Joyce DiDonato - In War and Peace - Harmony through Music concert. Directed June 4, 2017 by Ralf Pleger at the Grand Theatre de Liceu in Barcelona. Features mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, dancer Manuel Palazzo, and flautist Anna Fusek. Maxim Emelyanychev conducts Il Pomo d'Oro, plays harpsichord, and plays a cornett solo. The concert is split into two sections: War and Peace.
Handel "Some dire event hangs o’er heads…Scenes of horror, scenes of woe" from Jephtha
Leo "Prendi quel ferro, o barbaro!" from Andromaca
De Cavalieri Sinfonia (instrumental)
Purcell Ciaconna in G minor (instrumental)
Purcell "Thy hands, Belinda...When I am laid in earth Dido (Dido’s lament)" from Dido and Aeneas
Handel "Pensieri, voi mi tormentate" from Aggripina
Gesualdo "Tristis est animam mea"
Handel "Lascia ch’io pianga" from Rinaldo
Purcell "They tell us that you mighty powers above" from The Indian Queen
Handel "Lead me, oh lead me to some cool retreat . . . Crystal streams in murmurs flowing" from Susanna
Pärt Da pacem Domine (Instrumental with solo dance by Palazzo)
Handel "Augelletti, che cantate" from Rinaldo
Handel "Da tempeste il legno infranto" from Giulio Cesare
Jommelli "Par che di giubilo" from Attilio Regolo
Speech by Joyce DiDonato
Choreography by Manuel Palazzo; lighting design by Henning Blum; video designs by Yousef Iskandar; dresses by Vivienne Westwood; costume for Manuel Palazzo by Lasha Rostobaia; designs by Lenny's Studio. Directed for TV by Olivier Simonnet. Executive Producer: Joyce DiDonato. Several interesting extra features included. Released 2018, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+
This is a solo-singer recital like none other. DiDonato (a leading American opera singer and repressed political activist hoping through music to bring more hope into the world) began working on her War and Peace project after the Paris terrorist attack in November 2015. She took the show aggressively on the road and made an admired CD. The Barcelona show filmed here was scheduled to be streamed world-wide and recorded for TV. The day before the concert there was another attack in Manchester, England killing 23 people and injuring hundreds. All this was on DiDonato’s mind as she performed the show presented in this video and is reflected in a speech she made before her final encore.
Print critics have struggled to describe this show in mere words. We have the advantage of screenshots to give you a better idea why this In War and Peace is so extraordinary. DiDonato holds that the opposite of war is not peace, but creation — a concept she attributes to Jonathan Larson (late composer of the musical Rent). Now there’s not much music about creation, but lots of music about war and peace. So it’s through the creation of this recital that DiDonato hopes to lead the audience to peace.
Now we all know what happens at a normal solo-singer recital, which, of course, has to be done with the absolute minimum of expense. A well-dressed singer and a pianist appear on the stage. An audience member has a sheet of paper with a list of songs. The singer sings the songs, there is applause, and the audience leaves. DiDonato is not ordinary. She had the klaut to raise money from philanthropists and the industry to produce something more memorable. So let’s see a bit of what happens:
She starts with war paint that she puts on herself. This was suggested by a make-up designer who wanted wartime Joyce to look lacerated, wounded, and bruised:
Next comes the haute couture dress designed for the wife of Mars:
Who has an entire baroque orchestra to accompany her, the Pomo d'Oro. Everything is backed by with brilliant video displays illustrating the music. And all of this is turned into a kind of mini-opera with Joyce thrilled to lay on the floor then she gets the chance. How many concert producers would let his expensive star go to the floor? Well, no problem — Joyce is her own producer here:
The Pomo d'Oro is led from the harpsichord by the beautiful and incredibly young Maxim Emelyanychev:
Who can also play a mean cornett:
Next Joyce adds dancer Manuel Palazzo as a kind of doppelgänger in a mute role:
We’re not going to bore you with lots of comments about the individual songs. This is War, and the songs are all about conflict, violence, injury, and grief:
Joyce sings through a fabric!
And all kinds of unexpected things happen like this duet of singer and oboe while the dancers writhes away. The War Act ends with a kind of transition number which is also the best known song presented, Handel’s “Lascia ch’io pianga" from Rinaldo:
After the War songs comes an intermission. For the Peace Act, Joyce changes from her war gown to a similar but lighter dress, and she’s now wearing peace paint:
Pärt’s Da pacem Domine (instrumental) becomes a solo opportunity for Palazzo:
Anna Fusek is a second violin player who doubles on the flute (or maybe it’s a soprano recorder?). She gets a precious role in another tiny opera when, inspired by Palazzo’s adoration, she cuts loose with Handel famous “little bird music” (“Augelletti, che cantate”), also from Renaldo:
If you're an early instrument player, it’s pays to be versatile. Here bassoonist Katrin Lazar and oboist Raberto de Franceschi also take up recorders:
Peace at last:
It seems Joyce made a short speech at each performance of In War and Peace. Reflecting on the Paris terrorist attack the night before this recording was made, her talk was perhaps especially moving:
They will be talking about In War and Peace for a long time to come. The Barcelona event was splendidly recorded as to sight and sound. The sound was not sampled at 96kHz/24 bits for the audiophile market. But compared to other Blu-ray video recordings, the SQ here is a good as can be hoped for. And you can see from these screenshots that Olivier Simonnet came up with a masterful capture as to resolution and color balance on a rather dark stage with a lot of things happening. Video content is also satisfying since it’s relatively easy to get a good mix of whole orchestra, part orchestra, whole section, and close-up shots when the subjects are star soloists backed up by a small orchestra.
Another point of view: this is an mostly an early music concert (renaissance and baroque), and half of it is Handel. If you are new to early music, there could be no better introduction to the genre than this In War and Peace. And if this might tweak your interest in Handel and his Rinaldo opera, the next step for you would be the masterful updating of Rinaldo by Robert Carson at Glyndebourne, the theme of which is not surviving a crusade but getting out alive from the 8th grade!
Final thought: We at hdvdarts.com feel a special affinity to this title and DiDonado’s comments. Just a few day ago we added to our “What’s Up?” entry the following statement: “Our dream remains that if people all over the world were able to easily enjoy the same great works of performance and plastic arts that we feature on this website, they might be at least slightly less likely to want to kill each other.“
Here’s an official trailer. Looks terrific, doesn’t it: