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GRAMOPHONE (01/2013)
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Reviewer: David Vickers
DiDonato with royal heroines from Monteverdi to Haydn

It seems Joyce DiDonato possesses a sense of humour. Following on from a cross-dressing album entitled ‘Diva/Divo’ (4/11), now we get ‘Drama Queens’ — a concept album presenting scenes for female characters, most of them of regal persuasion but a couple of them vengeful sorceresses, by composers stretching from Monteverdi to Haydn. This whistle-stop survey of different dramatic emotions and musical styles not only presents major names such as Handel (represented thrice) but also proffers intriguing fare by composers usually encountered only in musicological tomes. DiDonato produces her most emotionally moving and sensitively embellished singing in ‘Madre diletta’ from Porta’s Ifigenia in Aulide (1738), an extraordinary siciliana in which the Mycenaean princess accepts that she must be sacrificed by her father Agamemnon and bids her mother Clytemnestra farewell. The weeping strings for the heartbroken Galsuinde in ‘Lasciami piangere’ (Fredegunda, 1715) and the astonishing sonority of five bassoons for the jealous title-character in Octavia (1705) each demonstrate why Keiser was highly esteemed by his German contemporaries. Handel’s major-key lament with flute for Cleopatra (‘Piangerò’) is contrasted with Hasse’s extremely vivid minor-key suicide scene with forceful strings for the same character (‘Morte col fiero aspetto’). Il Complesso Barocco and Alan Curtis are on particularly good form, contributing lyricism to love music such as ‘Intorno all’idol mio’ from Cesti’s Orontea (1656) and animated vigour to a couple of quick arias from Orlandini’s Berenice (1725). Wonderfully sung, passionately played and programmed intelligently — an exemplary recital.

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