In Chaotic Times, A Singer's Plea For Freedom Opera star Joyce DiDonato does more than sing — she lends her voice to social causes. Watch her new video, a haunting depiction of a woman trapped in conflict.
YouTube

Music

First Watch: Joyce DiDonato, 'Lascia ch'io pianga'

In a season of relentless shouting, the best antidote might be singing. Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato's new album with conductor Maxim Emelyanychev and the ensemble Il Pomo d'Oro, In War & Peace: Harmony Through Music, uses Baroque arias to explore the pain and possibilities of these troubled times. A companion website invites anyone and everyone to answer the simple but loaded question, "In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?"

"I open my eyes and listen carefully," writes Adam, a student in Poland. "Chaos is loud and spectacular, but peace is always there. It is just harder to spot."

And this video for "Lascia ch'io pianga" (Allow me to weep) from Handel's opera Rinaldo distills tranquility through sunlight and a heartbreaking melody.

"I knew from the beginning that this concept came about that I wanted to venture into film and create a real story to accompany the album," DiDonato wrote in an email to NPR. "This is not only such a personal project, but it's also a timely one in which I'm hoping to engage the listener in a much more visceral way than a typical recording project. Because the visual world is such a dominant one, I felt the need to create something lasting."

DiDonato says her character, Almirena, "is being held prisoner and is in a deep state of despair, as she asks only to be left alone to weep, hoping that in her tears she might find freedom. It's a haunting aria of immense beauty (Handel's forte in highlighting the deepest pain in the most beautiful of melodies!), which can entertain a variety of interpretations. What we tried to show in this short film is a choice to renew hope and to search for the way out, instead to simply collapse in despair."

DiDonato is no stranger to cutting-edge and socially motivated theatrical projects. A staunch supporter of LGBT rights, she performed another aria on this album, "When I am laid in earth," at New York's historic Stonewall Inn in an NPR Music Field Recording. Earlier this month she was the first opera singer to appear in the one-person off-Broadway show White Rabbit Red Rabbit, by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, in which each actor receives the script only upon arriving for the performance. Her collaborator on this video, director and designer James Darrah, directed the Opera Philadelphia world premiere of composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek's Breaking the Waves, an adaptation of the Lars von Trier film.

DiDonato, Darrah and company shot the video near Santa Fe, N.M. "I was particularly jazzed to know that Lonesome Dove — my favorite miniseries of all time — was filmed there." she says. "It was the perfect setting to find a sense of isolation necessary for this particular aria." Her goal mirrored what she hopes to achieve with the album as a whole: "a journey from desolation and darkness into hope and light."

This little film is indeed a testament to an eternal, and eternally inspiring, paradox. Even when being held captive — whether by walls or grief — a singer and all who hear her can feel free.

In War and Peace: Harmony through Music is out Nov. 4 on Erato/Warner Classics. A U.S. tour follows Dec. 2-15.

Text

Lascia ch'io pianga

mia cruda sorte,

e che sospiri

la libertà.

Il duolo infranga

queste ritorte,

de' miei martiri

sol per pietà.

— Giacomo Rossi

Allow me to weep

for my cruel fate,

and to mourn

my lost freedom.

May my sorrow break

these chains,

if only out of pity

for my suffering.

— Translation by Susannah Howe

[+] read more[-] less

More From Classical

The Calidore String Quartet performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 5, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

The Calidore String Quartet

The Calidore String Quartet confirms that the centuries-old formula – two violins, a viola and a cello – is still very much alive and evolving.

Carolina Eyck and Clarice Jensen perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Dec. 3, 2018 (Cameron Pollack/NPR)/ Cameron Pollack/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR

Carolina Eyck and Clarice Jensen

Carolina Eyck, the first artist to bring a theremin to the Tiny Desk, plays the air with the kind of lyrical phrasing and "fingered" articulation that takes a special kind of virtuosity.

Anthony Roth Costanzo performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Aug. 10, 2018 (Morgan Noelle Smith/NPR). Morgan Noelle Smith/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Morgan Noelle Smith/NPR

Anthony Roth Costanzo

Watch the ambitious countertenor sing music that spans more than 250 years, connecting the dots between David Byrne, George Frideric Handel and Philip Glass.

George Li performs a Tiny Desk Concert on July 31, 2018 (Eric Lee/NPR). Eric Lee/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eric Lee/NPR

George Li

Watch the young Harvard grad dispatch some of the most "knuckle-busting" piano repertoire with uncommon panache and precision.

Yo-Yo Ma performs a Tiny Desk Concert on June 25, 2018 (Samantha Clark/NPR). Samantha Clark/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Samantha Clark/NPR

Yo-Yo Ma

Watch the 19-time Grammy winner return to his lifelong passion for J.S. Bach, playing music from the Cello Suites and offering advice on the art of incremental learning.

The King's Singers perform a Tiny Desk Concert on April 19, 2018 (Eslah Attar/NPR). Eslah Attar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eslah Attar/NPR

The King's Singers

The storied vocal ensemble brings close harmony singing to a diverse set list that includes a Beatles tune and a bawdy madrigal from the 1500s.

Ólafur Arnalds performs a Tiny Desk Concert on July 3, 2018 (Eric Lee/NPR). Eric Lee/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eric Lee/NPR

Ólafur Arnalds

The Icelandic composer is joined by two "ghost" pianists, making mysterious and memorable music at the Tiny Desk.

From the Top performs Tiny Desk on June 4, 2018. Eslah Attar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eslah Attar/NPR

From The Top

A handful of teenagers, and a 12-year-old violinist, from the radio show From the Top, give sparkling performances, proving there's a bright future for classical music.

Back To Top