Joyce Didonato's new album 'Eden' examines our connection with nature : Deceptive Cadence On her new album, the opera star suggests Mother Nature has a lot to teach us, if we'd only listen.

Review

Joyce DiDonato's 'Eden' beckons humanity back to the garden

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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Scientists aren't the only ones concerned about the health of the planet these days. Musicians are, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUCKERT-LIEDER: NO. 3, 'ICH BIN DER WELT ABHANDEN GEKOMMEN'")

JOYCE DIDONATO: (Singing in German).

PFEIFFER: On her new album, "Eden," opera star Joyce DiDonato proposes that Mother Nature has a lot to teach us if we'd only pay attention. Our reviewer, NPR's Tom Huizenga, has been listening closely.

TOM HUIZENGA, BYLINE: Joyce DiDonato's "Eden" asks more questions than it answers, beginning with the opening track called "The Unanswered Question," a mystical piece from 1908 by Charles Ives. Here, DiDonato steps in to sing the solos, originally written for the trumpet.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE UNANSWERED QUESTION")

DIDONATO: (Vocalizing).

HUIZENGA: Those slow-motion melismas keep returning as if DiDonato is repeating her question. And what is the question? The answer, in part, lies in this beautiful, searching song, a world-premiere recording of "The First Morning Of The World" with music by Oscar-winning composer Rachel Portman and words by librettist Gene Scheer. DiDonato implores nature and sings touch me, teach me to sing notes that bloom like a canopy of leaves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FIRST MORNING OF THE WORLD")

DIDONATO: (Singing) Touch me. Teach me to sing, to sing notes that bloom like a canopy of leaves.

HUIZENGA: DiDonato is backed by the incisive Italian chamber orchestra Il Pomo d'Oro. And together, they span more than five centuries of music, from new works to early baroque operas. Even back in the day, composers addressed the environment. In the oratorio "Adam And Eve" by Josef Myslivecek, a contemporary of Mozart, DiDonato sings a list of natural disasters that could be ripped from today's headlines - first floods, then fires, and there's a plague.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ADAMO ED EVA, PT. 2: 'TOGLIERO LE SPONDE AL MARE'")

DIDONATO: (Singing in Italian).

HUIZENGA: DiDonato is a self-described belligerent optimist. She believes in what she calls the power of humanity and the guiding force of the natural world. And she asks, are we connecting these ideas to ourselves?

(SOUNDBITE OF JOYCE DIDONATO SONG, "8 POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON: NO. 1, NATURE, THE GENTLEST MOTHER")

HUIZENGA: A good counterbalance to "Eden's" environmental angst is a more benevolent perspective, in words by Emily Dickinson, set to music by Aaron Copeland. The first line reads, Nature, the gentlest mother, impatient of no child.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "8 POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON: NO. 1, NATURE, THE GENTLEST MOTHER")

DIDONATO: (Singing) Nature, the gentlest mother, impatient of no child.

HUIZENGA: Even if you don't quite buy the larger concept behind this concept album, DiDonato's voice is one of nature's great wonders - luminous, silken, flexible, full of colors, expressive shadings and always supported by the breath so even the finest threads of tone shine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEODORA, HWV 68, PT. 1: 'AS WITH ROSY STEPS THE MORN'")

DIDONATO: (Singing) Raise our hopes of endless light.

HUIZENGA: Raise our hopes of endless light, Joyce DiDonato sings. Her new album may not have all the answers, but it raises the right questions.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEODORA, HWV 68, PT. 1: 'AS WITH ROSY STEPS THE MORN'")

DIDONATO: (Singing) As with rosy steps the morn.

PFEIFFER: The album is "Eden" by Joyce DiDonato. Our reviewer is NPR's Tom Huizenga.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEODORA, HWV 68, PT. 1: 'AS WITH ROSY STEPS THE MORN'")

DIDONATO: (Singing) Shades of night, so from virtuous toils...

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