“Break a leg,” they say in the theatre when wishing a performer good luck. For those of us who watched Joyce DiDonato do that three years ago in the middle of an athletic scene at Covent Garden—then continue to sing for the next 20 minutes—the phrase is synonymous with bravery. But that is just a by-product of the flaring personality which comes across whenever DiDonato is on stage, and which has won her a huge and devoted following. For this blonde bombshell from Kansas—the cliché fits—is both a fine ambassador for opera and an artist at the height of her powers.
She may be classed as a mezzo, but that doesn’t prevent her excelling in soprano roles: she has a timbre which is unfailingly beautiful while also adapting to the demands of the occasion. As her new baroque CD "Drama Queens" reflects, she can switch from sizzling fury to heart-broken softness. There are times when her love-in with the fans gets too much—her recent recital at the Wigmore Hall in London ended in an orgy of schmaltz—but her appearance in the embattled title role of Donizetti’s "Maria Stuarda" (above), in Sir David McVicar’s new production for the New York Met, should be exceptional. ~ Michael Church
Maria Stuarda Metropolitan Opera, New York, to Jan 26th
CLASSICAL AT A GLANCE
Carolyn Sampson and Matthew Wadsworth (Wigmore Hall, London, Jan 3rd). Music for soprano and lute from 17th-century Venice, performed in a perfect acoustic. While Sampson is unparalleled as a Baroque exponent, Wadsworth is not merely an outstanding lutenist but is also blind, and they make an ideal pairing.
The Minotaur (Royal Opera House, London, from Jan 17th). Harrison Birtwistle’s latest opera gets a revival with a fine cast headed by Christine Rice, Johan Reuter and John Tomlinson, for whom the title role was written. The libretto is verbose, the design not easy on the eye, but the music is Birtwistle at his most darkly resonant.
Boris Godunov (Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, Feb 13th). Based on Pushkin’s drama, Mussorgsky’s epic tale of power struggles in medieval Moscow is not the most obvious choice for a director with Calixto Bieito’s louche contemporary tastes, but the cast, led by Alexander Tsymbalyuk, promises much.
The Rest is Noise (Southbank Centre, London, from Jan 19th). The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross’s award-winning book goes on making waves. Here it gives rise to a 100-event festival which opens with an evening of Richard Strauss, starring the soprano Karita Mattila and baritone Thomas Hampson.
Medea (English National Opera, London, from Feb 15th). Two centuries on, this baroque rarity by Charpentier is getting its first London staging. And with David McVicar directing and Christian Curnyn on the podium, it sounds more auspicious than "Castor and Pollux", ENO’s vulgar baroque foray which inexplicably won an Olivier last year. ~ MC