Joyce DiDonato’s “Drama Queens” – A Prediction

One of the most anticipated releases this year is Joyce DiDonato’s new CD, entitled ‘Drama Queens’, which will be accompanied by a tour that will take her to Carnegie Hall, Baden-Baden, and Berlin, among others. The CD release date is (I believe) October 1st, and in all my fanboy excitement, I’ve tried to piece together the program.

The Liceu website lists the composers – George Frideric Handel, Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, Antonio Cesti, Claudio Monteverdi, Reinhard Keiser, Johann Adolph Hasse, Giovanni Porta, Geminiano Giacomelli, Joseph Haydn and Leonardo Vinci. The San Francisco, London, and Carnegie Hall sites also mention Gluck. The Baden-Baden site lists the characters she will be portraying –  Semiramide, Armida, Berenice, Orontea, Octavia, Iphigenia and Cleopatra.

Giuseppe Maria Orlandini (1676-1760) apparently wrote around 40 operas, but the most well-known are his ‘Nerone’, ‘Antigona’, ‘Arsace’, ‘Artaserse’, and ‘Griselda’. Among these, only ‘Nerone’ and ‘Griselda’ have any of the above-listed characters – Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni sang Poppea and Octavia, respectively, in ‘Nerone’, and Orontea is the daughter of the title character in ‘Griselda’. Arsace is one of the main characters in Rossini’s ‘Semiramide’, of course, but from what I can tell, Orlandini’s opera is about a different Arsace.

Antonio Cesti (1623-1669)’s most famous opera is ‘Orontea’, which will likely be in the program. This opera has been recorded by René Jacobs, with Helga Muller-Molinari, who appears to have a similar vocal range to DiDonato, in the title role. However, Cesti also wrote an opera called ‘Il Cesare Amante’, later revised and retitled ‘Cleopatra’, as well as a later opera called ‘La Semirami’.

Reinhard Keiser (1674-1739) was a well-known German composer, whose most famous opera is ‘Octavia’. This opera has a famous aria called ‘Geloso Sospetto’ for mezzo-soprano, so that will likely be on the program. Keiser also wrote an opera called ‘Iphigenia’ as well as an opera about Julius Caesar, so those are possibilities as well.

Not much can be found about Giovanni Porta (1675-1755), who was a close colleague of Vivaldi. Porta’s most famous opera is ‘Numitore’. Again, I couldn’t find much, but soprano Ann Turner Robinson, the first Polisenna in Handel’s ‘Radamisto’, apparently performed in the opera. Numitor was a king of Alba Longa who was later overthrown by his brother, but Numitor’s daughter Rhea Silvia later gave birth to Remus and Romulus – promising territory for some dramatic female singing!

Geminiano Giacomelli (1692-1740) is famous for his aria “Sposa non mi conosci”, which Vivaldi later revised as “Sposa son disprezzata”. DiDonato has been singing this aria in all of her recent recitals, so it’s a pretty safe bet that it will be on the program. Confusingly enough, the aria in its original form appears not to be sung by a queen at all, but rather by a man! Giacomelli also wrote operas called ‘Semiramide riconosciuta’, ‘Cesare in Egitto’, and ‘Achille in Aulide’, which may have roles for Semiramide, Cleopatra, and Iphigenia respectively.

Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730) wrote many, many operas. Among the many are ‘Farnace’ (Berenice may be a character), ‘Semiramide’, ‘Ifigenia in Tauride’, ‘Didone Abbandonata’ (the ultimate drama queen), and ‘La Semiramide riconosciuta’.

That leaves Handel, Haydn, Gluck, Hasse, and Monteverdi, with all of the characters except Armida already covered. Haydn’s Armida is the most likely, although DiDonato may very well be singing one of the arias from Gluck’s ‘Armide’ (I’d love to hear her sing “Enfin il est en ma puissance). I think she’d also be wonderful as Handel’s Armida in ‘Rinaldo’, which is probably more likely than the Gluck.

Of the Handel roles, the most obvious is Cleopatra – while the role is usually sung by a soprano, mezzos have often sang the role (particularly “Piangero”). Every program must have some popular arias, and between Handel’s Cleopatra arias and “Sposa son disprezzata”, that would be enough. However, there are so many other fascinating portrayals of Cleopatra, and I imagine that someone as musically curious as Joyce DiDonato would rather record, say, Hasse’s version. Handel’s ‘Berenice’ is a definite possibility, as well as Ifigenia in ‘Oreste’, although that seems to be a high soprano role.

In addition to his ‘Armida’, Haydn also wrote the famous ‘Scena di Berenice’ (is that even the same Berenice??). Joyce DiDonato has performed the concert aria before, so I’m not sure whether she would include it. None of his other operas would seem to fit the program. Gluck, on the other hand, offers many possibilities. In addition to ‘Armide’, there’s also ‘Iphigenie in Aulide’ and ‘Iphigenie in Tauride’. The Aulide Iphigenie is usually a lyric soprano, but the Tauride Iphigenie would be ideal. Clytemnestre in ‘Iphigenie in Aulide’, however, would sit perfectly for her voice. In addition, Gluck also wrote a ‘La Semiramide riconosciuta’ (so many versions!), but I couldn’t find any information on the range of the role.

Hasse also wrote a ‘Semiramide riconosciuta’, in addition to a serenata called ‘Antonio e Cleopatra’. I couldn’t find anything on the Semiramide opera, but ‘Antonio e Cleopatra’ has a great mezzo role. Unfortunately, that role is Antonio – Cleopatra is a high soprano. The Monteverdi selections are more obvious: what could be more fitting than Ottavia’s “Disprezzata Regina”? DiDonato has already recorded her “Addio, Roma”, but she might include that as well. None of his other operas fit the roles listed, although I’d love to hear her as Penelope or in the “Lamento d’Arianna” as well.

No matter what the program ends up being (and given how obscure some of the operas are, I couldn’t find out much anyways!), I have no doubt that the CD and concerts will be great, and this basic research has certainly piqued my interest. I can’t wait!


2 thoughts on “Joyce DiDonato’s “Drama Queens” – A Prediction

  1. Kevin,

    From the Columbia Spectator Mr. Browner writes:

    “Opera is an art form that has the power to deeply move and captivate its audience, and despite the popular misconceptions, it is for everyone”

    Contrary to what some young college students might think, opera is most definitely NOT for everyone.

    Opera requires a degree of focus and concentration and a willingness to subsume oneself in the art form. Opera will never, ever be a medium of wide popularity. Its appreciation and love will always be confined to a relatively narrow segment of the population. Why? Because listening to and assimilating the great masterpieces requires a level of commitment and patience that most people are not prepared to give (or, more likely, interested in giving).

    Also, the scientists who mapped the human genome say that ‘aesthetic perception and sensitivity’ is largely ‘programmed in’ (genetic). In most cases people come to an appreciation/love of the great masterpieces without getting it from their parents, teachers, or formal study and simply through exposure…. That sensitivity to music and opera is almost like an aptitude, you either have it or you don’t and therefore it is useless to assign blame or censure.

    • Well, I can’t say that I completely agree. Yes, it requires a great amount of energy, focus, and above all dedication to appreciate opera at a profound level. I can’t say, for example, that I enjoyed Jenufa the first time I listened to it – it required lots of relistening, studying the score and libretto, and reading papers, interviews, and so on. However, when I showed my friend (who has no interest or exposure to opera) my Alexander/Silja DVD of that same opera, he loved it. Fine, maybe he didn’t fully appreciate the fascinating orchestration or the story of Janacek’s daughter. However, he still understood the story, was able to immerse himself into the emotional content of the opera, and found that the music enhanced the mood. I don’t think he’ll become a lifelong opera fan, but he enjoyed it and gained something out it.
      My response has probably been a bit wordy, but what I’m arguing is that no, becoming an opera fan is not for everyone, but you certainly don’t have to be an diehard fan or scholar to enjoy or appreciate opera.

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