Title: Furore (Georg Friedrich Händel)
Performers: Joyce Didonato - Christophe Rousset / Les Talents Lyriques
Label and #: Virgin Classics CD 519038
TT: 75'08"
Recorded: April 2008, Theatre de la Monnaie, Brussels

The world of female opera singers is a small world but has its own stars. They're called divas. Alhough there is no competition or award to be won to access this rare status, there is no doubt in the public's mind just when someone has garnered this untold distinction. How to tell? Standing

ovations last ostensibly longer, press acclaim become more frequent, challenging new roles are being conquered and new expressive grounds broken.

By this measure, 2008 will remain the year when Joyce Didonato became a diva not in a pesky, demanding and irritating way -- there is nobody more generous and open than she -- but in the subtle and untold manner that shows how she reached another step in her career; a step very few reach, Mezzos even more rarely. Marilyn Horne and Cecilia Bartoli immediately spring to mind as preceding our girl from Kansas City on this lone ascent.

Last April Joyce gave a recital in Philadelphia that was probably of more significance than anybody noticed at first. In the concert hall stood her former Maestro. She writes about it in her journal better than I could: The final stop was in Philadelphia, and it was most definitely a 'full-circle' moment for me. I've been very candid in the past about how hard my time at AVA was, and while I have the perspective now of how invaluable and necessary the experience was, at the time it was terribly challenging to say the least. I look back now and I realize that all I ever really wanted was the approval of the Maestro. I wanted his vote of confidence. I wanted him to think I was 'good enough'. I searched and waited and longed for it but it never really came. Well, he attended the Sunday afternoon recital and found me afterwards to share his thoughts. He was completely sincere - and it meant the world to me. But the real kicker is that standing on that stage back in my old stomping grounds (which used to feel like a treacherous battlefield) I realized that I simply wasn't looking for his approval anymore. I wasn't trying to prove anything, either. I was just singing. That, my friends, felt wonderful. And naturally ... because I had stopped looking, it came and fell in my lap! That was a lovely bonus, indeed.

As I met with Joyce backstage right after the conversation she recalls above, she was radiant and free, her crystalline laugh floating above the few remaining fans. Have you ever heard a Soprano laugh? It is like a free bird taking flight. In hindsight,
that's when she became a diva. When she stopped trying. You want an absolutely subjective review of her latest release, a program of Händel's most expressive arias justly called Furore? It is simply her best recital ever. Technically I won't even try to find fault in her singing. I am incapable of it. Emotionally it is simply stunning. After all, she's got Irish blood and married an Italian. She knows furore when she sees it and she certainly knows how to get in a state of passionate ire and madness without losing any of her vocal composure.

The program she's picked counts amongst Händel's most challenging arias - absolute vocal fireworks that typically get included in programs just one at a time as bravura show pieces. Didonato goes through 14 of them on this disc just as she did on stage, taking immense risks with her voice. But when I asked her about pushing the limits too far, she brushed my concerns away. After singing the Composer from Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, she feels her voice has reached another level. Even Händel's most devilish tunes no longer are that much of a challenge.

I still prefer her on stage though. Her acting and aura just add a dimension that is simply impossible to capture on disc. DVDs of her performances do capture some of it and the website dedicated to this disc has a short video of the recording sessions in Brussels well worth watching if you want to catch a glimpse of this aura. A review would not be complete without a few words about Christophe Rousset and Les Talents Lyriques, one of my favorite baroque ensembles at the moment. Unfortunately the recording engineers did not do them the same justice as they did Joyce Didonato. The orchestra is thrown deeply into the background and not very well defined; which is not a hall acoustic issue as La Monnaie in Brussels is a great concert hall. On the other hand, it gives Didonato a velvety background to soar from. And soaring she does masterfully. Still, it is a waste to have an orchestra and director of this stature play second fiddle in such fashion.

This disc has received so many prizes and accolades already that I don't know where on the CD sleeve they will put the Blue Moon sticker short of sticking it on top of her Diapason d'Or, her Choc du Monde de la Musique or her Diamond from "Opera". Since it would not be nice of us to overshadow those publications, you may not see our Blue Moon on her release. But be assured that it deserves one without any hesitation. Actually, if there were such a thing as a Lunar Eclipse for discs, this would be the one... at least in my fully biased view.