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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Concert Review: Bel Canto Over Brooklyn

Joyce DiDonato cleans up at the Gowanus Canal.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Joyce DiDonato.
Photo by Pari Dukovic for Warner Brothers Classics.
The Gowanus Canal, that perennially toxic waterway that side-winds through north-west Brooklyn is not usually associated with opera. On Friday night at the Gowanus Ballroom (a space created from the upper loft level of Serett Metalworks just off of 9th St.) mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato brought the music of 19th century Naples to this funky, out-of-the-way locale.

This unlikely venue was host to Ms. DiDonato, the Kansas City native whose interpretations of bel canto, buffa and baroque repertory have made her a star. The concert was civilized and casual, with the audience sipping Brooklyn-brewed beer perched on plain white benches. The diva herself stood on a prone sculpture of a skyscraper (the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower on 23rd St.) curled into the form of a nautilus, itself part of the artist Alexandre Arrichea's No Limits series installed on Park Avenue last year.

The concert was a joint venture between Warner Classics (Ms. DiDonato's label) and Loft Opera,  the scrappy young company who made a splash last season with their guerrilla staging of La bohéme. The occasion was the launch of Stella di Napoli, the the singer’s new disc featuring forgotten highlights of bel canto repertory. Composers like Pacini and Mercandente, popular in their heyday but  mostly forgotten Now were presented right alongside deep cuts by more familiar names like Rossini and Bellini.

As an opener, the audience was treated to tenor Nikhil Nakvkal and baritone José Adán Pérez singing four numbers from Il Barbiere di Siviglia, the opera that will launch LoftOpera's sophomore season in November,  They ran through Ecco ridente, Largo al factotum and the long two-part duet (Al idea di quell metallo and Numero quindice) between the Count and Figaro, itself enhanced by the mometary intrusion of a technician, racing hunched in front of the stage and followed with amusement and surprise by the two singer,s.

Accompanied by pianist Pierre Vallet, Ms. Di Donato opened with Pacini's Ove t'aggri o barbaro, supplying the aria with rich lower tones before moving into a dazzling upper register. The singer herself was regal and composed, throwing herself into the emotional state of each aria, and taking time between numbers to add context and historical notes, such as explaining that "Dopo l'oscuro nembo" was written as a graduation exercise by Bellini and exploring the joys of "L'amica ancor" from Michele Carafa's Le Nozze di Lammermoor.

Other highlights included two jaw-dropping finales: "Riede al soglio" from Zelmira (written for Rossini's wife Isabella Colibran) and the stunning "Flutto che muggi" from Pacini's Saffo, an aria ending with a spectacular Tosca-like self-sacrifice by the diva. As she sang the final quartet, accompanied by Mr. Pérez, Mr. Nadval and mezzo Kristin Gornstein, Ms. Di Donato walked regally through the audience toward the edge of the balcony loft. Yet there was no Tosca leap, just glorious tone and regal poise.

The performance was followed by an amusing encore: Mr. Perez, Mr. Nadval and Ms. Gornstein singing the trio "Zitti, zitti, piano, piano" from Act II of Barbiere. As Ms. DiDonato joined the singers onstage, she found herself having to bicker for a fourth part in the trio. Eventually Mr. Pérez let her "in" and she sang Figaro's part in the ensemble, trading lines with the other singers and reinforcing that in this unpretentious setting, it was the music, not the stars that mattered.

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