Unlike divas who tread well-worn paths, Joyce DiDonato blazes trails that sometimes lead to daring new operas like “Dead Man Walking” and other times to older, rarely performed gems like George Frideric Handel’s “Ariodante.”
For her unprecedented second appearance this season on the Harriman-Jewell Series, DiDonato will sing the title role in “Ariodante” Friday at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
DiDonato recently announced in a Facebook video that she was canceling the European portion of her “Ariodante” tour because she needs to have benign cysts removed. She noted that they were not cysts involved with her “singing apparatus.”
We’re grateful for that and also that she will be able to complete her American tour with its much-anticipated stop in her hometown.
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She’s not coming to Kansas City alone. DiDonato is bringing The English Concert, one of the world’s great early music ensembles, and a vivacious cast of singers, including Christiane Karg, Joélle Harvey, Sonia Prina, David Portillo, Matthew Brook and Tyson Miller. You couldn’t ask for a better team to present a Baroque opera like “Ariodante.”
For most classical listeners, Handel is associated first and foremost with “Messiah,” followed closely by the Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music, concerti grossi and organ concertos. But in the 18th century, the name Handel meant opera. It was Handel who brought Italian opera to London, where it became a craze, and “Ariodante” was one of his greatest successes.
Like so many operas of the Baroque era, “Ariodante” is based on an episode from “Orlando Furioso,” a colorful, fantastic epic by 16th century Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto. The main theme of “Orlando Furioso” is the struggle between Charlemagne’s Christian knights and the invading Saracens, but the work is replete with magical events involving sorcerers, sea serpents and even a trip to the moon, plus a multitude of side stories. Like the tale of Ariodante.
Handel’s “Ariodante” is a typical operatic blend of love, misunderstanding, treachery and a happy ending. OK, maybe the happy ending isn’t so typical, but “Ariodante” will please any opera lover with its dazzling arias and heart-breaking melodies. It also features lots of dances, which was something new for Handel’s London operas. Charles Burney, the English musicologist who attended the first performance of “Ariodante” in 1735, wrote that the work “abounds with beauties and the strokes of a great master.”
There were 11 performances of “Ariodante” on its first run, a big success for the time. In fact, it was so well-received that Handel revived it for the 1736 season. After that, it wasn’t performed again until 1926, when it was dusted off and given a grand performance in Stuttgart, Germany.
DiDonato is bringing “Ariodante” to only three other U.S. venues: the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Carnegie Hall in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Thanks to the Harriman-Jewell Series, Kansas City is in that rarefied company.
7 p.m. Friday, April 28. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $30-$85. 816-415-5025 or hjseries.org.
The Harriman-Jewell Series has another big concert coming up this week: cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bassist Edgar Meyer and mandolinist Chris Thile on Thursday at the Kauffman Center. The trio will perform a program of music by Johann Sebastian Bach. As one might expect, the concert is already sold out, but there is hope.
For various reasons, tickets often become available at the last minute. To be put on a waiting list, call the box office.
7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 27. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. To be put on a waiting list, call 816-415-5025
Musica Sacra’s spring concert is always a joyous affair.
Timothy McDonald, the choir’s founder and conductor, always chooses a program that reflects the season’s sense of renewal and hope. Sunday’s concert at Arrupe Hall will feature a Chandos Anthem by Handel and the Missa Solemnis in C, K. 337 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
“We’re performing Handel’s Chandos Anthem No. 7, ‘My Song Shall Be Always,’ with great choruses and marvelous solos and ensembles,” McDonald said. “We’re including a trio that may not have been written by Handel but was included in many of the early performances of the work.”
The other main work, the Missa Solemnis, was written when Mozart was 24 years old.
“The final movement is an expressive and lyrical solo for soprano that is absolutely thrilling,” McDonald said.
In addition to a full orchestra, the concert is showcasing four professional soloists: soprano Melanie Melcher Cuthbertson, mezzo Kelly Birch, tenor David Adams and baritone Paul Davidson.
7 p.m. Sunday, April 23. Arrupe Hall Auditorium, Rockhurst University. $12-$22. 816-235-6222, tinyurl.com/maxd2ck, or at the door.