SELECTIONS From JOYCE’S lATEST RECORDING “STELLA DI NAPOLI”
Ove t’aggiri (Pacini)
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Apr 2, 2010 | Blog | 35 Comments
So, let’s chat, shall we? I suppose it’s time for an update. But before I come clean, I have an enormous favor to ask: if you make it to the end of this posting, please heed my request at the end. That is all I ask! (Oh, and this will be a long post – so perhaps pour yourself a glass of wine?)
So here goes:
On Monday I went in for ankle surgery – technically I believe it was called a “Bromson Procedure”. Apparently yours truly sings while under sedation, but more on that in a moment…
During the final orchestra rehearsal here in Chicago, an exuberant Cherubino went dashing off the stage into the dark shadows of the garden in the 4th act of “Le Nozze di Figaro” and he found half of the small exit step and missed half of the step. At full speed, my ol’ trusty right ankle fell into that now familiar form and turned over on itself. Violently. The pain was, well, let’s just say the orchestra was subjected to a string of vile expletives, and my first thought was “Great, I broke my leg again. This is RIDICULOUS!” My second thought, and mantra, went like this:
“Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Etc.”
Honestly, it was a normal stage accident that could happen to anyone – it’s just that it happened to me. Again.
Well, examination by a fabulous Doctor Boone Bracket brought forth the good news that my fibula was in perfect, stellar condition, having healed beautifully and staying completely intact. Brava, Fibula Mia! The bad news is that I tore my ligaments. Tore them right good, I did. Beautiful.
Well all the pieces of the puzzle have now come together: do read on, if you care to indulge in the elaborate history of a weak ligament. I swear to you what I’m about to share is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but – there were witnesses.
Back in 1999, I was singing my first ever Rosina for the Kentucky Opera, and I was walking to the theater on the way to my final matinee. Well, there is a big river that runs through downtown Louisville which can mean some big ol’ winds often blow through town. On this Sunday afternoon a HUGE gust of wind decided to tag me “it” and blew me nearly off my feet for a full city block – the only thing that stopped me from flying face-first into a bus stop ahead was my falling over on myself. Yours truly sprained both of her ankles – yes, BOTH, at the same time – but the lucky right one took the brunt of the fall. Yep – it’s a great image.
I’ll never forget it: I was lying there, tears streaming down my face, unable to get up, and this man appeared laughing – he said, “Are you ok? My wife and I were watching you and we were just laughing at you flailing down the street, and then we realized you were really hurt.” Ha. Ha. Well, he put me in his car and drove me to the theater, and I performed the show on crutches. How LITTLE did I know this would become and most unfortunate, annoying, theme throughout my career.
Well, as I’ve thought on it, I’m quite convinced that my injury was much more severe back then than I realized, and I most certainly needed surgery. But I had no insurance, thought “it’s just a sprain”, and had work to do – so I went on about my business, no physical therapy, no surgery, just waiting to be able to walk on it.
That injury, I’m certain, has been at the root of my subsequent “trips” ever since. There is of course the infamous London one (“NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD”, she said in her TV infomercial voice), there was the sprain during the San Francisco Barber, in Paris during rehearsals, my little non-injury trip in NY for my Rose Theater Recital, etc. Ah yes – there have been numerous ones. But I easily dismissed it as being clumsy, or “accidents happen”, etc, and in fact, I’m convinced I have been working with a most compromised ankle. Chronic, if you will.
So: surgery. I was obligated to have it thanks to this latest tear, but it probably should have happened years ago. The Doctor tells me that while the recovery will be long, it should bring me back to a strong, healthy, NORMAL ankle. “A what?”, I asked. “What’s a normal ankle????” AH! A NORMAL ANKLE!! Doesn’t that just sound like heaven?
So, considering the time it takes to have surgery, and plan recovery, etc, and considering how much I hate the idea of canceling, I had to weigh my options. My best scenario was to not cancel anything, which meant either postponing the surgery until my break in August (not wise, and quite risky), or squeeze it in after the run of Figaro in Chicago and hope for the best. This is what I have opted to do.
Shall I explain further? Naturally! (Maybe it’s time for a second glass of wine?)
In speaking with the Doctor, he felt that he could construct a splint that could fit inside my costume boot so that I could try to perform Cherubino. I sat out the final dress in order to rest up (first one I’ve ever missed!) and the decision was to try the opening, see how I felt, and if I felt ok, to continue the run. If I felt that I was going to do any kind of further damage, I would withdraw and have the surgery right away. Enter the amazing costume staff of the Lyric Opera who stayed hours to find the right pair of boots for me that would house a big brace and still be stable. They are my heroes.
Well, I can’t tell you how difficult the opening show was on that Sunday. In all honesty, it was harder than the London show when I actually broke my leg, for then I had no time to process anything, I just simply kept going forward. And then when the wheelchair entered the game, there was no question about being in pain – it was more a logistical struggle. But coming back onto the stage where I had just suffered the recent injury in such an active role? For some reason I was completely wracked with nerves. I sang one of the worst performances in my life (apologies to those who heard it!) – I mean, it was serviceable, and I don’t think anyone needed to ask for their money back, but it was not a “signature” performance, to be sure. It was all the wrong kind of adrenalin: my pulse was racing, my voice was shaking, my breath was not at all under me, and all I could thing of was “don’t step wrong!” Considering this was Cherubino, that was a tall task.
But once the first scene was over, I started feeling my legs under me, and I started settling a bit. But boy, was I happy to see that curtain come down! The relief was enormous. And I was also thrilled to see that my ankle hadn’t swollen, I didn’t feel any additional pain, and it seemed that this was something I could pull off. I saw the Doctor the next day, and we agreed that we could move forward with the run without incurring any damage. His scrawny, fabulous brace worked miracles!
As the run went on, slowly I felt better and better, and by the end I was forgetting that I had a brace on – well, nearly forgetting, and I felt totally back into Cherubino’s shoes. Oh, that felt great.
But the surgery was looming, which meant a lot of questions would soon be answered. Happily, upon examination, the Doctor found that my ligaments were salvageable! (If they had not been, he would have had to have used a tendon to take the place of the ligaments…good times!) But he found a lot of scarring from the past injury(s), and the fresh tear. He assures me that my ankle is now tight, taut, and probably will be quite sore for sometime. BUT IT WILL BE STRONG! YES!!!
The beautiful part of all of this (there usually is a beautiful part, if you look hard enough, I’ve found) is that the Doctor I was blessed with is a huge opera lover. Huge. In fact, the first day he met me, he simply turned to me, looking into my scared eyes, and said, “Ya’ll have no idea how powerful it is what you do.” (He’s from Texas.) He was serious, and he continued: “I’m convinced you save far more lives with your warblin’ than I ever could with my scalpel.” I knew immediately that I was in good hands.
Although I do have to say that being wheeled into the surgery room, all white and antiseptic and sterile and cold, and me shivering in my paper thin gown, to the strains of “D’Amor al dolce impero” was about THE most surreal moment of my life! He was playing my Colbran CD! I’ll tell you – I could NOT wrap my head around that one – memories of being in sunny Rome singing my heart out, and here, scared to death on this cold metal bed hoping for the best! It was BEYOND bizarre.
But before I knew it, I was out cold, and then being brought back to reality. The entire staff then assured me that, indeed, I do “sing purty.” “Excuse me?”, I asked? Well, apparently I sing while under sedation and under the knife. Will wonders never cease? The Doc told me that was a first in his operating room experience. Go figure.
So what is next? I’m told I can be weight bearing in about 2-3 weeks, so I will arrive in Geneva next week to start rehearsals slowly, but with gusto, and I will most likely be performing the shows in a walking cast. A sleek, sexy, fabulously trendy walking cast. OK – one of those big, bulky, horrid things, but it will hopefully do the job! The good news is that Elena surely can’t be as active as Cherubino, right? And the staff and administration of the Opera there in Geneva have been HUGELY supportive and will try and do everything to make it work beautifully.
I honestly have no idea how it will all go, except that I will do my best to not have it be an issue in any way possible. As much as possible. That’s part of my job. Which is where my request comes in: Without wanting to be ungrateful in any way, because truly, you folks who read this blog are such ardent supporters of mine and mean so very much to me – without you listening and applauding, I would look quite stupid on an empty stage! You’re a huge reason I do what I do. But I do wish to ask you to resist the temptation to write to me personally, asking me how I am, or to inundate me with questions after a show of how my leg is, etc. (Positive comments, however, are always welcome on the blog!!! I love those!) I know you will be concerned, and I know that some of you will want to share that concern, and I appreciate that. But the way my mind works, I prefer to look ahead and stay very positive. I tend to believe that where you put your energy, results will follow. If I put all my energy on thinking about my broken ankle, I will feel the pain a bit more, I’ll feel a bit weaker, and I’ll expend the energy I should be using to heal to think about my “poor ankle”. That may sound a bit crazy, but it is the way I try to work and live.
So if you agree to help me on this, let’s try not to keep going over it and asking all the time “how is your ankle?” I prefer to get healthy and then have you be able to concentrate on my performance and the show rather than on whether I’ll still be standing at the end! If you could help me with that, I’d be most appreciative.
I will give updates here so you can follow how the recovery is going, but in the meantime, you can spend your time ordering the London Barber, and watching it over and over, instead of worrying about me! 😉 (How I would LOVE to be remembered for something related to my singing at the end of my career rather than being a klutz!)
I do want to give one apology, as I did have to cancel one thing to fit in this surgery, and that was the 75th Anniversary Gala at AVA. I was looking forward with immense joy to return to my roots and sing for the supportive public there, but sadly, flying a day after surgery wasn’t an option. I’m hugely grateful to AVA for their understanding, and hope that I can have a raincheck!
Oh, and before I go – a HUGE shout out to the amazing cast of “Nozze” here in Chicago. So many people that saw it said it was one of the very best they had ever seen, and I can’t tell you what an honor it was to be a part of this cast. We had a ball, and I will miss the show terribly! Bravi, tutti!
Ah. PS. The reason I waited until now to write about all of this, was that I didn’t want anyone’s focus during “Nozze” to be on my leg – there has been enough of that. But with rumors being what they are, and me showing up in Geneva in a cast, I thought it best to put things on the record!
Ove t’aggiri (Pacini)
O di sorte crudel (Caraffa)
Par che mi dica ancora (Donizetti)
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The world needs you. Now, the world may not exactly realize it, but wow, does it need you. It is yearning, starving, dying for you and your healing offer of service through your Art.
~ Joyce DiDonato