Joyce DiDonato Continues Her Stellar “Rossini Season,”
Taking on New Role in Geneva and Paris: Elena in La donna del lago
Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has had a dream of a season, earning plaudits in the world’s top culture capitals, including London, where the Times declared her voice to be “nothing less than 24-carat gold.” The singer’s season has revolved around her specialty repertoire of Rossini, in which no mezzo is more celebrated. Following her hit solo Rossini album for Virgin/EMI (Colbran, the Muse), DiDonato now stars on one of the season’s hottest new DVDs – the EMI Il barbiere di Siviglia that captures the famous 2009 Covent Garden production where she performed in pink cast and wheelchair after literally breaking a leg on stage. Now DiDonato is taking on a new Rossini role, that of Elena in La donna del lago, based on Sir Walter Scott’s poem “The Lady of the Lake”.
As Elena, DiDonato is following in the footsteps of such performers as Rossini muse Isabella Colbran, Kiri Te Kanawa, Frederica von Stade, and June Anderson. After debuting as Elena at Switzerland’s Grand Théatre de Genève (May 5-17), DiDonato reprises the role a few weeks later at the Opéra National de Paris, where she sings alongside star tenor Juan Diego Flórez (June 14-30). London’s Telegraph marveled over DiDonato’s singing of an aria from La donna del lago at the 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.”
Few singers on the international scene are enjoying a love affair with critics and audiences quite like DiDonato’s. The exuberant, engaging Kansas native – dubbed today’s “most user-friendly diva” by Opera News– completed a recital tour of Europe earlier this year that left reviewers throwing superlatives like roses. After the singer’s performance of Italian romances at London’s Wigmore Hall, critic Hilary Finch wrote in the Times: “DiDonato’s sheer love of sharing what she was doing radiated warmth.” Finch went on to praise not only DiDonato’s stage charisma but her vocal prowess: “Not one note is less than perfectly pitched, not one weak spot is heard throughout the register; and DiDonato is in total control… . The voice responds to every nerve-ending in the music with nuances of color.
DiDonato’s recital tour – presenting a program that included 17th-century arie antiche, early Beethoven songs, and Rossini favorites – took the singer from across Spain and the Canary Islands to London and Brussels. Reporting on the two Wigmore Hall recitals, Opera Today noted an episode that underscored the American’s “user-friendly” charm: “The first half 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.”
After she reprises 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). La Scala’s revival of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s staging will see DiDonato singing alongside the cream of today’s Rossini singers, including Juan Diego Flórez and Alessandro Corbelli.
A new role in Salzburg: Adalgisa in Bellini’s Norma
On August 9 and 14, Joyce DiDonato tackles another new role in a concert performance of Bellini’s belovedNorma at the venerable Salzburg Festival. DiDonato is joined by soprano Edita Gruberova in the title role and tenor Marcello Giordani as Pollione. Friedrich Haider leads the Camerata Salzburg and the Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus.
Today’s top Rossini singer on DVD… and in a wheelchair
DiDonato’s embodiment of Rosina in 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, before being whisked to 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.
Earlier this month, EMI released 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, 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. The disc features three arias from La donna del lago, including “Tanti affetti in tal momento.” Released last October, the recording reinforced DiDonato’s status as the Rossini singer of the moment, scoring high on theBillboard classical chart and earning such praise as Time Out New York’s declaration that it set a new “gold standard” for Rossini.
Joyce DiDonato: singer, actress… blogger
Raised in Prairie Village, Kansas, and graduating from 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), and 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, and 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 world’s great stages, 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 at yankeediva.blogspot.com. 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’.”