Music Review: DiDonato dazzles with gender-bending CD

Joyce DiDonato, “Diva, Divo” (Virgin Classics)

One of today’s most accomplished singers, American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, has it all: a warm, flexible voice that can be pert and spiky one moment and meltingly sweet the next. She has amazing facility in the rapid runs and turns of coloratura singing, a terrific trill, and the interpretive insight to breathe life into a wide range of characters and styles.

All of her talents are on vivid display in her new CD, titled “Diva, Divo” to reflect that she is often cast in what are known as “trousers” roles — male characters whose music has been composed for the female voice.

The generous selection of arias totaling more than 80 minutes matches male and female characters from operas on similar themes by diverse composers. Thus we get to hear DiDonato as Cinderella in Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” from 1817, and also as Prince Charming in Massenet’s “Cendrillon” from 1899.

Her ability to vary her sound to suit the mood is remarkable. As the love-struck adolescent Siebel in Gounod’s “Faust” she sounds bright and impetuous. As the abandoned Marguerite from Berlioz’s opera on the same subject, “Le Damnation de Faust,” her tone takes on a darker, melancholy coloring.

Hard to believe that early in her career, back in 1997, DiDonato lost a singing competition because she was told, “the judges feel you have nothing to offer as an artist.”

The one real rarity in this collection is an aria from Massenet’s all-but-forgotten opera “Ariane.” It is followed by the final and most exciting excerpt of all — DiDonato as the Composer in the prologue to Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos,” a role she will sing at the Metropolitan Opera later this season.

DiDonato sets a whimsical tone for the CD in an accompanying article in which she writes of how much “sheer fun” she has playing such different characters “So let’s play, shall we?” she invites us — and only the grumpiest listener would refuse to take her up on the offer.

CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: “Voi che sapete,” Cherubino’s second-act aria from Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” is the most familiar piece on the CD. DiDonato’s lustrous rendition is the best since Frederica von Stade was in her prime.

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