Last September Erato released ReJOYCE! The Best of Joyce DiDonato. Such retrospective compilations are nothing new; and, given that DiDonato’s recording career now spans about ten years, such a review was probably due. Nevertheless, this two-CD set has the distinction of being the first of its kind to be crowdsourced. The selection of the tracks, testimonials included in the liner notes, the photograph for the album cover, and even the title of the album itself were all products of a social media project enthusiastically embraced by DiDonato’s fans.
For those familiar with DiDonato’s discography, there are few surprises. There is a generous supply of George Frideric Handel, including a first-release track of “Ombra mai fu.” (Six of the tracks in the set are first releases.) There is also generous attention given to the bel canto canon, particularly with selections from Gioachino Rossini. There are also two tracks from the Houston Grand Opera recording of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, one with a brief appearance from Frederica von Stade. Finally, there are the usual Richard Rodgers warhorses, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain;” as well as a first-release performance of Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow,” sung with Michael Stern conducting the Kansas City Symphony to a “home town” audience.”
There are a total of 31 tracks distributed across the two CDs. That’s a lot of music. However, one of the things about social media projects is that they end up having to please a lot of people, whose personal preferences are not always compatible. Fortunately, the discs are divided in a way that each will appeal to different tastes. Thus, my own bias is for the first disc with its abundance of Handel and some well-chosen Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, including DiDonato singing both Susanna and Cherubino on the track of “Aprite presto, aprite!,” from The Marriage of Figaro. The second CD, on the other hand, goes more for nineteenth-century spectacle; and, impressed as I am with DiDonato’s capacities for embellishing Gioachino Rossini, my own feeling is that a lesser amount would have gone a longer way.
The real surprise, however, came with “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” This is music that has been trivialized to a fare-you-well by too many singers whose talents run the gamut from diva to lounge lizard. However, singing with John Wilson and his orchestra, DiDonato managed to deliver this song with the most sensitive attention to dynamics I have ever heard, playing out a crescendo so gradual as to be almost unnoticeable until the climax is near and then receding just as smoothly, thus avoiding without the frequent danger of letting the music drop off a cliff. This may not justify buying the whole collection; but, at the end of the day, this is the sort of technique that solidly distinguishes DiDonato’s talent.