“Is there an “off switch” for this thing?”, she asked about her brain

What a month this has been, and yet it is simply the start of what will be a high-speed, high-intensity, non-stop and hopefully thrilling journey railroading straight through until the end of July. Gulp. A month’s worth of rehearsals seems a perfectly normal fare, but when the role is Octavian, and the boots aren’t yet quite as familiar as those well-worn pink heels (or plastar) of say, a Rosina, the concentration and energy factors skyrocket. And yet the reward is indescribable.

Rehearsal for the final moment of the opera

Last night we had our final dress rehearsal, and after a meticulous rehearsal period, we were certainly all ready for an audience to receive the splendor of Strauss and his confounded, slightly lost characters. During this month I have had the pleasure of delving deeper into the psyche of this young man who I have only performed once before, and the layers I have found within him have delighted me: infatuation/love and intoxication turn to devastation in short order, and like any teenager knows full well, the fragile world comes crashing down in one fell swoop – the heartbreak is colossal and perfectly captured by Strauss’s music ; love-at-first-sight grabs him completely by surprise the next morning and his sense of loss quickly transforms into duty and honor as he aims to free the young Sophie from the barbarian, Ochs; Act 3 brings what feels like the 3rd opera of the evening, and we see the intellect and determination of Octavian outwit Ochs, but not without bringing chaos and havoc to everyone, leaving him to answer to the Marschallin and to his new love.

Mariandel works her seductive charms on Ochs

Layers of confusion lace nearly every scene as Octavian fights his way to maturity and “manhood” by the end of the opera: the awkward, needy adolescent of the opening scenes quickly gives way to the foresight in Act 2 to advise Sophie that she must stand up for herself and be exactly who she is, showing an incredible understanding of the inherent dignity of women – something sorely lacking in that society’s protocol; in the famous “Mariandel Scene” in the 3rd act, his wily paraphrasing of the Marschallin’s explanation of time from the break-up monologue in act 1 shows he is still trying to sort out the meaning of something a bit beyond his grasp, and manages to do so while feigning drunk AND seducing a revolting man at the same time; his ability to follow his heart and dream of building a future for himself and the woman he truly loves, Sophie, makes me believe he will aim to be a man of honor and not another Feldmarschall, although,  it IS opera, after all – one never, ever knows!

This journey is pure joy to make. But it’s not easy. It’s funny, because vocally I can’t say that it’s anywhere near as challenging as some of the Handel and Rossini pieces I’ve had to tackle, but the stamina required, physically and energetically, is quite a tour-de-force. My routine has become eating a good meal around 4:00 (any closer to curtain, and I’m too full/uncomfortable to sing and run around the stage – not to mention all the “work” during the prologue!), and some fabulous Spanish Clementines for the first intermission, and a crisp Fuji apple for the second – just enough sugar and hydration to hopefully keep me going through those final floated, fleeting, closing strains.

But all this work and sweat and toil and preparation happily leads to moments such as this:

The Presentation of the Rose

And that, my friends, makes it TOTALLY worth it!

Meanwhile, forging ahead, my Dead Man Walking score is getting beat up as I begin to devour it, not to mention all the preparation for my upcoming recital tour, which will be here before I know it!  I set out  the season with the intention to begin repeating roles that I felt a strong connection to that I had only performed once, and this is now in full swing.  But what I’m realizing is that to revisit a score one last saw YEARS ago, one essentially begins from scratch, so I definitely have my work cut out for me this year!  But excitement builds as I think about revisiting the ever-important work of Jake Heggie, “Dead Man Walking” in Houston this January, because as the headlines remind us, this topic is entirely timely and needs to be examined.

Not to be overshadowed, preparations are also underway for a big tour, with the final stop on a little stage in NYC:

One final personal note.  Yesterday was World AIDS Day, a topic very near and dear to my heart.  I just read a fascinating interview by Judith Light (of “Who’s the Boss” fame, go figure!) who is currently starring on Broadway in Lombardi.  It’s a wonderful conversation with her, and one quote in particular really touched my heart, and I would like very  much to share it with you:

“Then I see this community — this gay family of mine — come up to a whole other level of dignity in the way that they are dealing with the epidemic. Gay men back then began to come out and stand up in the face of such divisiveness and vitriol and started to rise like the phoenix from the ashes. God! It still makes me tear up.

And I thought, you people are our leaders. You are teaching the straight community how to have courage. My manager Herb says everybody has something to come out about. We straight people just have to figure out what it is for us.  Because when you do you have a kind of freedom in your life — a kind of authenticity — you can’t have otherwise.  When I look at the gay community I say to them,  “Please, please please — know who you are and what you mean to people like me.”  That’s what I desperately want this community to understand. It’s not about — oh, let me help you.  It’s you who inspire us. It’s you who are are the leaders. It’s you who show us the way.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So yes, I’m afraid the off-switch won’t be pulled until the end of July (it was the middle of July, but I have been asked (or begged) to fill in for a little Don Giovanni concert/recording with a rather stellar cast).  Once I find the off-switch, next item on the agenda will be to find the “no” switch.


  1. David said…

    Joyce…I loved every picture and the production looks FABULOUS…it’s always a new and wonderful journey…a known role or new one…delving into and getting to know a character was always a favorite part of the process for me…and I am so looking forward to DMW in Houston and your Sister Helen….a former theatre student of mine is the PSM for LOMBARDI and loves Judith Light and what a lady she is…and what she has to say in the interview is mind blowing and ever so true….Anyway….hope all goes well in Madrid and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year with Leo and loved ones…see you in Houston…..all the very best…

  2. David said…

    Forgot to tell you I loved the CH video…hope you will be doing the Heggie songs at the Bass in Forth Worth….I will have to see if the program is included….

  3. Gaulimauli said…

    Now, please take a look at Ochs, the guy in the faux Bavarian outfit.Does he look like a ” repugnant, repulsive, revolting monster, a barbarian”?All he wants is a cold beer after the show, all he gets is abuse. And her dowdy dress, black socks? Call that “Allerliebst”? Viennese servant girls look smarter than that. Sorry,Ms DiDonato, can’t find my off-swith either. Feel free to erase the whole shebang. If not, dear fellow fans,she knows I’m only kidding. Right?Right!

  4. Chris said…

    A four PM meal in Spain fits in very well. It is just a late lunch. Do you dine after the performance? 12:30 AM is not unheard of for dinner in Madrid.

  5. John Dyson said…

    I feel excited for you, Joyce! Keep that brain, of yours, very much switched on!!

    Best wishes

    John Dyson 🙂

  6. Raisa said…

    Dear Joyce:
    Thank you for those gorgeous pictures and as always for the wonderful insights. Best wishes for Der Rosenkavalier run!
    Looking forward to your recital in DC in February and Le Comte Ory in the Met!

  7. Chris said…

    Question out of curiosity: JD Florez has said that when singing in Madrid he has to keep a humidifier going all night in his bedroom to counteract the dryness of the air. Do you find the same problem?

  8. Lola said…

    I’ll try to be in Madrid next Monday…

    I’m crossing my fingers… Spanish air traffic is a mess…

  9. Sibyl said…

    I’m so happy for you and all the insights you are finding as Octavian, but I am also so very excited for you to do Dead Man Walking. You get to sing Sr. Helen? Oh joy for you, and oh pain for me that I cannot get there to see it! I saw it in at SFO, and I am even MORE thrilled for you that you get to sing it with Frederica Von Stade, who was sublime-beyond-sublime as Mrs. De Rocher. Have a blast!

  10. Edgar said…

    Última hora
    Fecha: 04/12/10 · Hora GMT: 06:37
    Madrid, 3 dic (EFE).-
    Casi diez minutos de aplausos al final de la representación, muchos bravos después de cada uno de los tres actos, y una ovación cerrada para el director de la orquesta, el inglés Jeffrey Tate, que debutaba en el Real, y los magníficos Joyce Didonato (Octavian), Anne Schwanewilms (la mariscala) y Franz Hawlata (el barón Ochs), han refrendado la calidad de una producción que cumple quince años.

    Sorry, there’s no link for this one, since it’s a cable from EFE I received an hour ago. Bravos! following each and every act, as well as standing ovation ten minutes long at the end.
    Congratulations Joyce!

  11. Natalia said…

    Dear Joyce.
    Saw you yesterday at the Real. Amazing!!!! Thank you so much.


  12. Dear Joyce,

    I would like to extend my congratulations to you on the opening of Der Rosenkavalier in Madrid. I am sure the performance was stunning, and I imagine you play a truly dynamic Octavian.

    I am a young mezzo-soprano (22) and am constantly inspired by you, your blog, your vlogs, youtube videos of your performances, your albums… you are such a light at the long end of this crazy tunnel that is the opera world, and I find so much courage to pursue this goal of mine when I think of you and your career. You are so real and humble and just such an amazing artist – I think all young singers should look to you for insight and inspiration.

    I am hoping to perform the Presentation of the Rose duet with a friend of mine for my senior recital this April at the University of Connecticut – I have just gotten the music and am thrilled about this task, though daunting, and I love reading your blog to understand some of your own discoveries about Octavian. I hope that one day I will be able to perform this role – I can’t describe the pull I feel towards him, though I am sure you understand.

    Thank you so much for being so dedicated and in touch with those who love to listen to you and watch you perform, and for all those young singers out there who are trying to make it into this world. I hope to see your recital in Philly at the end of February.

    Best wishes,

    • Gaulimauli said…

      You write well and your observations are spot-on.I wish you well in your budding career as an opera singer; but if it doesn’t pan out, there is always journalism. A 22-year old who doesn’t drool! Amazing!

      • Gaulimauli, thank you very much! I have always been inspired by the written word, as well as the sung one 🙂 I hope that my life incorporates both of these things… I have a blog on my yoga website that I have started writing in, and hope to work on a thesis during my upcoming graduate work on yoga for singers. Best to you! ( in case you are interested).

  13. marcillac said…

    A 4:00 P. M. meal is an early breakfast in Spain.

    Fascinating, fascinating, fascinating. The music may not be as “challenging” as some but it is nevertheless quite a challenge to fully convey the beauty and (potentially) the meaning it contains. Your interpretation in San Francisco (heard a couple of times on the interwebs) was as beautifully sung and as carefully thought through as we would expect and it would be that much more interesting to hear it again given the proximate circumstances you discussed at the beginning of the rehearsal period in Madrid.

    I confess that as much as I regret missing out on the sheer aural pleasure of hearing your Octavian I am even more interested in the interpretive choices your further consideration of him has yielded. Just as an example, your “Wie Sie befiehelt, Bichette” in San Francisco, (a small but seemingly crucial moment), was quite startling, unlike any I’ve heard before, and yet on reflection it made perfect sense and one wandered how it could be done otherwise. Yet again, however, what you say in your exposition of your thinking make me think that perhaps you might have reconsidered that.

    In any case there are so many morsels like that sprinkled through the score and libretto that it would take numerous hearings to fully appreciate everything your doing with him. Hopefully many of us will get the pleasure of such numerous hearing by and by.

    In the meantime I do hope you’ll let us know if there is going to be a broadcast at some point.

    I’m quite sure the premiere was a huge success for you and wish you the best of luck throughout the run even as I envy those who’ll have a chance to hear it.

  14. Edgar said…

    Well, heading to Madrid tomorrow morning, just to attend Thursday performance @ the Real.
    An update, this is the thread in our forum about this Rosenkavalier, I know it’s in Spanish, sorry, but some people may find it interesting:


  15. John Kenneth Adams said…

    Thanks fo much for the heartfelt comments about Carnegie Hall. These You Tube videos vignettes give a whole different dimension to your website, as your sincerity about your art comes through so naturally and so poised. Hope to be there.

  16. Operatraveller said…

    So my hubby and I booked tickets for  Rosenkavalier for Dec 19th the day they went on sale. My hubby went to Spain ahead of me to attend a work conference and we were planning to meet in Madrid. Sadly, this morning on arrival to Heathrow airport I found that my flight had been cancelled. The same thing happened last May with ‘la Donna del lago’ in Geneva. So now I’m sitting on a Eurostar to Paris from where I’ll be taking an overnight train to Toulouse and from there to Narbonne then on to Barcelona and finally the AVE to Madrid. I’m going to try and get some sleep because last night was my work’s party and hopefully I’ll make it in tine to see you shine on the stage.  

    • Yankeediva said…

      Safe Travels! Do hope you’ll be able to make it!

      • Operatraveller said…

        Made it to Madrid 2 hours before curtain up. It was a splendid evening and Joyce was outstanding. It was so wonderful to hear you in some German music and you seemed as fresh at the end of the evening as at the start. Absolutely stunning. Congratulations 

        • Operatraveller said…

          Oops. I forgot to say thank you very much for your wishes. I really appreciated them. My lack of thanks in the previous post goes to show how much I enjoyed your performance

  17. Maude Larke said…

    Just listened to the news about Carnegie and the Great Artists! Brava!!!! I am maliciously jealous of New York. PLEEZPLEEZPLEEZ when will you do the Hegge in Paris/London? I’m leaping onto the web to get the train tickets!


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