Can Belto

On the art of singing and those who practice it…

Colbran the Muse, DiDonato the Fierce

Quick; answer this riddle: How are Rosina in Barber of Seville and Elisabeth I related? Give up? continue reading and you will find the answer.


I recently downloaded Joyce DiDonato’s new recording. The album is titled Colbran the Muse (click on the link to listen to samples). In it, Ms. DiDonato takes us through music composed for Isabella Colbran (the only exception being Una voce poco fa). Ms DiDonato goes from strength to strength in this album, proving that she is ready to take her place among the best Rossini mezzo sopranos of her generation. The voice is rich from top to bottom, the production is even, the high register responsive and strong and the low register rich in colors. This is a singer for whom Rossini (a famous voice wrecker in his time) poses no fears. The recording in one phrase is stunning, fierce, and well worth the prize to acquire it in any way you can.

The Album opens with Armida’s D’amor al dolce impero, a tour de force for any soprano brave enough to take on the piece, let alone for a Mezzo. Ms. DiDonato attacks the piece with gusto and bravura, giving us a rendition worthy of 2nd and 3rd hearings. It is sublime in every way, the coloratura flows from her throat at breakneck speed and with jaw dropping accuracy.

She follows this with renditions of Tanti affetti from La Donna del lago, an opera that does not seem to be able to get a hold on the repertoire, but an aria that has long been a favorite of Rossini interpreters, from Horne, to Caballe and Bartoli. Ms DiDinato shows that he has nothing to apologize for, her rendition is full of fire and beauty, including some perfectly executed trills. The recording also has her singing music from Otello (the Willow song, among others, beautifully sung), more Armida (including the death scene, in which Ms. DiDonato  unleashes some beautiful colors in her voice and reaches levels of pathos that make the listener ache that she would give the chance to sing this role somewhere) and Semiramide (the now very familiar Bel raggio, sung with enough bravura to challenge any soprano who aspires to sing the role)

Ms. DiDonato is assisted in this recording by some de facto legends in the business and some new comers. The Orchestra and Chorus of Santa Cecilia does have this music in their DNA, as Ms. DiDonato states in the YouTube promotional documentary. Their playing is perfect in every way. They cushion her with cascades of sound that make you feel like you are there, in the middle of it. Lawrence Brownlee, the American tenor, sings in the Armida selections and his participation is a welcomed addition to this recording and his fans (since his recording of Barbiere remains unreleased/impossible to find here in the USA). Only Roberta De Nicola’s Emilia (in the Otello selections) is a complete letdown. She sounds unsupported, thin, colorless. In the presence of such great singing, her amateurish sounds really make me wonder is there was nobody else who could be hired for them. Edoardo Muller’s baton is steady and his tempos suit Ms. DiDonato extremely well. Bravi tutti!

So, have you figured out how are Rosina in Barber of Seville and Elisabeth I related? well, they are sisters, born out of Giaccomo Rossini’s pen. In Ms. DiDonato’s new recording we get to hear both and realize how closely they are related. If you didn’t know, Rossini recycled Elisabetta’s Qant’è grato all’alma mia into Una voce poco fa. I have always wondered how the audience reacted in Rossini’s time when they heard music originally composed for the Queen of England now sung by a feisty young girl. These days, of course, the reaction is completely on the opposite direction. What I find interesting in both cases is how they are both defying convention and following their hearts and in that, the music serves as a kind of motif that weaves both characters into a single soul: Elisabetta defies convention by falling in love with a much younger man and Rosina by refusing to marry out of convenience and marrying for love. How fitting that Rossini used the same music for both; furthermore, how fitting that we get both pieces sung so ravishingly by the same artist.


October 12, 2009 - Posted by | Opera Review |


  1. I have also wondered how the audience reacted to recycled music. I recognized immediately that “Qant’è grato all’alma mia” and “Una voce poco fa” were both based on the same tune but I didn’t know which came first. I recently bought the album from itunes. I wanted to hear DiDonato’s “D’amor al dolce impero” but on itunes they make you buy the entire album to get it. I think that was a smart move because they anticipated that people would want to hear that particular track the most. I would say that after Renee Fleming, who sings the best soprano version of this aria, DiDonato is one of the greatest mezzo interpreters I have heard. The new Armida production at the Met should be handed to her next!

    Comment by javier | October 13, 2009 | Reply

    • Javier, I absolutely disagree. Fleming’s version is good, but have you heard Caballe’s? I think that Caballe’s version is absolutely stunning. And I agree with you in the Fact that DiDonato should sing Armida next

      Comment by Lindoro Almaviva | October 13, 2009 | Reply

      • I guess we will have to agree to disagree. I have heard Caballe’s version.

        Comment by javier | October 13, 2009

    • Javier, I totally agree with you,DiDonato really sings marvellous,and she keeps giving us greater interpretations. I have bought almost all her cds and I can’t stop enjoying them. I can’t wait her Diva, Divo either! I also agree that the Met new production for Armida is eagerly waiting for DiDonato. I will love to have and hear “una voce poco fa” from her recording with Muller, since I bought the cd, and don’t want to buy it again from itunes just for a single aria. If you could share it, I will be for ever thankful!

      Comment by Kevin Armijo | January 14, 2011 | Reply

  2. That’s perfectly fine. As I said in parterre, some artists speak to us better than others. When i heard RF’s version I loved it, when I heard MC’s I loved hers more.

    Comment by Lindoro Almaviva | October 13, 2009 | Reply

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