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Shocking!!

My senior year at Bishop Miege High School in suburban Kansas City, I was certain – and I mean CERTAIN! – that I would be a high school choral director, and so I searched for schools that had great music education degrees. After sorting through loads of brochures, I settled on The Wichita State University, known for it’s wonderful teacher programs, and as it so happened, an outstanding opera department. I didn’t know about the latter until well into my theory classes: upon my arrival there seemed to be a very serious, elite “opera clique” of amazing performers that seemed much larger than life, and actually, untouchable to me. The program was run by the omnipresent, towering Dr. George Gibson – who to this impressionable freshmen seemed not just larger than life, but all-powerful and imposing on the highest level.

As I found my footing, I found that people would come from around the country to study voice with him and that he was quite a revered opera director. To me, he was the kind of presence that required you to divert your gaze while walking in the hallways, because he was THAT powerful! Somehow I got enticed into being in the chorus of Die Fledermaus that he was directing, and he was fierce in his directing, exacting in his expectations, and tolerated nothing less than the best. (His motto, which he exemplifies in every area of his life, was Dedictation, Discipline and Determination: the 3 D’s!)

Well the rest is now history, but there is no getting around how influential he was on my formation as a singer, and I’ve told him repeatedly that when I stand on stage, there is a part of him that is standing there with me – and most happily, he continues to be an important part of my life. But the kicker is that I am just one of MANY whose lives he has touched!

Last week, while working here at the MET, I was talking with a good friend of mine, and fellow Wichita State Alum, (as well as Santa Fe apprentice!) Brian Frutiger, who is involved here in The House of the Dead. He said, “You know, Joyce – right now there are 5 WSU alums working here at the MET.”

Five WSU Alumni? Five WSU SHOCKERS?

That might not be a big deal if we were talking about Juilliard or Eastmen, perhaps, but Wichita State???? 4 of us are singers, and 1 plays oboe in the orchestra.

We thought that was rather amazing. And so we organized a photo shoot!

Please meet:


Brian Frutiger (Tenor), Alan Held (Bass-Baritone), Susan Spector (Oboe), Samuel Ramey (Bass), myself, and Susan’s daughter who, by virtue of her WSU sweatshirt, immediately became our mascot!

My thought about writing about this, is that once I set my mind on being an opera singer, there was a temptation to believe “But I have to attend one of the BIG music schools!”, and it was hard not to sometimes feel inferior, because I didn’t have a “big name school” as affirmation that I was “good”. Instead, I realized, looking at the 5 of us, each of us takes a very different route and path to get to where we are. I attended school with a number of HUGELY talented people, but they each walked a different route to live their lives. I think the urge for younger singers to think there is ONE way, ONE key to a career is just simply misguided. Get yourself in the mind set of the “3 D’s”, and get about taking your very own journey, and then ENJOY THE RIDE.


My ride brought me to the MET Opera Shop on Tuesday, and it was wonderful. The fabulous Opera Shop Staff really rolled out the red carpet for me, welcomed me with open arms, and a wonderful crowd came out to meet me and have me sign their newly acquired discs. THANK YOU to each one of you for purchasing the discs! (As everyone knows, every single disc makes a difference in this industry right now!) I’ll always be a bit mystified that this girl from Kansas is on this particular journey, but I never stay in that frame of mind too long. But an enormous source of my joy is knowing all the people along the way who have helped me on the way, and reveling in the journey of my colleagues as well.

Go Shockers!!!

22 Comments

  1. Rachel Budde said…

    Joyce:

    I have recently made the fach change from soprano to mezzo. I am in my senior year of undergrad and, while happy with the switch (lower tessitura = SO MUCH MORE COMFORTABLE), I did feel a little adrift for a while. I'd lost all my soprano dream roles (and Strauss' Four Last Songs, which was, perhaps, the hardest hit) and all of my soprano figures. No more Renee, no more Kiri, no more Mirella, etc.

    When I expressed this to my teacher, he said: "Look at Joyce DiDonato. You'll sing her rep and she's fabulous."

    Once I got past my initial reation (OMG COLORATURA NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO), I really was happy that he'd mentioned your name because I admire you already as an artist and as a musician and I've been following your blog for a couple of years now.

    Thank you for being a continued inspiration, and I look forward to seeing your Cherubino here in Chicago in the spring.

  2. Irishrover said…

    Tss, mezzos are way better than sopranos, they just totally rock! :D

    I totally agree with you when you say that everyone has to find his own path in life. And you must know that you're not only an inspiration for singers, but also for everybody around deeply moved by your work and your art.

    So keep going, girl, and enjoy your ride!

  3. Meghan said…

    Ms DiDonato:
    I'm a junior vocal performance major @ Carnegie Mellon University. I've been reading your blog ever since my voice teacher, Laura Knoop Very told me, "You are a Joyce DiDonato mezzo soprano. Go and listen to EVERYTHING recorded by her!" Needless to say I did, and have found that every time I am assigned a piece of repertoire, I can find your recording of it! Thanks for helping me learn the wonderful repertoire that you have already mastered!

    Needless to say, I found your posting today about finding your own path the EXACT thing I needed to hear. I really connected to it because as a junior, I find all of my classmates either deciding to leave for other career fields or constantly questioning whether they "have what it takes" with grad school looming in the near future.

    I find myself often worrying if the path towards this whole opera thing is the correct one for me. (its scary!) So, I decided I'll just take your advice and go along for the ride! :)

    Thanks again,
    Meghan Schiller

    P.S. CMU opera department loves you!

  4. CouldBeWertz said…

    Go, Shockers! WooHoo!

  5. Sibyl said…

    I'm going to have my daughter read this post. She's facing a choice of high schools and it'll be great for her to hear from someone hugely successful that there isn't only one way. We both saw your Rosina in SF and she remembers your performance quite well.

  6. Raisa said…

    I went to a good school, but not the most prestigious one. At that time, I met people who majored in my field (linguistics), but went to big name schools. They sure held themselves superior to the rest of the world. In a way, they were too laid back and at times even negligent of their studies. They must have thought that their school name did half of their work for them.
    My fellow students and I knew that we had to work hard and always walk an extra mile to make sure we get noticed. At the end, years later, many of my former classmates made very successful careers.
    Therefore, I completely agree with the 3 D-s idea. Once you got those, school names don’t really matter. The 3 D-s is the ultimate success recipe.
    On another note, Joyce, congratulations on the newly released Cenerentola. We loved every minute of it. You brought back the real Cinderella of our childhood: that sweet, generous and beautiful girl. The unusual finale twist made us re-think/rewind and re-watch.
    Someone once said that the best play is the one that ends with a question, just like this production.
    Could it all be just a dream? Could all the hopes for love, happiness and liberation be gone? Or maybe it was just the beginning and Cinderella would wake up to live her dream?

  7. steve49w said…

    Although not a singer I totally concur. I found a mentor (A guy in A&R from Geffen of all places) and he gave me great advice. But it comes down to plan your work and then work your plan. And as they say the rest is history.

    Looks like the Met Opera Shop event was a success! I expect to see a nice gain on Soundscan (yeah I know) next week.

    Now, if you can get some of that Witchita State magic to your Royals for next year!

  8. Dr.B said…

    Nice. Like the 3Ds.

  9. Chris said…

    But you continued your studies at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia according to Wikipedia, did you not? Did you happen to be there at the time Florez was at Curtis?

  10. lianne said…

    Wow! I have just graduated from a music degree in uk and am having to wait to apply to postgrads because i'm only 21 and am 'too young' apparently and this has definately re-inspired me to keep holding in there! I completely agree with the 3Ds concept but I also have three Ds of my own…
    DiDonato
    Damrau
    Dessay
    My opera heroines! Thank you so much for being you…such an inspiration.
    P.S can't wait to see you in Jan at Wigmore Hall :D

  11. Yankeediva said…

    I'm so glad this post spoke to so many of you – thanks for chiming in!

    And Chris, I did attend AVA for 3 years, roughly the same time as Juan Diego was at Curtis ('93-'96). In fact – I can't remember the opera (someone should research this), but I was temping in the professional chorus there, and we sang in a show that Juan Diego was singing in for Curtis. (I was his backup!) I wish I could remember the show- any Curtis Alums out there, feel free to chime in – it would have been '95 or '96 I think?

    Funny, small world, isn't it??? That, or something was in the pretzels! (I ate so many pretzels back then – we didn't have much disposable income, so I found that for a dollar I could get a diet coke and one of those FABULOUS pretzels for lunch and easily get through the afternoon!! Philly pretzels are WAY better than NY's, even if the same can't be said for their baseball team, unfortunately!)

  12. Francesca said…

    I'm going to chime right in with everybody else and say that I have also just made a huge change in career path (from nurse back to music, which used to be my whole life and was definitely my first love). I am starting to look at going back to school for music this time and I have to confess I was getting a little discouraged, having been literally 'out of the business' for the past few years. But I think I read this post at exactly the right time! It really lifted my spirits to think that there isn't ONE right way to go about this. I definitely think that anything you put your mind to, you can accomplish, IF you've got those three D's! So in short, thanks for the words of wisdom, and may I just say that you sounded wonderful on Wednesday, "J.Diddy"!

  13. marcillac said…

    Extraordinarily illuminating stuff for people with talent who might contemplate a career in music. Quite interesting for us boring European History/Corporate Law types who can't read much less have any chance of hoping to credibly reproduce a note of music. Still, to the extent that we can appreciate it we're very glad that you found a way to get where you are.

    We finally made it the Barbiere last night (we'd meant to go to a couple of performances but events interfered and we were glad to make this last one). You were, needless to say, superb. That obviously made it worth the effort and the $$$ but I must say that for any number of reasons opening night in London was the more exhilarating experience – glad you remained in one health piece. In general, this is hardly my favorite Met production but it has in its short history been blessed with the best (though dramatically different) Rosinas one could possibly hope for so there is little enough to complain about. I certainly hope to see you as her again. Meanwhile I'm vary glad you seem to have enjoyed the run and you're time in NYC. Eagerly looking forward to the Figaro in Chicago. Hope schedule is more permissive than of late.

  14. nyorker218 said…

    Thank you so much for posting your thoughts. I'm in the process of applying to grad school. I find myself consumed with "what if I don't get into a big name?" Your post has given comfort on that front. Thank you so much for being you. You truly are so fabulous!

  15. Gi said…

    Just a quick note to say I finally got my Colbran CD from amazon.co.uk
    lalalalala :-)

  16. Joe said…

    Great blog post. It certainly rings true come audition time, feeling like a fish out of water, surrounded by students from major conservatories who are getting auditions for programs I didn't. Thank goodness there are many roads to Rome, as they say.

  17. Joe said…

    Great post! It certainly rang true this past weekend at auditions where I felt like a fish out of water surrounded by students from major conservatories, people with significant cover contracts, or people who had upcoming auditions for companies which I hadn't been granted.

    I'm also relieved that so many of the good singers are also among the nicest. When I tried to downplay the fact that I "didn't go anywhere of consequence", one young lady reminded me that many of the best singers come from the smaller schools.

    Thankfully, there are many roads to Rome, as they say.

  18. Dolcevita said…
  19. James Ephemera Etcetera said…

    I live in KC and have yet to hear you. It's all my fault. You have certainly been gracious in your attention to your hometown.

    And, as a Bass(I sing 2nd with the William Baker Festival Singers of KC) , any photo with Samuel Ramey in it is a winner! I have heard him. It's got to be a joy to sing where and how and with whom you do. I started late to really find my voice and would say I'm a real bulldog now. I won't let go of the quest to find and use my voice where it has life. Bravo to you in your adventures!

    I will make all efforts to hear you next time. That is a promise.

    Jim Jandt

  20. msmezzo said…

    this made me laugh. I'm in the chorus at the met, and there are 3 of us from my HIGH SCHOOL (one in the orchestra, 2 in the chorus), and 2 from my College. There must be something in the Ohio water!

  21. Chris said…

    I just saw that you will be doing Maria Stuarda at the Met in the 2012-2013 season. Hope that is really the case. Revival of an opera seldom performed there.

  22. Heidi and Jeremy said…

    I just found your blog and was immediately drawn in as I, too, am a Shocker alum and have my own memories of Duerksen Fine Arts Building. You have been a great inspiration (along with the other WSU alums you mention) that you can come from the middle of Kansas, but still share your talent and artistic vision with the world. Thanks, Joyce!

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Bring that innocent, childlike sense of wonder to your craft, and do whatever you need to find that truth again. It will continually teach you how to be present, how to be alive, and how to let go. Therein lies not only your artistic freedom, but your personal freedom as well!

~ Joyce DiDonato