In the opening month of her new, multi-faceted project Eden, Joyce DiDonato is packing quite a lot in. The household name mezzo-soprano is simultaneously presenting a concept album released last month, launching a tour that will take her and Il Pomo d’Oro, with Maxim Emelyanychev at the helm, across five continents over the next three years, presenting commissioned works, and planting seeds — both real and philosophical. As the Vienna Boys Choir and children from Superar – Music Moves, a choral outreach program offering free music instruction to youth from underprivileged populations, joined the mezzo on stage for the second and third encores, it really did seem that there was not a box this project was not ticking. The singer seems persistently devoted to promoting hope and positivity in the face of everything trying that 2022 continues to be and threatens to become. “The opposite of war is creation,” she reminded the audience, quoting Rent

Joyce DiDonato
© Lukas Beck

The program is a grab-bag of vocal beauties across the ages. Entering from the back of the darkened hall and weaving her way to the stage while singing the trumpet solo — effectively the questioning motif—  in Ives’ The Unanswered Question, DiDonato proceeded to link Romantic German Rückert settings by Mahler, varied Baroque arias and a world premiere by film composer Rachel Portman into coherent sets.There was abundant lighting and smoke, resplendent dress and makeup, circular stage constructions and a blue and gold harpsichord. Pageantry abounded – DiDonato turned the Konzerthaus into a sort of classical music, multisensory varieté, and I was totally here for it. 

The reason the evening held together was not particularly the new dramaturgy that this disparate set of musical works created, but because it felt honest behind all its trappings, not gimmicky. The idea seemed to be to extend a hand to a broader audience, and even if those present did not speak a word of German, English or Italian, the expression – both physical and vocal – on display transmitted the sentiment of each section perfectly. Add a bit of lighting and staging and you had a real spectacle with solid entertainment value.  

Joyce DiDonato, the Wiener Sängerknaben and Superar Music Moves
© Lukas Beck

In addition, the quality of the musicianship was extraordinary. DiDonato sounded glorious through the furious coloratura of Myslivecek’s “Toglierò le sponde al mare,” pulling out haunting straight tones for the opening of Cavalli’s “Piante ombrose” and showing off her incredible breath control in long lines through both “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” and Handel’s “As with rosy steps the morn.” Not to be outdone, Il Pomo d’Oro played together brilliantly, and of their various orchestral movements both the trading of voices between the sides of the stage in Valentini’s Sonata enharmonica and breathtaking energy in Gluck’s Dance of the Furies were highlights. Their young conductor, Maxim Emelyanychev, moved from directing from the keyboard in true continuo tradition, to playing harpsichord, to commanding the entire stage seamlessly. He has some of the most expressive hands I have ever seen on a conductor, and it was a joy to watch him interact with both soloist and ensemble.  

Joyce DiDonato backstage with the Wiener Sängerknaben and Superar Music Moves
© Lukas Beck

The evening was a memorable one, and one that many will have the chance to enjoy as it makes its way around the globe. We can only hope the hopeful seeds handed to the audience as they left the hall sprout into something half as beautiful as this concept.