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Joyce DiDonato/
Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Wigmore Hall/Royal Opera House

WHATlinks the Wigmore Hall recital and The Barber of Seville is American mezzo Joyce DiDonato. In both performances she set a standard that singers visiting both historical venues this season will find difficult, if not impossible, to better.

Second things first: DiDonato as Rosina, destined to marry Toby Spence's Count Almaviva, dominates the Covent Garden production such is her magnificence.

Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier's production of Rossini's masterpiece is patchy and its picture frame setting is hardly original. Although it focuses us on the characters, it wastes so much of the stage and feels slightly claustrophobic. Spence, a youthful 36, has a light tenor voice that is perfect for the role of the young love-struck Count.

Joyce DiDonato

George Petean is the barber Figaro who helps Almaviva in his quest to steal Rosina from her possessive, money-grabbing guardian Bartolo (Bruno Praticò).

They are in the safe hands of conductor Mark Elder, who really is becoming a master of every type of opera, and indeed music in general, from every era.

But DiDonato is the real thing - now. The blonde bombshell showed how comfortable she is in both formats: the big-stage costume drama and the more intimate setting of a small hall recital. With pre-planned encores from Giulio Cesare and La Cenerentola, she gave a masterclass in the recital song and opera aria at the Wigmore Hall.

Joyce DiDonato

Her songs had Venice as their theme, a selection comprising Rossini, Michael Head, Gabriel Fauré and Reynaldo Hahn no doubt chosen by master accompanist Julius Drake, whose piano playing never tries to overshadow DiDonato's sensual voice.

If you don't believe that last comment then wait for the CD of this concert, which was being recorded for the Wigmore's own label and is due for release in early summer. I dare you not to get a sexual charge when DiDonato breathes the word "Ah!" in Hahn's La barcheta. Never has an exclamation mark been so justified.

Review by Peter Wilson

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