For her first performance in the Kauffman Center, vocalist Joyce DiDonato will evoke Joan of Arc and Sister Helen Prejean.

Joyce DiDonato is soaring.

Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts © Joyce DiDonato

The Prairie Village native recently won a Grammy for best classical vocal solo for her album “Diva Divo.” And she has been going from success to success in opera houses around the world, with star turns such as the title role in the Royal Opera’s production of Massenet’s “Cinderella” and the witch Sycorax in the Metropolitan Opera’s “The Enchanted Island.”

The beloved hometown girl will give her first Kauffman Center performance at 8 p.m. March 23-24 and at 2 p.m. March 25 at Helzberg Hall,1601 Broadway, with the Kansas City Symphony.

DiDonato can do it all, and she does it with such ease. In January it was the romanticism of Massenet and the Baroque virtuosity of “Enchanted Island,” and in Kansas City she’ll be performing a dazzling coloratura aria by Rossini and a recently composed work by Jake Heggie.

“I do have a very large musical appetite, and I find that the two ends of the spectrum truly enhance the other, and everything in between,” DiDonato said in an interview by email. “I love the fluid vocal writing of the past masters with their rich emotional account, but to bring to life a piece that has never been heard before? I find it a very enriching and rewarding experience as an artist, but also for the audience.

“This is why ‘Enchanted Island’ was such a dream project for me. It was both old and new. It’s also the reason I wanted to feature the old and new with the Symphony. I’m hoping to show the connection over the centuries of beautiful vocal writing expressing deep, true emotion.”

Joan of Arc by John Everett Millais (1829–1896)

The Rossini aria DiDonato will perform is from the opera “Giovanna d’Arco,” or “Joan of Arc.”

“I adore this unbelievably challenging piece,” DiDonato said. “It requires every single technical mastery that a singer possesses (fast/slow, high/low, loud/soft) and all at the service of this incredible night in Joan of Arc’s life when she has her first vision of God calling her to battle. Historically she was 12 when she first had the vision. Can you imagine a 12-year-old girl, separated from her beloved family and being called to the battlefield?

“The dramatic reading is set up in typical Rossini fashion, a slow introduction where she comments on being completely alone and missing her family tremendously. She is deeply frightened. And then, as the music shifts into high gear (prepping the way for loads of vocal pyrotechnics) she has her vision and finds the strength to march into battle.”

The other work DiDonato will perform, “Deepest Desire” by Jake Heggie, is based on the writings of another spiritually inspired woman.

“The texts are set by Sister Helen Prejean, the nun at the centerpiece of ‘Dead Man Walking,’ ” DiDonato said. “I’ve sung Jake Heggie’s masterpiece twice. I actually recorded it, with piano and flute (as it was originally written) and then premiered the orchestrated version nearly six years ago.

“After the San Francisco premiere in 2001, Jake was driving the effervescent, passionate, larger-than-life Sister Helen to the airport, and after a very emotionally charged weekend, he was curious, and he asked her, ‘Sister, how do you find what it is that you’re meant to do with your life?’ And she thought for a moment, and simply replied, ‘Well, Jake, I think you need to go to a very quiet place and listen to your heart’s deepest desire.’

“Jake says he nearly drove off the road hearing a nun talk about her heart’s desire. But he asked her immediately if she would write about this, and she did. She does a lot of her writing and meditating at a place called Prayer Lodge on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. As a result, Jake employs a flute solo that evokes this environment beautifully.”

Even though they are centuries apart, DiDonato thinks the Rossini and the Heggie complement each other perfectly.

“I think the pairing of Rossini’s dramatic scena paves the way for the Heggie because Sister Prejean is a modern-day woman who has certainly marched onto death row completely alone, doing battle against social injustice. It’s definitely a program about powerful, history-changing women, and I think that’s amazing.”

The Symphony, conducted by Michael Stern, also will perform two orchestral works from the world of opera, the Overture to “La Forza del Destino” by Giuseppe Verdi and a suite from “Der Rosenkavalier” by Richard Strauss. KCPT will record the concert, which will be aired nationwide in July as part of the PBS 2012 Summer Arts Festival.

For tickets, call 816-471-0400 or visit

~ Patrick Neas for the Kansas City Star