• Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Joyce DiDonato

    Opera Lively is pleased that outstanding mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has granted us an exclusive interview. Ms. DiDonato's thoughtful and intelligent answers are a pleasure to read. The questions were by Almaviva. Click on Read More below then scroll down for the full interview. You can write comments at the bottom of the page if you're a registered member (registration is free and only takes a couple of minutes). Please bookmark our site and come back for more; we're constantly bringing in new and exciting interviews.

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    Artist - Joyce DiDonato
    Born in - Prairie Village, Kansas, U.S.A.
    Fach - Coloratura mezzo-soprano
    Moniker - The Yankee Diva
    Recently in - Donizetti's Maria Stuarda - Houston Grand Opera
    Currently in - Rossini's La Cenerentola - Bayerische Staatsoper (Munich) - May 29, June 2, 7, 10
    Next Engagements - Summer Recitals in Berlin, Paris, London, Munich and other cities
    Upcoming TV broadcast - PBS (United States, nationwide) on July 20 - PBS Arts Summer Festival
    Official Web Site - http://www.joycedidonato.com/
    Amazon.com Store for Joyce DiDonato products - [click here]

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    Ms. DiDonato's photos - credit © Nick Heavican
    The Enchanted Island production photos - © Metropolitan Opera House
    All photos used with authorization

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    ARTISTIC BIOGRAPHY

    Winner of the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Solo, Joyce DiDonato entrances audiences and critics alike across the globe, and has been proclaimed "perhaps the most potent female singer of her generation” by the New Yorker. With a voice nothing less than 24-carat gold according to The Times, DiDonato has soared to international prominence in operas by Rossini, Handel and Mozart, as well as through her wide-ranging, acclaimed discography.

    Born in Kansas and a graduate of Wichita State University and The Academy of Vocal Arts, Joyce DiDonato trained on the young artist programmes of San Francisco, Houston, and Santa Fe opera companies. Her signature parts include the bel canto roles of Rossini, leading the Financial Times to declare her Elena in La Donna del Lago, "Simply the best singing I've heard in years."

    Last season began with DiDonato’s debut at the Deutsche Oper as Rosina Il Barbiere di Siviglia. She then returned to the Teatro Real, Madrid for her first European Octavian Der Rosenkavalier and sang Sister Helen Dead Man Walking at Houston Grand Opera. She returned to the Metropolitan Opera in the spring of 2011 for Isolier Le Comte Ory and Komponist Ariadne auf Naxos, following this with a European tour in the title role of Ariodante with Il complesso barocco, to coincide with the release of her recording of the same opera on Virgin Classics. She triumphed at Covent Garden at the end of the season, in the title role of Massenet’s Cendrillon.

    Highlights of the current season include the feat of back-to-back title roles at La Scala, Milan (Der Rosenkavalier and La donna del lago), the world première of the baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island at the Metropolitan Opera, concerts with the New York Philharmonic in New York and London, and the title role of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda at Houston Grand Opera.

    An exclusive recording artist with EMI/Virgin Classics, DiDonato’s third EMI/Virgin Classics solo CD Diva Divo won a Grammy Award this year in the category of Best Classical Vocal Solo. The disc comprises arias by male and female characters that tell the same story from their different perspectives, celebrating the rich dramatic world of the mezzo-soprano. DiDonato’s other honours include the highly-prized Artist of the Year at the Gramophone Awards in 2010, as well as Recital of the Year for the album Colbran: Rossinis Muse. She has also collected a German Echo Klassik Award as Female Singer of the Year, in addition to the Mets Beverly Sills Award, the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Singer of the Year, and citations from Operalia and the Richard Tucker and George London Foundations.



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    DISCOGRAPHY

    Adamo Little Women With Catherine Ciesinski, James Maddalena Houston Grand Opera, cond. Patrck Summers Ondine 20018
    Berlioz Benvenuto Cellini Orchestre National de France, cond. John Nelson Virgin Classics 2005
    Daugherty Jackie O Houston Grand Opera, cond. Christopher Larkin Argo 1997
    Handel Alcina Il Complesso Barocco, cond. Alan Curtis Archiv Produktion 2009
    Amor e gelosia – Duets With Patrizia Ciof Il Complesso Barocco, cond. Alan Curtis Virgin Classics 2004
    Floridante Il Complesso Barocco, cond. Alan Curtis Archiv Produktion 2008
    Furore, Arias of fury and madness Les Talens Lyriques, cond. Christophe Rousset Virgin Classics 2008
    Hercules (DVD) Aix-en-Provence Opera, cond. William Christie Bel Air 2005
    Radamisto Il Complesso Barocco, cond. Alan Curtis Virgin Classics 2005
    Machover Resurrection Houston Grand Opera, cond. Patrick Summers Albany 2002
    Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night’s Dream Paris Ensemble Orchestra, cond. John Nelson Virgin Classics 2003
    Monteverdi, Cavalli, et al. Lamenti With Rolando Villazon, Philppe Jaroussky Le Concert d’Astree, cond. Emmanuelle Haim Virgin 2008
    Mozart Don Giovanni (DVD) Royal Opera House Covent Garden, cond. Sir Charles Mackerras BBC / Opus Arte 2008
    The Last Concerto, 1791 With Eric Hoeprich Orchestra of the 18th Century, cond. Frans Brüggen Glossa 2002
    Rossini Il Barbiere di Siviglia (DVD) Royal Opera House Covent Garden, cond. Antonio Pappano Virgin Classics 2010
    Il Barbiere di Siviglia (DVD) l’Opera National de Paris TDK
    La Cenerentola (DVD) Gran Teatre de Liceu, cond. Partrick Summers Decca 2009
    La Cenerentola SWR Radio Ochestra Kaiserslautern, cond. Alberto Zedda Naxos 2005
    Colbran, the Muse Orchestra e Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale de Santa Cecilia, cond. Edoardo Müller Virgin Classics 2010
    Solo Recital Disc ¡Pasión! Works by Obradors, Granados, Turina, deFalla, Montsalvatge, & Rossini Julias Drake (Piano) EL 0608 2008
    Solo Recital Disc The Deepest Desire Works by Copland, Heggie & Bernstein David Zobel (Piano) Eloquentia EL00504 20068
    Solo Recital Disc Wigmore Hall Live Works by Faure, Handel, Rossini, Head & Hahn Julias Drake (Piano) Wigmore Hall Live 2006
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    THE COMPLETE EXCLUSIVE OPERA LIVELY INTERVIEW WITH JOYCE DIDONATO:

    OL - Your career path to success is a bit unusual in the fact that you achieved enormous international recognition since your professional debut in the 1998/1999 season, with major awards and such important work as the world premiere of Mark Adamo’s Little Women, several roles at La Scala, and appearances at L’Opéra de Paris, Châtelet, Covent Garden, Bastille, Tokyo, DNO and all major American companies (Houston, San Francisco, NYCO, Santa Fe, etc.) except the Met, which you only reached in the 2005/2006 season. While in the past singers had to go to Europe, more modernly we often see American singers proceeding the other way around – reaching the Met after some regional work, and then their Met roles open other doors. What took the Met so long to discover an American singer of your quality, allowing La Scala and Covent Garden to discover you first?

    JD - I feel very fortunate that the timing worked out as it did, because I feel I was able to arrive at the MET with a real sense of who I was as an artist, without the fear of not being ready for that famed stage. I think it's a tremendous privilege to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, and I believe it's a place where you need to earn the right to sing there, so my arrival at 35 years of age somehow seemed perfect for me.

    I did worry that it wouldn't come, however. My fortune, because I was a slow-starting young artist in the States, was that many of the top managers continued to see me only as a young artist, not as a leading lady - even with some success happening in Europe. My breaks in the States came with companies where I had a relationship as a young artist (Merola in San Francisco, the Santa Fe Opera, and of course Houston.) But breaking into the other top companies took a long time.

    I think one danger of the young artist programs - as brilliant and invaluable as they are - is that you can be put immediately into a rather constricting box: "She's another Fleming", or "He's the next Hampson", and then all the agents and intendants who hear you audition year after year, listen to you with that pre-set label in mind. It can be very challenging to change their initial opinion.

    In my case, I didn't make much of a splash my first year in Houston, and so it took a long time for the powers-that-be to start hearing me with the artistic growth I was making. I popped over to Europe and after a very disheartening audition tour (12 no's out of 13 tries!), someone finally listened to me simply as an ARTIST and liked what they heard. (That was the 13th Audition for the Paris Opera!) Breaking in at the "A" level forced the American contingency to start hearing me with slightly different ears. It was definitely a lucky break! And for the record, I wouldn't change a single step of that journey!

    OL - Recently we conducted a poll in our website (which is frequented by many seasoned opera fans) to select 5 female singers that would receive our endorsement as grade A+, among 53 previously qualified female singers of all fachs. The criteria were beauty of voice and technical accomplishment. Singers needed to be currently active in opera houses (not just recitals) but were to be judged taking into account the peak of their careers. As you can imagine, with this generational criteria, some very illustrious names were among the 53. You won one of the five spots, having received the second most numerous votes, behind only Waltraud Meier (and by only one vote). The other winners were Renee Fleming, Edita Gruberova, and Natalie Dessay. Well, it’s a small honor as compared to having been inducted into Gramophone’s Hall of Fame, not to forget the Grammy and many other prestigious awards.

    Anyway, we feel that you are at the very peak of your powers. For example, your recent showing in The Enchanted Island was simply spectacular both vocally and in terms of acting. You must be having enormous fun, but how does it feel to be in this stage of your career when you’ve pretty much accomplished everything that there is to be accomplished? In what way can you keep it all still challenging and fresh for you?

    JD - I'm stunned by this. Truly. It means so much, because we function in a field where our "fans" are much more than that - they are highly educated, highly opinionated (for better or for worse!), highly involved, and infinitely passionate. To have a certain stamp of approval from a fan base that really knows the depths of this art form from a rich historical context is very humbling.

    I do worry about the talk starting of "She's at her peak", because I fear that implies the downward slide could start at any moment! But my vision has always been one of long-term vocal health and a longevity of career - at least for as long as I wish to stay on the stage. However, I'm not sure that I can say that I'm at my "peak". Not only because I believe that can only be determined after the fact, but I feel there is still so very much more for me to learn, so many other roles and repertoire to explore, and much more I can achieve as a performer.

    But I do feel very happy that I've reached a point where my artistic instincts feel quite strong, and I can sense that I have gained a certain confidence in my voice and my stagecraft. But there is always room for improvement and growth, and this is the element that keeps things fresh for me. One is never, EVER done learning in this field. (Or, handily, in life, as well!)

    OL - Great answer, and we meant to say that we wish you a very, very long "peak." By the way, let’s talk about The Enchanted Island. Please tell us about what you think of this concept of a new pastiche over ancient music, in English. We found it to be enormous fun. Is this the kind of initiative that may revitalize opera and conquer new audiences?



    JD - I had a truly wonderful time with Sycorax ~ it felt as if this was a dream project for me, for it combined two of my biggest loves in opera: baroque music partnered with a brand new creation. I was in heaven being given the opportunity to create a character from essentially nothing, so I felt the sky was the limit in terms of interpretation and risk taking. Collaborating with William Christie and Phelim McDermott and his creative team, all of whom have provocative, soaring imaginations, really ignited my theatrical curiosity and I decided to hold nothing back with her. She was a fabulous mess at the start, but this deep and real transformation she endured served as a real challenge, with a tremendous reward at the end, singing this haunting, emotional aria to her son, Caliban.



    I do take issue with the idea that maybe we need to reinvent the wheel to "revitalize" opera. I hear from a huge number of young people - it's actually mind blowing - who are already incredibly passionate and starving for more of this crazy operatic world. What the general public is missing, I believe, is for the operatic community, to reach out to them to fill in the gaps that our education system is now sorely missing.

    We have been very busy sending out a message that our art form is dying (it's not, and it's been proven so), and that we are all old-fashioned and out of date. We've been selling that. We've been apologizing for how "traditional" or "old fashioned" opera is. I disagree so strongly with this. Now the model is CHANGING, and the sense of culture is rapidly shifting, but opera is indescribably important for society today - we are the singular art form that combines all the others, that deals with life, death, love, lust, jealousy, anger, familial strife, political unrest and turmoil - it's remarkable how current it is!

    Perhaps the missing link, aside from a criminal lack of arts education in the schools, is a consistent production level where, whether traditional or updated, we are performing with real truth and integrity to the score with truly proficient and pure vocalism, exquisite musicianship, and utterly compelling theatricality. No small feat, granted, but I'm sure when audiences experience a performance with all this in play, the idea of opera being outdated is the last thing on their mind!

    OL - Agreed! Let's talk about your repertory. We’re most used to seeing you in Handel, Mozart, and Rossini. But then, you’ve done some contemporary work (Dead Man Walking, Little Women, Resurrection, Camille Claudel). Artistically speaking, what is more rewarding for you – creating a new role, exploring the opera of our time, or doing the great masters of the past? Do you have plans for more contemporary opera?

    JD - I find it all rewarding, without question, but the key for me is the diversity: I find that preparing a modern work, creating it for the very first time, informs how I approach an old standard, where the temptation may be to imitate the singers of the past, or coast with an attitude of "Ah yeah - that's how this goes." Working on new pieces, you question every phrase, dissect each line of the text in a way that is quite in-depth, and I love to take that work ethic into pieces where "Everyone knows how it goes." This keeps the process alive for me, and allows me to feel a certain kind of ownership with a role by the time opening night comes. If I've gone very deeply into it, then it is wholly mine, and not - hopefully! - an imitation of someone else.

    I do have plans for a world premiere that Jake Heggie is writing for me, with Terrence McNally providing the libretto. It's called Great Scott and is slated for the fall of '15 in Dallas. I can say I've asked for it to be a comedy, but also with a mad scene, and believe they've miraculously found a way to grant me both of my wishes!

    OL - While we have had you numerous times in comedic roles such as in Rossini’s comic operas, incursions into his serious territory have been rarer for you (you’ve done La Donna del Lago, for example). This might indicate a preference for comedy. But then, your dramatic talent is considerable, as you have proved for instance in your Dejanira in Handel’s Hercules with William Christie, preserved on DVD. Do you crave more tragic roles? Your upcoming "Drama Queens" concerts might suggest it, as well as your recent Maria Stuarda. Please contrast for us Joyce DiDonato, the comedienne, and Joyce DiDonato, the tragic singing actress.

    JD - Ah, I do believe she is one in the same!! Joyce, the person, definitely loves a good laugh - and actually NEEDS the laughter in her life! But like actors or writers, they will say comedy is actually harder to play than tragedy. It takes a very keen sense of timing, and so I often need to work harder to make the lightness of the comedy seem natural. But I am very happy that roles such as Romeo, and Maria Stuarda, and Sesto are returning more in my coming repertoire. I now have a more profound understanding of some of the themes tackled in the grander pieces. I also think the musical and vocal demands are greater - infusing a line with deep pathos takes a tremendous amount of control, so I look forward to delving a bit deeper into that territory!

    OL - Drawing more from your most current work, tell us please how you read your character in Maria Stuarda. How do you define her psychological traits?

    JD - Ah, I fell completely in love with Maria during my first outing with her. Now, I can only speak about Donizetti's Maria ~ because I think there is a bit of a contrast between her and the Maria of history. Donizetti's Maria is very strong, yet quite vulnerable, immensely proud - indeed, her pride is her downfall in the famous confrontation scene. Her vulnerability is on full display in the astonishing confession scene - such an intimate encounter with Talbot. And through this transformation, she rises up to become a true leader in the end, comforting EVERYONE around her in her time of need. The bravery she shows in the end, as the music grows stronger and stronger, is astonishing, and it completely absorbed me every single night.

    OL - We believe that a Vivaldi revival is overdue, just like the one Handel has enjoyed. You have recorded Vivaldi’s sacred music and Ercole but we haven’t seen you in his operas on stage. Any plans there, and if yes, what operas by him would you consider as worthy of a revival?

    JD - I'm afraid there are not any plans at the moment for a staged Vivaldi encounter for me, but I suppose if I had to choose one, I'd be happy to put Ercole on the stage. Having recorded it already, I found the music to be sublime!

    OL - Given your well-deserved moniker of Yankee Diva, tell us a bit about American opera. We Americans have been very active in terms of contemporary works. We at Opera Lively feel that we’ve been achieving in this country a specific style, almost a genre. Would you agree?

    JD - I couldn't agree more and I think it's been such a vibrant and exciting time to be involved in opera as an American singer. I've participated in numerous world premieres, and have sung Dead Man Walking as well, and this genre is alive and well and truly speaking to people. We are leading the world at this moment in terms of commissions and I think in the process, we are finally putting our stamp as a culture onto this art form that has long belonged to the Europeans for centuries. No question, this is our time, and I truly salute the American companies that fight for this to happen and continue to push forward our art form. It's thrilling, inspired, and I couldn't be prouder of the body of work that is building up in this country.

    OL - A singer of your stature is now able to influence the field and open new fronts. Please tell us about the causes that are dear to your heart; both artistically, and as a citizen.

    JD - Music education is at the top of the list for me ~ it is the KEY to all the issues we are facing now. I do see it as criminal that the arts in schools have been cut down to nothing. We are stealing from our children (our future) the chance to develop their imaginations, to find their expressive voices, to learn to think outside a prescribed box, or to think, God forbid, independently! This is a crisis of epic proportions and we need to address this.

    I also think having a public that is tuned in "culturally" (and by this, yes, I'm referring to the fine arts - not to reality television!) we will have a more informed, compassionate, proactive community. I just interviewed, of all people, Vivienne Westwood, the iconic fashion designer. She spoke of how "Culture" gives people a sense of how they fit into the world - and without this sense, they become desensitized, removed, uninvolved, and this breeds apathy and lethargy. I think she has a very strong point, and so I'm on a soapbox for us to stop apologizing for opera, but instead start shouting its praises. I want to stop selling the fact that it's irrelevant and outdated. Nothing is further from the truth (IF we do our jobs fully). And I want all of us to reach out to kids - they are STARVING for music in their lives. It's our responsibility to start giving back to them in a major way - if we don't, who will?

    OL - Excellent points! To end in some more human terms, we’d like to learn a bit about Joyce DiDonato, the person, as opposed to the opera singer (even though these dimensions can’t be really separated). How do you define yourself as a person? What is your personality like?

    JD - Yikes! That's a loaded question. Well, firstly, I sing - opera singing is what I DO, but it is clearly not WHO I am. I am a passionate, curious, positive person, and one who has learned an indescribable amount of knowledge about life via the stage and via my life in music. So while I am clear that my identity is not tied up in "Joyce DiDonato", I do greatly treasure the fact that I get to live this crazed, vagabond life where the challenges are huge, the rewards immense and where I'm constantly forced to live in the moment. I treasure my husband, my family, my friends, curiosity, adventure, travel, photography, beauty, truth, integrity, equal rights for all, independent thinkers, great food, laughter, passion, good wine ... the list goes on and on. At the end of the day, I will always work to find a way to make the best of things. My motto is simply: it's all good.

    OL - Thank you so much, Ms. Didonato, for your compelling answers!



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    Comments 7 Comments
    1. CountessAdele's Avatar
      CountessAdele -
      Wonderful, Joyce rocks.
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      I fully agree with Ms. DiDonato. Certainly Opera is a living and thrilling art form, and needs to be advertised as such. We (professionals as well as fans) have been on the defensive for far too long, it's high time we go on the offensive.

      Great answers!.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Yes, opera is alive... opera is lively... thus our name.
      She is very intelligent, these are great answers.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Yay, this is what Ms. DiDonato said on her Twitter feed: "Wonderful questions posed to me by Opera Lively."
      Thank you!
    1. MAuer's Avatar
      MAuer -
      Wow, Alma! Another absolutely fantastic interview!!
    1. Amfortas's Avatar
      Amfortas -
      Wonderful piece, Alma! You keep interviewing the best of the best, and they keep showing why they are!
    1. desiree's Avatar
      desiree -
      This is really great! Thank you, Alma! Keep 'em coming! I knew about this interview through Ms. DiDonato's Facebook feeds.


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