Mezzo phenom Joyce DiDonato, apart from being a down-to-earth, uncomplicated diva, is a very generous performer. A rare trait in this appalling age of half-baked, "where's my money?" performers. An admirable trait, to say the least, that Ms. DiDonato, on Friday night at Mandel Hall in her rather belated Chicago recital début, lavished an adoringly appreciative audience with. The program she and her accompanist David Zobel offered was akin to a ten-course meal served at a three-star Michelin restaurant but at half the price.
Dressed in a Neo-Victorian taffeta gown, Ms. DiDonato began as she always does: with verve, audacity, and guts. She sang a complex Haydn concert aria that would have exhausted Joan Sutherland in her prime and would certainly exasperate the lungs of lesser mortals. Ms. DiDonato's voice shimmered in this opening number like the Mediterranean on a flawless summer's day, dispatching tricky, arabesque notes as though they were the easiest thing in the world to do. A trio (or was it a quartet?) of seldom-heard/performed arias by her friend and master Mr. Rossini melted hearts, as did an array of songs by Reynaldo Hahn, all of which were sumptuously sung, feeding the soul as well as the body. More Rossini was on the menu, giving a decadent reading of "Tanti affetti" from La donna del lago, the basic ingredient of which was charm filled with Italian brio and spice. As an encore, Ms. DiDonato belted (tastefully) Dorothy's gut-wrenching anthem "Over the Rainbow" with all the yearning and pathos the song requires. (No showy, over-the-top "I Could Have Danced All Night" for this diva!) It was a most delectable dessert to end the feast with; a song that satisfied and cleansed my palate as only Joyce DiDonato could.
P.S. On Saturday morning, I devoured her latest CD, above: a witty concept album—the mezzo plays "bisexual" in this recording—that offers a fattening buffet of arias ranging from Mozart to Massenet. (I hit the gym later in the day.)