Joyce DiDonato for many years has focused on creating and initiating projects that challenge and stimulate the public, from prison reform, and the plight of refugees, to music education for all.
EDEN is DiDonato’s latest initiative and one that she will dedicate much of her time over the next four years to, uniting music, drama, and education to confront questions of our individual connection to nature… to Eden. Between 2022 and 2024 she will tour over 45 venues across five continents, alongside an education programme.
DiDonato’s passionate belief is that a collective return to our “best selves” is needed to not only address the current climate crisis but “the crisis of heart, as well”. She aims to inspire her listeners to examine their relationship to the natural world and their unique place within it, inviting them to explore and search for answers about belonging, purpose, and healing.
With each passing day – says DiDonato – I trust more and more in the perfect balance, astonishing mystery and guiding force of the natural world around us, how much Mother Nature has to teach us. EDEN is an invitation to return to our roots and to explore whether or not we are connecting as profoundly as we can to the pure essence of our being, to create a new EDEN from within and plant seeds of hope for the future.
Il Pomo d’Oro orchestra with conductor Maxim Emelyanychev will accompany DiDonato on her journey along with stage director Marie Lambert and composer Rachel Portman, combining music from different genres with a stage setting designed to connect the audience with the natural world around us.
The Erato album EDEN is released on February 25th, 2022 and the international tour begins on March 2 2022 in Brussels. The repertoire for both the album and the tour (which begins in Brussels on 2 March 2022) is richly diverse, with the pieces united by the theme of nature. From the 17th to the 21st century, there are compositions by Handel, Gluck, Wagner, Mahler, Ives, Copland and Oscar-winner Rachel Portman, who has written a new work for the EDEN album.
Charles Ives’s enigmatic The Unanswered Question from 1908 opens the programme in which DiDonato sings lines usually assigned to a trumpet, followed by the commission from British composer Rachel Portman. Portman teamed up with American poet and writer Gene Scheer to compose The First Morning of the World. Scheer, known for his collaborations with composers such as Jake Heggie (including the song cycle Camille Claudel: Into the Fire, written for DiDonato and released by Erato in 2018) acknowledges that this is a moment rife with questions, wondering about “the sounds and the songs from the first morning of the world.”
In an essay in the booklet that accompanies the CD, DiDonato writes:
During the pandemic I closely observed the flowers that emerged from the ground as the “real world” went quiet. Despite our pressing issues of shutdowns and closures, these wondrous miracles arrived – unassuming and unheralded – bursting out of their seed coverings after the long winter’s sleep, modestly employing the water and soil at hand to reach ever higher towards the sky, soaking up the full glory of the sun. All were in service of fulfilling their destiny: simply to bloom in their singular incarnation, nourishing the bees and butterflies dependent on them, asking for nothing in return. When their job was done, almost imperceptibly and without fanfare, they dissolved back into the earth to nourish the soil and rest well before they would be needed again.
The trees, dormant over the dark and cold winter of isolation still found the way to blossom, bearing fruit and giving welcome shade without any expectation of bonus or reward: they simply fulfilled their natural objective and then gently let go of their fading leaves to prepare for a well-earned rest, completing the inexorable Circle-of-Life.
When I stop to truly look around, and I dare to connect with this world of wonder rather than the harsh, lifeless one of cement, wires, and industry, I am transported to a place that seems to exist simultaneously both in the stars and deep within. I feel connected. I begin to break free of the cables and waste around me, and sense that I’m an integral part of something bigger. A seed is awakened within me.
But the doubt persists, often in the darkest hours of the night: “What can I alone do?”, “What difference can I possibly make?” And the truth is, I’m not at all sure of the answer. The immense, deafening pain and destruction of the world at large often overwhelms me. Any hope of “saving it” seems to float further and further away.
This is precisely when I seek out the comfort and connection of Music: with each passing day I trust more and more in the perfect balance, astonishing mystery, and guiding force of the Musical World with which we are blessed. Storytellers and creators from Handel to Ives, and from Rückert to Portman, who have so much to teach us as they sort through the simple complexity of our human dilemma and search for universal truths, give us guidance and wisdom to aid us in our questioning.
2 Brussels, Bozar
4 Luxembourg, Philharmonie
6 Arnhem, Stadstheater
8 Amsterdam, Concertgebouw
11 Aalborg, Musikkens Hus
14 Hamburg, Elbphilharmonie
20 Vienna, Konzerthaus
22 Budapest, MUPA
25 Moscow, Zaryadye Hall
27 St Petersburg, Philharmonie
5/6 London, Barbican
9 Dublin, National Concert Hall
12 Kansas City, Folly Theater
14 Ann Arbor, Hill Auditorium
16 Chicago, Harris Theatre
19 Toronto, Koerner Hall
23 New York, Carnegie Hall
24 Washington, The Music Center at Strathmore
TRACKLIST – EDEN
Charles Ives 1874-1954
The Unanswered Question
Rachel Portman b.1960
The First Morning of the World*
Gustav Mahler 1860-1911
II. “Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft!”
Biagio Marini 1594-1663
Scherzi e canzone Op.5
III. “Con le stelle in ciel che mai”
Josef Mysliveček 1737–1781
Oratorio Adamo ed Eva (Part II)
Aria: “Toglierò le sponde al mare” (Angelo di giustizia)
Aaron Copland 1900-1990
8 Poems of Emily Dickinson for voice and chamber orchestra
I. Nature, the gentlest mother
Giovanni Valentini c.1582–1649
Francesco Cavalli 1602–1676
Opera La Calisto (Act I, Scene 14)
Aria: “Piante ombrose” (Calisto)
Christoph Willibald Gluck 1714–1787
Opera Orfeo ed Euridice Wq. 30
Danza degli spettri e delle furie. Allegro non troppo
Christoph Willibald Gluck 1714–1787
Scena ed aria Misera, dove son! From Ezio Wq. 15 (Fulvia)
Scena: “Misera, dove son!… ”
Aria: “Ah! non son io che parlo…”
George Frideric Handel 1685–1759
Dramatic oratorio Theodora HWV 68 (Part I)
Aria: “As with Rosy steps the morn” (Irene)
IV. “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”
Richard Wagner 1813–1883
5 Gedichte für eine Frauenstimme WWV 91 (Wesendonck Lieder)
George Frideric Handel
Opera Serse HWV 40 (Act I, Scene 1)
Recitativo: “Frondi tenere e belle”
Aria: “Ombra mai fù” (Serse)
Joyce DiDonato, soprano (1-6,8,10-16)
Il Pomo d’Oro
Maxim Emelyanychev, conductor
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.