08 November 2009

Una Voce Poco Fa

Co-stars at the Met: Proof that I’m not the biggest ass Joyce knows.

Though I’ve seen Rossini’s comedy The Barber of Seville many times, it’s never made me cry — until last night. I wasn’t bawling, mind you, but I got misty, and there’s no point trying to deny it. The question is why I reacted this way. Did the happy ending move me? (Maybe. On the other hand, it wasn’t exactly a surprise.) Am I simply in a weird mood, or excessively vulnerable these days? Or was I caught up in the excitement of seeing Joyce DiDonato at the freaking Metropolitan Opera at last?

“All of the above” is the correct answer, I expect.

Joyce looks on as Barry Banks, the World’s Most Dangerous Tenor,
performs impossible feats of daring.

After the show, Joyce remarked that people seemed grateful for the opportunity to laugh, and it did feel good, in a weekend saturated with bad news of all kinds, to kick back and watch the good guys outwit the bad guys. Joyce was in excellent company, including the tenor Barry Banks as Almaviva. Banks approaches his work with such intensity that in dramatic roles, he seems fully capable of throttling the soprano or setting fire to the theater; here, he could concentrate on being funny, and on luscious singing. I particularly liked his lesson scene and his “Ecco, ridente in cielo,” probably the sweetest I’ve ever heard.

Meanwhile, Joyce frolicked. Fully recovered from the leg she broke singing this very role at Covent Garden last summer, she bounded about the stage, scooting up and down a ladder while wearing a flowing gown, and she created a Rosina who’s young and ultra-feisty. It’s not often I have the feeling that a Rosina would bust out of Dr. Bartolo’s house even if Almaviva and Figaro didn’t come along, but Joyce’s character is a proactive protagonist, and great fun to spend time with. Musically, what struck me most was her shaping of rhythm, lending wit and excitement to even the most familiar passages. Really, she’s mastered this score so completely that now she can squeeze and stretch tempo as if it were a toy — Silly Putty, to be specific.

What’s more, Joyce looks so picture-book pretty in the costumes by Catherine Zuber and that tumbling mane of red curls that, somewhere, her Irish ancestors’ eyes are smiling, I’ll bet.

Joyce made her Met debut a few seasons ago, but this was my first opportunity to see her there. It’s a hell of a thing: you go to that famous house, this woman makes the chandeliers dance, and the crowds fall all over themselves to cheer her. And then you go backstage, and she’s still Joyce. Traipsing along after her is one of my life’s great pleasures, and I can hardly wait to see what she’ll do next.

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