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“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.

11 Jun

Who needs espresso? Or to understand the wonder of life? Apparently I only need this....! https://t.co/F56DafpiH7

11 Jun

Indeed. https://t.co/p8G1st1OSG

9 Jun

Cry. You can reapply the concealer .... tears are cleansing and sometimes called for ... 😔 https://t.co/fd9hDX0OgS

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I arrive (nearly) to the end of this very full season, and it’s good moment to remind each of you reading this that YOU are the reason I travel the world, away from home for months at a time, working towards an unattainable perfection, exposed in ways very few people can imagine, singing the stories of characters searching for enlightenment/redemption/hope/relief/joy, and why I dedicate a large part of my life to this century’s old art form. I do it to entertain you at a minimum, but mostly to offer you comfort, to help us all join in a communal “event” that connects us across time and space despite our perceived differences, and I do it because I truly believe it makes the world a better place. I know you feel this most of the time as well. It’s likely what keeps bringing you back! I hope that after this season, perhaps you feel a bit more inspired to take what you receive as an audience member and activate that sensation in your own life, to bring hope and joy to the world around you. Don’t ever underestimate your power to do that - one doesn’t need the spotlight to bring transformation. #Songplay #Winterreise #Agrippina #Didon ✨

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Grazie Mille @accademiadisantacecilia and the @baciopanino boys. What a JOY it was to perform with you all. Until the next time!

Celebrating #WorldOceansDay ... hoping every single one of you has the chance to swim in the vast blue ocean one day. Growing up in Kansas, I didn’t have the chance until I was in my 30’s, but when I finally did, an entire new universe opened right underneath me and I was changed. I’m so grateful for all that the planet’s oceans give to us. I want to be sure I’m doing all I can as a citizen of the world to take care of them and their vast, life-giving properties. Let’s get more informed and more active in protecting them and helping them thrive.

I was not prepared. The inspiration is through the roof to bring to life the towering cantata of #JoanOfArc tonight in the very cathedral de St. Denis, where she prayed for strength centuries and centuries ago. The same stones that received her pleas tonight will hear them again filtered through the mind of Rossini and the vibrations of those of us on stage. This, perhaps, is the thing I love most about the world of music - it connects us directly through time and space, and it shows us demonstrably how we are one. Ask me how much I love my “job”! @festivalsaintdenis @accademiadisantacecilia

#HowToFlower . . . What’s beautiful around you right now?

Grazie Mille, Roma. What a gift to be here for the briefest of moments - how much life we can find in the now!!!! #LightShower #Pantheon #Mystical #Luz #Luz #Luz #NoFilter #LookAround #Stopqndbreathe #batheinthelight #recoup #regenerate #batheingratitude #boydidtheromansknowhowtobuildabuilding #agrippinawashere #perfection #ladolcevita

And behind the scenes with Maestro Pappano and his @accademiadisantacecilia: a glimpse into the PROCESS which I love so much as we create our journey to prepare for the magic of the audience’s arrival. Thank you all for making our hard work so worthwhile!

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There will always be more freedom to acquire and more truth to uncover.

~ Joyce DiDonato