Drama Queens

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Cesti; Giacomelli; Gluck; J=Handel; Hasse; Haydn; Keiser; Monteverdi; Orlandini; Porta; etc
LABELS: Virgin Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Drama Queens
WORKS: Arias
PERFORMER: Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano); Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis


From Palestine, Egypt and Persia they come. From Greece, Spain and Rome. Incandescent in their joys and miseries, Berenice, Cleopatra and their sisters are the royal heroines who, together with the love-sick sorceresses Armida and Alcina, are the subjects of Joyce DiDonato’s Drama Queens. Stepping cautiously on to Cecilia Bartoli’s turf,  DiDonato and Alan Curtis, director of Il Complesso Barocco, have unearthed some Baroque rarities. Instead of Handel’s Berenice,  we have Orlandini’s Berenice, whose ‘Da torbida procella’ is an ideal fit for DiDonato’s spitfire fioritura (melodic embellishments).

Giacomelli’s anguished ‘Sposa, son disprezzata’ (from La Merope) is a gem, as is Cesti’s ‘Intorno all’idol mio’ (from Orontea). But weaker numbers such as Keiser’s ‘Lasciami piangere’ (from Fredegunda) need bolder decoration, and Monteverdi and Haydn sound out of place. As in Diva/Divo, where DiDonato contrasted Massenet’s Cherubin with Mozart’s Cherubino, we have two Cleopatras. The switch from Hasse’s zesty, French-influenced orchestration of ‘Morte col fiero aspetto’ to the blush of woodwind in Handel’s ‘Piangerò la sorte mia’ is the most striking juxtaposition on a disc that elsewhere fails to capture the full warmth and expressivity of DiDonato’s voice, yet conveys the superiority of Handel over his contemporaries.


Anna Picard