On February 15th, Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC proudly hosted a recital of the internationally acclaimed mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato and famous pianist David Zobel. Part of this season’s Star Series, the recital presented by Washington Performing Arts Society, was given in honor of Vocal Arts 20th Anniversary.

Along with works by such well-known composers as Joseph Haydn, Gioachino Rossini and Ruggero Leoncavallo, the program offered a charming selection of lighter songs by rarely performed composers of the 19th to the mid 20th centuries. The songs included Italian and French salon pieces by Gioachino Rossini and Cecile Chaminade, fiery Venetian songs by Reynaldo Hahn and a Pastische of playful and passionate serenades by Arturo Peccia and Vincenzo Di Chiara.

The recital turned out to be a fusion of inspiring music making and superb drama. The artist took the audience on a thrilling journey through a gallery of comic and tragic characters. Whether she portrayed a seen-it-all Venetian man in Hahn’s Che Peca, a free-spirited gypsy in Rossini’s La Chanson de Zora or a lighthearted Spanish coquette in Di Chiara’s La Spagnola, Ms. DiDonato managed to turn every piece into a miniature one-actress play. Her impeccable vocal technique, clarity of tone, superb coloratura, flawless trills, vocal flexibility and immense range along with deep and heartfelt acting, won the DC audience over right away.

Unlike many recitalists who delay performing the most exciting and challenging pieces until the end of the recital, thus keeping their listeners barely interested, Joyce DiDonato struck and stunned the audience from the very beginning. In order to keep us as alert and involved as possible, for her opening piece Ms. DiDonato chose Haydn’s most insane and heartbreaking Scena di Berenice. Swept by despair and grief, her character made the audience hold their breath, freeze in anticipation and finally, collapse into the chaotic abyss of her emotional world. Naturally, the piece left us shaken up, but far from being indifferent.

Ms. DiDonato’s Willow Song, from Rossini’s Otello was filled with deep spirituality. Unlike Scena di Berenice, the subtle Desdemona’s aria, touched the strings of our hearts with deep sorrow and grief for the vulnerable innocent woman. As the last haunting notes of the aria faded away, one could not help but notice tears in the artist’s own eyes, and, deeply moved, the house exploded with an incredibly long ovation.

Just like in her newly released CD Diva/Divo devoted to singing both female and trouser roles, Joyce DiDonato took no time to make the transformation and came across with an outstanding performance of Reynaldo Hahn’s comic song Che peca. In this song the artist portrayed a slightly worn out, seen-it-all Venetian man, who takes every aspect of life with humor, including – himself! Lightweight at first glance, the piece was extremely challenging both vocally and dramatically. However, thanks to the numerous trouser roles in her artistic biography, Ms. DiDonato handled the challenge brilliantly and portrayed her character with guts and confidence, as well as humor and personal charm.

Joyce DiDonato ended her recital with two encores. First, she offered a flawless performance of Tanti Affetti, the aria of one of her signature Rossini’s characters, Elena from La Donna del Lago. The second encore, Somewhere over the Rainbow, was dedicated to the founder of Vocal Arts Society, Gerald Perman. The first notes of this song, known and loved by so many, were taken with a round of applause. Being a popular show-off piece for many artists, this song has been getting a variety of vocal and dramatic interpretations. Ms. DiDonato used this piece to shine her own personality of a true artist, selflessly and endlessly dedicated to Music. Her performance filled with inner light and beauty, was undoubtedly, a truly triumphant apotheosis of the glorious evening.