Although global warming persists as a threat to our survival, the World Economic Forum’s attempts to hijack environmentalism as a pretext for more lockdowns, surveillance and divide-and conquer schemes has sabotaged grassroots movements trying to restore climate stability. Our situation would be more dire if trees weren’t so resilient: they’re consuming more carbon dioxide than any 20th century doomsayers ever believed possible. Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato offers a commonsensical solution in the liner notes to her latest release, Eden, which isn’t online yet. “In this time of upheaval, which seed will you plant today?”
With the new album, she’s pulled together a playlist of eco-friendly songs and cautionary tales from over the centuries, backed lushly and verdantly by orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro, conducted from the harpsichord by Maxim Emelyanychev. Their eclectic collection makes a solid springboard for her signature blend of dynamism and subtlety.
They open with The Unanswered Question, by Charles Ives, channeling a slowly drifting, organ-like rapture punctuated by moments of disquiet. DiDonato brings a vividly searching quality to Gene Scheer’s contemplation of the need to reconnect with our surroundings in the world premiere recording of Rachel Portman‘s First Morning of the World, the orchestra evoking wind in the trees with gentle, pastoral wave motion.
DiDonato follows with a matter-of-factly soaring rendition of Mahler’s Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft (I Breathed a Gentle Fragrance) and then early 17th century Italian composer Biaggio Marini’s Con le stelle in Ciel che mai (rough translation: Have You Seen the Sun?), an energetically swaying art-folk dance of sorts featuring a starkly emphatic Dmitri Lepekhov violin solo.
A rare 18th century Josef Myslivecek aria has a lively Italian baroque bounce, in considerable contrast to its message of divine retribution, “sure destruction and bitter plagues.” Yikes! A blithe Aaron Copland setting of Emily Dickinson poetry is next.
Baroque composer Giovanni Valentini’s hazy, summery miniature, Sonata enharmonica makes a bridge to a sobering Francesco Cavalli aria from his opera La Callisto. “Does the god of thunder so mercilessly scorch the earth?? For sure. From there, the ensemble flurry through a bracing Gluck dance from the opera Orpheus and Euridice, DiDonato then parsing two increasingly agitated songs of gloom and heartbreak under “the cruelty of a wicked monarch.”
There are three Handel works here: a stately aria from the oratorio Theodora and two fond interludes from the opera Serse. celebrating the enduring beauty of plant life. By contrast, DiDonato pulls back with a lingering angst, “lost to the world,” in the second Mahler song: in its understated way, it packs the biggest punch on the album. And in Agonies, by Wagner, she speaks directly to the horrors that might await if we don’t stop setting things onfire.