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PREVIEW | Voices Of Spring: Joyce DiDonato & Bryn Terfel Visit Koerner Hall

By Joseph So on April 7, 2022

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and bass-baritone Bryn Terfel (Images courtesy of the artists)
Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and bass-baritone Bryn Terfel (Images courtesy of the artists)

Da strömt auch der Liederquell, der zu lang schon schien zu schweigen
(A fountain of songs is rising, which has been silent for too long)
— From Frühlingstimmen by Johann Strauss

After a long, dark winter, made more trying by restrictions of in-person performances, Toronto’s voice fans can now rejoice. Among the tempting lineup of singers to grace our stages are two of my personal favourites: American mezzo Joyce DiDonato and Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel.

Just reading the news that they are coming brings back a flood of memories. I caught each at the start of their respective careers, have seen them live and in broadcasts multiple times over the years. They are no strangers to Toronto audiences, have sung here on a number of occasions. All I can say is — Toronto fans, you are in for a treat!

I first heard American mezzo Joyce DiDonato as Cherubino (2000) and Annio (2002), both at the Santa Fe Opera. Even in those early years, her high mezzo with terrific coloratura facility and uncommon musicality turned heads. Ideal in the “trouser roles” of Mozart and Handel, she was unforgettable as the love-struck Cherubino, swooning at the sight of the Contessa in Le nozze di Figaro, or as the bouncy and cute Annio, hopelessly in love with Servilia in La clemenza di Tito. Since then, DiDonato’s career has taken her to many great opera houses in the world, in Baroque, Classical, Bel Canto as well as contemporary repertoires. No more young pages for her these days, but as a brilliant Rosina, Sesto, Maria Stuarda, Adalgisa, and Agrippina.

Thanks to the Met Live in HD series, DiDonato was featured in many transmissions, the most recent as Handel’s Agrippina, where she showed off her sparkling coloratura and formidable acting chops. Her ability to weave a story also makes her a superb recitalist. The upcoming Koerner Hall show, Eden, on April 19 can best be described as one of a kind. With its theme of celebration of nature, it fuses music, movement and theatre, with an eclectic musical program from Handel and Gluck to Mahler, Wagner and Ives. She is joined by the ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro and conductor Maxim Emelyanychev.

And, to top it off, a surprise gift to everyone. “To ensure that the Eden experience continues to grow outside of the concert hall, each audience member receives seeds to plant as Joyce asks: ‘In this time of upheaval, which seed will you plant today?’”

Compared to the new-fangled programming of DiDonato, Terfel’s recital may appear rather old school. But, rest assured that it will be equally entertaining from this consummate showman.

My first exposure to the Terfel voice was none other than a broadcast of the 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World. That year was remembered as an epic battle of the baritones, namely the Siberian Dmitri Hvorostovsky versus the Welshman Bryn Terfel. They were both phenomenal, and in the end, Hvorostovsky was declared “Singer of the World” while Terfel won the Song Prize. Since then, I have heard Terfel a half dozen times in person, each time marvelling at the sound coming out of him. Now that the beloved Dima has sadly departed for the chorus in heaven — as a soloist of course — Terfel, thank God, is still going strong.

After his Cardiff success, Terfel made a huge splash at the Met as Figaro, Don Giovanni, Wolfram, Falstaff, Scarpia, and Wotan. The past few seasons, his preference to stay closer to home meant we had fewer opportunities to hear him on this side of the pond, so this Koerner appearance is all the more special. If memory serves, this marks his fourth concert appearance in Toronto.

The Welshman’s Koerner Hall program underscores what he does best: a felicitous mix of German Lieder of Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, with selections of songs by three great British composers — Roger Quilter, Ralph Vaughn Williams and Gerald Finzi. The chosen pieces are almost all “chestnuts,” including selections from Vaughn Williams’s Songs of Travel, Quilter’s Three Shakespeare Songs, and Finzi’s wonderful cycle Let us Garlands Bring Op. 18.

I say, bring it on!

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Joseph So
Joseph So
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