Opera star Joyce DiDonato showed her incredible range during a selection of opera pieces and her playful side during a set of Broadway and popular classics. Think “Ombra mai fu” meets “Over the Rainbow.”
It was a textbook lesson in how to charm an audience.
Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, beloved of opera and concert fans around the world, showed Saturday’s Seattle Symphony Opening Night audience just how to do it. You start with a great singer at the height of her considerable powers; at 47, DiDonato is in the middle of what is usually the vocal glory decade, when the artist knows just how to use the voice and the voice is still cooperating.
To this, you add a nice variety of repertoire, designed to show off that voice in a multitude of ways — and giving the soloist every opportunity to shine.
On Saturday night, DiDonato commanded a well-chosen array of songs and arias that started with the fireworks of Pacini’s “Ove t’aggiri, o barbaro” (from “Stella di Napoli”), displaying a two-and-a- half octave span of razor-precise passagework and a regal attitude that began with a snappy head toss. The next work, Handel’s famous “Ombra mai fu” (from “Xerxes”), was all about control and subtlety, and a daring pianissimo that exhibited her total command of her vocal resources.
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Later on, things loosened up with a selection of Broadway and popular classics, ranging from an outrageously charming “I Feel Pretty” (from “West Side Story”) to an eloquently simple “Danny Boy.” Using a microphone for the pops portion of the show, DiDonato swanned happily about the stage, sometimes lounging on maestro Ludovic Morlot’s podium; she addressed orchestra players with her song, and ruffled the hair of one of the violinists (Michael Miropolsky). She drew Morlot into a brief dance during Gershwin’s “Embraceable You.”
But DiDonato scored the most points playing it absolutely straight: a “Star-Spangled Banner” of the most direct simplicity (would that it were sung this way more often at sporting events!), and an elegant “Over the Rainbow” to cap off her performance. What a pro.
Morlot and the orchestra showed to best advantage in the opening “Royal Fireworks Music” Overture, and the “Entrance of the Queen of Sheba”(from “Solomon”), both by Handel. Later Morlot went on to conduct a lively pair of 20th-century overtures: Bernstein’s Overture to “West Side Story,” and the jazzy, colorful 1982 “Ragomania: A Classic Festival Overture” of Seattle native son William Bolcom.
It was an evening of less talk and more music — not always a typical format for the traditional opening night concert. There were some short speeches, but the usual impulse to thank every conceivable entity did not prevail this time. What the audience did hear was a well-chosen welcoming message by board chair Leslie Jackson Chihuly, and later a graceful appreciation by Morlot, who noted that this concert launches his sixth season with the Seattle Symphony. If the rest of the season is this successful, it will be a triumph indeed.