In this issue: Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato guest curates this special edition of Now, More Than Ever.
Now, More Than Ever: Issue 36
“The staggering, joyful artistry of Joyce DiDonato reminds us that in any generation there are a few giants. Joyce is not only a great, brave and inspiring artist—one of the finest singers of our time—but she is also a transformative presence in the arts. Those who know her repertoire are in awe of her gifts, and those who know nothing of it are instantly engaged. Joyce sings and the world is suddenly brighter. She compels us to listen actively, to hear things anew.”
—Jake Heggie, Gramophone
I couldn’t be more delighted to welcome mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as the third guest curator of Now, More Than Ever! Joyce last appeared with Cal Performances in February 2019, in her wonderful Songplay program, which brought together musicians from the varied worlds of opera, jazz, and tango in the pure pleasure of improvisation, experimentation, and exchange. A few years ago, when Warner Classics was preparing a two-disc compilation drawn from Joyce’s already considerable career with them, she had the idea to crowd-source the name for the project. One adoring fan suggested “ReJoyce,” and for all of us who have had the pleasure of basking in this artist’s unique glow of sophistication, sincerity, discipline, vocal opulence, and generosity of spirit and action—as well as her clear joy in the act of making music—there could be no more fitting title.
It was my honor to first meet Joyce many years ago when she came to visit the Aspen Music Festival for a few days between performances as Cherubino at Santa Fe Opera. I believe she was only a couple of years out of Houston Grand Opera’s young artist studio at that time, and already one could hear and see the unique vocal and human qualities that would distinguish her as she moved from one triumph to the next, never losing sight of who she is. In performance, Joyce is as focused as she is thoughtful, curious, and kind, and I am happy to report that the same is true when she walks out the stage door.
By the way, Joyce’s inimitable artistry will be on display on Saturday, September 12 at 10am (PDT), in a program of arias and songs accompanied by pianist Carrie-Ann Matheson, live from Barcelona. Tickets and more information are available at the Metropolitan Opera’s website.
We asked Joyce to share some of her favorite performances, and she has responded with a terrific playlist. Enjoy!
Greetings from life-affirming Spain!
What a pleasure to join Cal Performances’ eclectic and adventurous audience (who I miss terribly!) for today’s installment of Now, More Than Ever! My thought for this playlist is to copy a bit of what I hope to accomplish with my live Metropolitan Opera concert on September 12 (see Jeremy’s kindcomments above), which will follow in the path of my In War & Peaceprogram (presented in Zellerbach Hall in 2016) by guiding viewers/listeners from our current moment of shared darkness and fear into a light that prompts us to keep alive our hopes for ourselves and for humanity.
So many people look to music for solace and understanding, and to lift their spirits up, so I’m aiming to facilitate that internal journey with this playlist.
Let’s do this!
Carlo Gesualdo: “Tristis est anima mea”
The King’s Singers
We begin in darkness in this, the second of Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday, where we encounter Christ suffering through the long night in the Garden of Gethsemane (“My soul is sorrowful even unto death.”). In music composed by a man fighting his own internal battles between darkness and light, timeless voices call out to us across the centuries, the sheer beauty of their aching, suspended dissonances—their haunted calls for resolution and comfort—reminding us of our kinship with past generations. Indeed, everything old is new again.
Can we find our own resolution to the inner battles we are waging? Right now, in this moment?
Segment from Café Müller
Pina Bausch, choreographer
In this iconic segment from Pina Bausch’s Café Müller(1985), featured in Pina, a 2011 documentary film directed by Wim Wenders, we watch as the legendary queen of dance-theater explores the beauty and complexity of human connection, something that endures regardless of the obstacles placed in our way. Whatever the circumstances, it’s clear that we truly need to feel, to touch each other, and to find one another again, especially in times of darkness. As is brilliantly demonstrated (or perhaps more accurately, as is lived) in this excerpt, witness the power of the human heart to thrive and break through even the most oppressive of silences.
Can we continue to reach out to one another when our strength seems to have abandoned us? Right now, in this moment?
Anonymous: Folias Criollas
Hespèrion XXI Jordi Savall, director
Leave it to the miraculous Jordi Savall to rediscover—on a dusty library shelf filled with 500-year-old lost Peruvian music—this musical wonder. I dare you not to start moving along to the folk rhythms and ancient pulses! In this blessing from the past, the sheer beauty and exuberance of the music offers an abundance of peace and light, as well as a tangible example of how music can radically affect our mood.
Can we find a simple remedy that might transform our spirit for the better—even in some small way? Right now, in this moment?
Mahler: “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”
Dame Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano New Philharmonia Orchestra Sir John Barbirolli, conductor
This is the one song I felt compelled to work on during what I am humbly referring to as “The Great Pause.” As I was programming my first recitals “back,” I knew I needed to begin with this masterpiece, thinking of it as a kind of awakening and emergence into a new world. Friedrich Rückert’s consoling lyrics—“I live alone in my heaven,/In my love, in my song.”—have much to teach us about the importance of being both able and willing to cut ties to what we know—perhaps to what no longer serves us—and to embrace our inner heaven-life and song. For me, the key to this work, along with its sheer beauty, is the absence of restlessness or dissonance that accompanies Rückert’s sometimes difficult words: there is a deep, resonating peace to be found in the relinquishing of things that no longer serve the heart. Here, there is no grief—only peace, resolution, a sense of arrival.
Can we actually be brave enough to release something that no longer serves? Right now, in this moment?
I am lost to the world With which I used to waste much time; It has for so long known nothing of me, It may well believe that I am dead. Nor am I at all concerned If it should think that I am dead. Nor can I deny it, For truly I am dead to the world. I am dead to the world’s tumult And rest in a quiet realm! I live alone in my heaven, In my love, in my song
—translation by Richard Stokes
Nina Simone: “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life”
Nina Simone, vocals and piano
Nina Simone’s rousing single from her 1968 ‘Nuff Said album is all about music’s power to inspire understanding, empathy, courage, and action. It honestly acknowledges hardship, but offers the consolation to be found in hope, determination, and individual expression.
Possessing one of the most unique, bold, and courageous voices, aligned with deeply compelling artistic visions, Nina meets the world head-on and exactly where it is. There are no rose-colored glasses here—she sees life in all its complicated, sordid, human glory—and yet she leads us to discover and appreciate the things we do have, the things that are immediately at hand and at our disposal. I’m one who believes strongly in always keeping that internal power close at hand—defiantly, if need be. To choose light over darkness, integrity over ease, and love over fear.
Can we actually be brave enough to choose love? Right now, in this moment?
Freddie Mercury and Mike Moran: “Barcelona”
Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé, vocals
Tell me, when has the phrase “needs no introduction” ever been more appropriate? Never!
But humor me as I point out that this masterful live performance by two titans of the human race makes me hunger to be back on stage again. Because nothing—not a damn thing!—can replace the experience of sitting side by side with loved ones and strangers alike, experiencing in real time the larger-than-life emotions we crave, brought into existence through the truth, beauty, power, and love of live music.
These experiences need defending! They need protecting! And they need to return with more force and passion and vision than ever before!
Yes, we have our work cut out for us. But just look at the sheer power generated by live musicians living their music and interacting with fellow human beings—the power to provide us all with unforgettable “you should have been there!” moments that we can re-live in memory for the rest of our lives.
Hell, yes, we’ll be back! But can we be brave enough to weather this storm and fight the good fight together? Right now, in this moment?