after Covid and how they couldn’t find a choir for workshops in Luxembourg (think of that happening in Wales!). Children and adults alike need live music now after all we’ve been through. Grabbing her autograph, she remarked I was the first critic she’d met who was after such a thing. I will cherish it, just like this concert.
Joyce DiDonato: Eden runs at the Barbican Centre till 6 April 2022.