From prison reform, the plight of refugees and the need for music education for all, Joyce DiDonato has dedicated herself to creating projects that challenge and galvanise the public. Step forward her latest initiative, EDEN. This album is at the centre of the project, which also includes a tour of over 45 venues across five continents (London's Barbican April 5 and 6) , a ground-breaking education programme, and multiple high-profile partnerships through which DiDonato seeks to examine our relationship with the natural world and our unique place within it.
DiDonato is joined by Il Pomo d’Oro and conductor Maxim Emelyanychev for a richly diverse programme. Nature has captivated composers over the centuries and is the key theme of this album, with each track exploring an aspect of humankind’s relationship with nature. Ranging from the 17th to the 21st centuries, and embracing such composers as Handel, Gluck, Wagner, Mahler, Ives, Copland and Oscar-winner Rachel Portman – whom DiDonato has commissioned to write a new work specially for EDEN – this music is at the heart of DiDonato’s visionary initiative.
Here's DiDonato's video abotu why this project is so close to her heart. It's a celebration of nature, and of moments when we feel a close connection:
The disc opens with a question - Ives' unforgettable The Unanswered Question, here with vocal component from DiDonato:
The World Premiere of Rachel Portman's The First Morning of the World is a remarkable event. Listen to how Portman conjures, magically, a sense of utter timelessness:
The entire project will take four years of DiDonato's time, and is intended to "confront questions of our individual connection to Nature".
To address the current climate crisis, DiDonato believes that a collective return to our “best selves” is needed; and this is intended to address a "crisis of heart," as well. By invoking questions of our relationshipw ith teh World around us. EDEN invites the listener to explore and search for answers about belonging, purpose,and healing.
As DiDonato herself says:
With each passing day, I trust more and more in the perfect balance, astonishing mystery and guiding force of the natural world around us, how much Mother Nature has to teach us. EDEN is an invitation to return to our roots and to explore whether or not we are connecting as profoundly as we can to the pure essence of our being, to create a new EDEN from withinand plant seeds of hope for the future.”
... and further:
Time often seems to stand still when absorbed in the integrated harmonies and rich poetry of great music, and in this beautiful suspension we are afforded the gift to examine, expand and feel. We connect. The painful separation begins to dissipate and we are empowered to act.
One thing that stands out is the power of music form all periods to afford us that connection. The sheer energy of Il Pomo d'Oro in the Gluck "Danza dello spettri" from Orfeo ed Euridice is utterly remarkable (closely followed by an impassioned aria, "Ah non son la che parlo," froom that composer's rarely-heard Ezio).
The actual choice of music is inspired. How wonderful to have some music by Czech composer Josef Mysliveček (1737-81), a Classical period composer whose Mozartian works have a character and flavour all of their own. The excerpt here is from his two act opera Adamo e Evo (I don't think I need to translate that one!):
DiDonato has been starring in Handel's Theodora here in London recently at the Royal Opera House, and her performance of Theodora's aria "Ah with rosy steps the morn" is unforgettable; just as unforgettable as her Mahler. The. desolation of "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" is remarkable - the performers take the music almost to teh stasis of one of Mahler's expansive slow movements from teh symphonies. While for many decades Kathleen Ferrier has held say in this piece, perhaps now she has a successor. The key to both is the heartfelt delivery - DiDonato sings with heartbreaking beauty. It is left to Wagner to close, "Schmerzen," the fourth song from Wesendonk-Lieder, radiant, glorious.
There is a bonus track: "Ombra mai fu" from Serse. DiDonato is a supreme Handelian, and how it shows here, leaving the disc hanging in the air - appropriately enough, like a question.
For the live performances, DiDonato and Il Pomo d'Oro will collaborate with stage director Marie Lambert and Academy Award-winning composer Rachel Portman, combining this music from different genres with a stage setting designed to connect the audience with the very heart of the natural world around us.
This disc will be showered with awards, doubtless, as will the tour. It is a magnificent achievement. Its message is so important, and, we should not forget, is echoed in music elsewhere, too: we should not forget Gothenburg's sustainable Ring cycle, for example.
An unforgettable release.
I've also included a link to Il Pomo d'Oro's recent Handel disc, a brilliant complement to DiDonato's important disc, featuring Kathryn Lewek (soprano), John Chest (baritone) in tow cantatas, Armida abandonnata and Apollo e Dafne.