Classical music

Concert review: Drama Queens - a refined concert of baroque arias

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 May, 2015, 6:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 May, 2015, 11:46am

Drama Queens

Joyce DiDonato

Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Reviewed: May 6

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has provided one of the highlights of this year's Hong Kong Arts Festival with a refined concert of baroque arias, backed by the esteemed Il Pomo d'Oro ensemble. The 46-year-old American chose a programme of royal-themed pieces, all taken from baroque works that portray queens or princesses.

The Cultural Centre Concert Hall has never been the best venue to hear voices, especially when accompanied by an orchestra; the acoustics are sub-standard.

However, as the gifted Italian ensemble backing her was small, and the violins used period cat-gut strings rather than metal ones, the sound was more subtle than you would find with a larger, modern orchestra.

In this setting, DiDonato's spot-on coloratura and sensitive phrasing came to the fore. Few artists today take a chance to paint a phrase or evoke an emotion with so many stylistic colours. This was never so clear as in the famous Piangero, which she gave a new and special interpretation. Whether DiDonato was singing full out in the higher register or an emotional and from-the-heart pianissimo, she always made a great choice of colour to match the words and emotion of the phrase.

DiDonato, who was suffering from a severe ankle injury, delivered three encore pieces, all as lovingly prepared and presented as any works on the printed programme.

Kudos to conductor Dmitry Sinkovsky for leading such a fine ensemble. It is clear that he has fostered an environment where the musicians enjoy their work. You rarely see so many smiles and communication among musicians during a concert.