EIF: Joyce DiDonato

Edinburgh Academy Junior School

The Edinburgh Festival director who preceded Fergus Linehan, Jonathan Mills, was first to appreciate the growing appetite for early music and put it on the event’s main stages. It seemed bold in the first decade of the new millennium but is now absolutely mainstream, with Nicola Benedetti’s new Baroque band and vivacious Kansas mezzo Joyce DiDonato’s partnership with European period outfit Il Pomo d’Oro two of the hottest tickets in the 2021 programme.

DiDonato’s entrance, and indeed presence (stage centre of course), was much more that of the star frontwoman, although she ceded a fair share of the stage time to her instrumental colleagues, directed from the violin by Bulgarian Zefira Valova. It was, however, rare that their Monteverdi, Rameau and Handel dovetailed with the selection of arias that the singer has entitled “My Favourite Things” and that contributed to the difficulties with a performance that was slow to click into gear.

Following her first song, in fact, there was a pause on stage in clear expectation of applause that failed to materialise. Relations were quickly more cordial, with the drama of DiDonato’s Addio Roma from L’incoronazioni di Poppea, and then the expansion of the onstage septet to a full eight-violins-and-winds ensemble, but it was over half way through the programme before there was a genuine and sincere ovation, and the sequencing of the material remained a problem to the end. The inclusion of a Dowland lute song in the final fifteen minutes brought things to a standstill, with the rest of the players left twiddling their thumbs.

There were plenty of highlights, including Piangero la sorte mia, from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, when the balance between voice, strings and continuo was pretty much perfect, and DiDonato’s superb voice and dramatic delivery had ample opportunity to shine, but if this selection really merits the description of her “favourites” it was odd that she needed the score on the stand for many of them.

Fans of Maxim Emelyanychev, who directed this team’s award-winning In War and Peace album before he became Principal Conductor of the SCO, might say that the addition of the dynamic young conductor to this recital could well have bound the programme together much more successfully.

Keith Bruce