Few singers on the international scene are enjoying a love affair with critics and audiences quite like mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. The exuberant, engaging Kansas native – dubbed today’s “most user-friendly diva” by Opera News – completed a recital tour of Europe last month that left reviewers throwing superlatives like bouquets. After the singer’s performance of Italian romances at the Wigmore Hall, critic Hilary Finch wrote in the Times of London: “DiDonato’s sheer love of sharing what she was doing radiated warmth into the raw night air.”
Finch went on to praise not only DiDonato’s stage charisma but her vocal prowess: “DiDonato’s voice is at present nothing less than 24-carat gold. Not one note is less than perfectly pitched, not one weak spot is heard throughout the register; and DiDonato is in total control. As the body stands totally still, the voice responds to every nerve-ending in the music with nuances of color.”
DiDonato’s recital tour – presenting a program that ranged from 17th-century arie antiche and early Beethoven songs to her knockout specialty of Rossini – took the singer from Madrid, Barcelona, and the Canary Islands to London and Brussels. Reporting on the two Wigmore Hall recitals, Opera Today noted an episode that illustrated the American mezzo’s “user-friendly” charm: “The first half of the recital closed with DiDonato’s signature Rossini – the ‘Willow Song’ from Otello… . DiDonato’s relaxed demeanor was revealed when, just as she drew breath, a mobile phone interrupted proceedings: ‘It’s Otello,’ she quipped, ‘Tell him it’s not true.’ Unfazed and undistracted, the purity and transcendence of her performance was spell-binding.”
Today’s top Rossini singer on DVD… and in a wheelchair
DiDonato’s embodiment of Rosina in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia has been celebrated around the world, having been seen by millions in opera houses, international broadcasts, and high-definition transmissions, including one from New York’s Metropolitan Opera. But her most famous turn as Rosina came last June after she broke one of her legs in a slip on stage. In a story relayed by media across the globe, DiDonato kept singing after breaking her leg during a performance of Barbiere at London’s Covent Garden. Although she was in pain, DiDonato continued the evening’s performance with a cane – and was then whisked to the hospital. She finished the run of shows wearing a bright pink cast while navigating the set in a wheelchair – and winning hearts as a peerless trouper.
On April 6, EMI releases a DVD of this Covent Garden production of Il barbiere with DiDonato in her famous pink cast. From the wheelchair, she sings Rosina alongside Juan Diego Flórez’s Count Almaviva and Alessandro Corbelli’s Bartolo. Royal Opera House music director Antonio Pappano conducts the production, which is directed by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier. Just before her first wheelchair-bound performance, DiDonato told London’s Evening Standard: “If Moshe and Patrice had said before we started, ‘We’re going to put you in a wheelchair,’ I would have declared it pure Eurotrash and stormed out. I got introduced to my wheelchair at about five o’clock and had just half an hour of preparation onstage beforehand. In the story, Rosina is caged; the beautiful thing is that tonight that became something quite literal: I felt trapped in the wheelchair. That helped dramatically. This was one of the most thrilling nights I’ve ever spent in the theater.”
Another red-letter Rossini achievement for DiDonato was the release of her second acclaimed solo recording for Virgin/EMI – Colbran, the Muse, devoted to the fiery arias Rossini wrote for his wife, Spanish soprano Isabella Colbran. Released last October, the recording reinforced DiDonato’s status as the Rossini singer of the moment, scoring high on the Billboard classical chart and earning plaudits such as Time Out New York’s declaration that it set a new “gold standard” for Rossini.
It’s more Rossini for DiDonato this spring and summer, as she returns to Europe in May and June for another role debut, portraying Elena in two productions of the composer’s La donna del lago. After debuting in the role at Switzerland’s Grand Théatre de Genève (May 5-17), she reprises Elena a few weeks later at the Opéra National de Paris, where she sings alongside tenor Juan Diego Flórez (June 14-30). London’s Telegraph marveled over DiDonato’s singing of an aria from La donna at Wigmore Hall: “‘Tanti affetti’ was a knockout, with a heart-stopping cadenza to the dreamy cavatina and sparkling fireworks in the triumphant cabaletta that left the entire audience with a silly smile on its collective face.”
Finally, after reprising her Italian love songs program in Paris on June 16 with pianist David Zobel, DiDonato will travel to Italy to resume her signature Rosina in a production of Il barbiere di Siviglia at Milan’s storied Teatro alla Scala (July 9-23).
DiDonato sings Cherubino in Chicago
DiDonato’s Italian love songs program also includes a little Mozart, with the mezzo singing Cherubino’s “Voi che Sapete” from Le nozze di Figaro. In London, her performance of the aria “brought Mozart’s insouciant page instantly to life,” according to Opera Today. Before she returns to Rossini, DiDonato becomes Cherubino for Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Le nozze di Figaro, which runs from February 28 to March 27. The conductors are Sir Andrew Davis and Leonardo Vordoni, with a cast that includes Danielle de Niese and Mariusz Kwiecien. Opera News described a past DiDonato portrayal of Cherubino as “frisky and true”: evidence of “an artist at the top of her game.”
Joyce DiDonato: singer, actress… blogger
Raised in Prairie Village, Kansas, and a graduate of Wichita State University, DiDonato trained with young artist programs of the San Francisco, Houston, and Sante Fe opera companies. Along with her signal successes in Rossini, Handel, and Mozart, DiDonato has been a devoted advocate of new music. She made her New York City Opera debut as Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, and with Houston Grand Opera she premiered and recorded the roles of Meg in Mark Adamo’s Little Women and Katerina Maslova in Tod Machover’s Resurrection.
DiDonato’s 2006 debut solo recording – The Deepest Desire, on the Eloquentia label – presented songs by Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Jake Heggie. A second Eloquentia disc, titled ¡Pasión!, featured 20th-century Spanish songs. The mezzo-soprano had two Billboard-charting albums in 2009 as a Virgin/EMI artist:Furore, a set of mad scenes from Handel’s operas, and Colbran, the Muse, a collection of Rossini arias. Her other recordings include Handel duets with Patrizia Ciofi (Virgin/EMI), a live recital on a Venetian theme (Wigmore Hall Live), and portrayals of the title roles in complete recordings of Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Naxos) and Handel’s Alcina, as well as key roles in Handel’s Floridante (Archiv Produktion/DG) and Radamisto(Virgin/EMI). DiDonato also stars in DVDs of Handel’s Hercules (as Dejanira, from Opéra de Paris, 2005, Bel Air Classiques), Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Donna Elvira, from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 2002, Opus Arte), Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia (Rosina, from Paris Opéra, 2002, TDK), and La Cenerentola (title role, from Barcelona, 2008, Decca).
DiDonato’s honors include the Metropolitan Opera’s Beverly Sills Award, the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Singer of the Year, an Opera News award, citations from Operalia and the Richard Tucker Music, George London, Sullivan, and ARIA Awards Foundations.
Notwithstanding her whirlwind existence as a top singer-actress on the great stages of the world, DiDonato is an indefatigable blogger. She shares her warm-hearted observations and photographs from life on the road and at home via her Yankee Diva blog. Blogging last July about singing from a wheelchair in the Covent Garden Barbiere, DiDonato joked: “From here on out, I declare that no one (please!) ever ever ever wish me again, in the American fashion (despite it being Independence Day), to: ‘BREAK A LEG’.”