Present New Year

You’ll forgive me if I am a bit trepidatious on this 1st day of January, for in our Western civilization, the welcoming in of the New Year inevitably involves saying “Goodbye” to the previous year. I know many people who have been clawing their way across the finish line after a most grueling 2012, a year which could not have come to a close a second too soon for them, and in their honor I celebrate the arrival of the change of calendar.

New growth

New growth

In my case, these past 52 weeks happened to formulate a year of extraordinary events that continue to astonish me if I dare reflect on them much, and if I hint at indulging in any superstitious thinking at all (which I rarely do), I’ll feel some fear start to creep in as that dastardly inner voice rises up: “Surely it’s all got to be downhill from here! Better be careful …  Insidious little creature, that inside voice.

But then I walk myself back away from the edge of the cliff (because I really detest fear) by remembering what exactly brought me to the doorstep of that banner year of 2012, and the monumental lessons I learned during the course of its numerous projects, cities, encounters, events, experiences and quiet moments. Here I sit reflecting on all that has transpired, and I think that 2012 just might be the year that I got really present.

I know, I know ~ you’re thinking “Crap, did I click onto some wellness site that will convince me to start juicing and meditating?”  (Well, OK, I have been doing a bit more of that of late, but that won’t be my point here, I promise.)  As the year quickly morphed into a whirling dervish, I knew I needed to find my footing more and more so that I could not only meet the demands ahead, but also – and this is the kicker – so that I could enjoy, revel in, drink up, dance with and absorb the real essence, the heart of each moment. It’s become crystal clear to me that the only possible way to accomplish that task, is to get immensely, vibrantly, ecstatically present in the moment.

Time Traveler

Time Traveler

Things ramped up a bit this year for me: performing at the Grammys, concerts in Kansas City filmed for PBS, debuting Maria Stuarda for Houston and later at the Metropolitan Opera, a jam-packed summer schedule of recitals, concerts and operas throughout Europe, recording Drama Queens, revisiting Romeo in San Francisco, and touring Drama Queens in Europe and the States.  Each performance felt like an important do-or-die event, and I could feel myself easily falling into the trap of thinking “Oh girl, you had better be ON tonight”, a most deadly mindset for an artist to indulge in, no question.  Yet, it would attempt to creep in slowly, oozing it’s way into my psyche, transporting all kinds of sabotage and pressure with it.  Well, I hate pressure! So at the first signs of that, I knew I needed to eradicate it immediately.

The best weapon against such a destructive mindset, I’ve found, is to get intensely present in terms of where my mind goes during a performance: no outside banter, no inside questioning ~ nothing but the task at hand: simply the words, the melody, the subtext of that precise moment, and then the next, and then the next.  If I am completely consumed with the present emotion , there is simply NO SPACE for anything else. I then put myself in an optimal position to, perhaps, perform at my very best level.  Present.

This held true for my limited downtime as well – a precious commodity during this past year.  If I had free time, I got busy REALLY being present, which meant no work (sorry, no blogging/tweeting/flickr-ing), but time for me to be “free” and regenerate, recoup, refuel.  This is a GREAT weapon and served me incredibly well as things were heating up and I was able to find new reserves of energy. Present.

My interactions with people ~ whether with the fans signing autographs, with colleagues or with close friends and family ~ those interactions demand real presence, and they become richer for it.  I may not have a lot of free time to spend with family, or I may only see close friends once every other year, but when I do see them, I want that connection to be profoundly important and real.  Present.

This has been the key to my survival this past year.  Actually, I can’t say simply survival, because it has been the way for me to thrive.  And I want to thrive.  Whether I am succeeding or not, singing or not, performing or not ~ I want to thrive in every aspect of my life as best I can, and I think I’ve begun to truly understand where that comes from.  Present.

Lost time in Burgandy

Lost time in Burgandy

I know this may all sound a bit ‘meta’ but it has enabled me to truly enjoy every moment of this incredible year.  For example, it was quite a joy to feel that work paying off on New Year’s Eve at the Metropolitan Opera.  There was a lot of idle chatter attempting to take up residence in my head in terms of what this night was (the Met Premiere of this opera), or what it meant (a mezzo singing a soprano role?), or the pressure of debuting this iconic role that has belonged to the greatest, most beloved singers of previous generations (Sills, Sutherland, Caballe, etc). But none of that ~ not one SINGLE word of it ~ would have helped me give a stronger performance in the moment.  What if I had an attack of that inner voice in the middle of one of Maria’s treacherously long phrases? There is absolutely no way I could have held my composure and sung it without wavering if I had such derisive voices in my head.  Those voices live in either the past or in the future, but they most definitely do not live in the now. This doesn’t mean every phrase I sing is perfectly free and ideal – not at all.  BUT I put myself in a much better position to succeed if my head is truly in the moment. Present.

When young singers ask me about auditioning or juries, and they express worry about being perfect, or not being good enough, this concept of getting out of their own way is something I try to instill in them.  If someone could show me how that destructive inner voice that harps on past “failings” or stirs up anxiety of future “what if I don’t make it” nonsense, actually AIDS a singers performance, then I will gladly rethink things.  But I’ve only ever known that self-flagellating muttering over a missed note and that pestering, worrisome, fearful nagging about what lays ahead to be utterly destructive violently ripping you out of the present moment.  Once that happens, your resources are severely diminished, and any hope of singing freely and with deep connection vanishes into the ether.  Present.

I honestly haven’t a clue of what awaits me in the coming year. I will happily look back on 2012 and marvel at the things it brought to me, the lessons I learned, the difficulties I endured, the growth I made ~ and that is where my gratitude lies.  I’m happy for the awards and the applause, but the real joy lies in every moment having value: in basking in the joy, healing from the sorrow, relishing the laughter, learning from the pain.  The applause on Monday night was overwhelming and beautiful, but do you know what sound moved me the most during those 3 hours? The silence.  The hushed, electric silence of the audience taking that journey with Maria.  They were living in the moment with us up on that stage, and reveling from note to note, emotion to emotion. They were living it. The critics come after, the analyzing comes after ~ but in that moment, it was full presence and it was alive.  I have no idea where 2013 will take me, but I do hope I can continue to stay right here, because it’s a beautiful place.  Present.

Before signing off, I wish each of you an incredible year ahead. May it be overflowing with laughter, tears, health, fortune, gratitude, growth, music, art, joy, love, family, friendship and unadulterated, abundant bliss!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!


On a side note ~ and this is strictly for my own curiosity, so feel free to stop reading: I’m curious about this past year in terms of geography and music.  I sent a tweet at the start of the summer in terms of where I was going and the music I was performing, and it was quite lengthy.  It’s silly, but as my end of the year journaling, I want to see the full list.  I’m sure I’m leaving a few things out, but according to my records, here goes:

TRAVEL (both business and personal)

New York / San Francisco / Kansas City / Los Angeles/ Minneapolis / London / New York / Philadelphia / New York / Minneapolis / Chicago / Kansas City / Houston / Kansas City / London / Munich / London / Munich / Berlin / Munich / Berlin / Schwetzingen / Granenegg / Paris / St. Denis / London / Munich / Lonigo / Venice / London / Kansas City / Boulder / Vail / Kansas City / Santiago / Buenos Aires / Rio / Iguazu / Sao Paolo / San Francisco / Kansas City / Houston / Kansas City / Paris / Lonigo / Baden Baden / Bremen / Berlin / Hannover / Vienna / Kansas City / New York / Sonoma / New York


Enchanted Island: Handel, LeClair, Vivaldi
Camille Claudel, Into the Fire: Heggie
Les nuits d’été: Berlioz
Homecoming, Kansas City Symphony: Rossini, Heggie
Maria Stuarda: Donizetti
Recording with John Wilson Orchestra: Rodgers & Hammerstein
La Cenerentola: Rossini
Venice Recital: Vivaldi, Faure, Rossini, Schubert, Schumann, Head, Hahn
Grafenegg Concert: Rossini, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Bernstein, Gershwin
Musique et Vins Concert: Mozart / Rossini
Recording Drama Queens: Orlandini, Porta, Handel, Keiser, Hasse, Cesti, Monteverdi, Giacomelli, Haydn
South America Tour: Obradors, Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Hahn, Donaudy, Arlen, Ginestera
Capuleti e i Montecchi: Bellini
Drama Queens Tour: Orlandini, Porta, Handel, Keiser, Hasse, Cesti, Monteverdi, Giacomelli,
Maria Stuarda: Donizetti

Wow. For those of you who have followed me through all of this? You deserve a medal!


  1. Anthony said…

    Thank you for your commitment, and your presence. As audience members, we are all the better for getting to join the journey. I’m hoping to be lucky enough to be taking the journey with Maria on Friday evening. <3

  2. Jean-Pierre Werts said…

    Thank you for your wishes and for this text. It’s not only a summary of an extraordinary year. It’s philosophy applicable to all of us. I am not surprised of this. A few years ago at the Scala, my wife and I were impressed by your talent during Rossini and your kindness thereafter.
    We wish you (I am sure it will be) a fantastic year 2013.

  3. Lola said…

    Wow, you should share some packing tips…

    2012 was for me Munich, Paris and London. I regret I missed Baden Baden…

    This year we’ll have tons of belcanto and drama queens I can’t wait for…

    I bet your 2013 travel plan will be longer than the past year…

    PS: Enjoy that little spanish tour in March. See you there…

  4. A Ames said…

    WOW, it’s wonderful that you can do all that traveling, stay healthy, and STILL give fantastic performances, Joyce! I look forward to seeing your latest incarnation of Mary Queen of Scots. All the best for the remaining 363 days of 2013.

  5. Audley Gaston (Sandy G) said…

    ….all that, and somehow you manage to brighten-up MY day, as well! You go, girl!

  6. Dave Butters said…

    Dear Ms DiDonato, I think YOU deserve the medal: for the wisdom in your comments, for your artistry, and for your tireless efforts to share your gifts. I hope that 2013 will be as wonderful and 2012. Again, thanks for all that you do, and the way in which you do it!

    PS…your performance at Carnegie Hall was the highlight of our 2012.

  7. Chris Protopapas said…

    I feel like I’m living in a special moment in the history of opera, witnessing the flowering of a singer who will become a legend. Thank you, Joyce.

  8. Your being present is just about the best New Year’s present I know of. I listened to the Maria Stuarda premiere over the Met’s livestreaming service, and even without the extra dimensions of your magnificent acting in this role, you were stupendous. You’ve started my year off with style!

  9. Il Dolce Suono said…

    Thank you for this Joyce! A very Happy New Year to you and I hope you have a wonderful 2013. I am so so so so so so so excited about seeing you in London in February and also about the Maria Stuarda HD! Keep on being awesome!

  10. Isabela said…

    What a wonderful post! Oh that irritant inner voice sometimes seems to nag me endlessly! But what you said about being in the moment, living the present and letting the voice rest in the past or future is really great and does help push it away. Your advice is always very very helpful! You are a true role model to all of us aspiring opera singers! I admire you so very much, not only for your amazing voice and brilliant acting but also because you’re a wonderful person. Your videos have helped me get through a lot. Happy New Year Joyce! Loads of love from Brasil!

  11. Alice Bennett said…

    Maria S was sublime via streaming Monday eve and I’m so looking forward to the HD broadcast in LA – Please perform here again soon. Drama Queens is dangerous as it is totally addicting and forces me to play the CD several times daily. More Orlandini please. Have an incredible 2013 that surpasses this last, most fabulous year.

  12. Pam DeWeerd said…

    Mel and I are so looking forward to the live broadcast of The Met performance in a few weeks. You know that we are such fans. I love that you put out such a beautiful message at the end of the year. I know that you are so grateful for everything. You are so talented and I feel honored to have met you.

  13. Buga Marija said…

    Dear Joyce.

    I just want to tell you that I admire you! You are such an inspiration to all young singers and those who are learning to sing ( including me ) and to anyone else. Thank you for your art, your fire and the way you treat music! Can’t wait to see you from the Met! Hopefully I’ll get the chance to see you live one day.

    Wish you all the best! I’m sure this will be an awesome year for you!

    Greetings from Croatia!

  14. ISHTAR RA said…

    At a Budhist monastery there was this one monk boasting to another about his teacher. He said “I have a great teacher, he can eat and speak wise words at the same time”. And the other monk said, “I have a better teacher, for when he speaks, he speaks and when he eats, he eats”! Reading this “In the present” blog of yours, I think you have perfectly understood what that second monk was on about. Thank you for reminding me.

  15. Michael Tanner said…

    Joyce, I’m the retired tenor who saw you twice in Atlanta at Spivey Hall. we’ve exchanged several emails, and I recently sent you my new novel, A Victorian Tragedy. Aside from your incredible artistry, your basic sense of kindness and patience with fans is very moving. I so look forward to seeing the HD transmission on 1/19 of Stuarda and then to fly to NYC to see you in the performance of 1/23 and to come backstage to greet you afterwards, thank you SO much for putting me on your list. You know, I thought the bel canto revival ended with my generation, but then there was you. Go on like this dear lady. ood luck in 2013 and my best wishes for continued success and happiness.

  16. Klaus said…

    Thank you for this wonderful post – obviously it applies to every human being and not just opera singers. Wishing you to maintain the incredible energy it takes for such an amazingly wide ranging repertoire – good luck for 2013!
    Thanks also for the Gandhi tweetathon – enjoyed every single one.

  17. Lucija said…

    Dear Joyce,

    thank you for those inspiring words. I could never get tired of your posts. They are so well-spoken, honest, thoughtful and gracious. I look forward to seeing the live broadcast of the Met on January 19!
    As you said, we should be living in the present, where life is happening. We are never in relationship with reality because we constantly talk to ourselves and have nothing to think about other than thoughts. It’s scary. BUT! You taught me that I am not just my thoughts but also the force that moves through my mind, spirit and body… as well as that I shouldn’t try to quiet my mind. And the advice that I love: “Breathe, you’re alive!” 🙂

    May the coming new year be energetic and filled with delightful surprises for you! Keep shining like the brightest star!

    Sending you all my love from Croatia : *


  18. Laura said…

    After a tiring but fun day of teaching others its great to come home, with my glass of wine and read something that is full of common sense, care and thoughtfulness. Am going to email this link on to some of my students, many of whom have important performances and exams coming up….Thank You Joyce…you are making a difference I do believe 🙂

  19. Peggy Fox said…

    May 2013 be filled with 365 PRESENTS, and to pot with the innter voice trying to grumble…just the simple little things in life, the grand things in art, the joy of knowing you bring great happiness to your listeners, a touch of pain or sadness to enrich your soul, while you keep focusing on every today…Many blessings to you!

  20. janet sims said…

    Joyce, loved the performance on Friday night at the Met. It was truly amazing. I had a brief hello with you as you were speaking with a young man. Saw Maria Stuarda in Houston as well. It was exciting to see you and Josh Hopkins (my buddy at HGO) singing on stage in the production.

  21. Jack said…

    to have so much talent and be able to stand to the side of it and teach about the present. thank you.

  22. Sylvain said…

    Hi Joyce.
    I admire you as an artist, but also I am stunned by all those trips you are able to withstand, while keeping being the wonderful singer you are. However it seems to me that you should add at least one more destination, namely Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. Of course you know that Mozart himself directed the premiere of Don Giovanni in Prague in 1787. But do you know that the very theatre where this premiere took place is still standing and quite active? Actually it is the only theatre still existing where Mozart directed one of his work.
    I have a dream: to see you perform Donna Anna’s role in 2017, on occasion of the 230th anniversary of this famous premiere, in this theatre (called “of the States”).
    I appreciate also the photographer Joyce Didonato, and as such, if you can spare some private time, Prague offers many opportunities to take wonderful photos of its very varied architecture masterpieces (from Middle Age to Art Nouveau). And if you can have longer holidays, certain cities of South Bohemia display an absolute beauty from their Middle Age and Renaissance architecture. Just a few of them: Cesky Krumlov,Kutna Hora, Telcs, Slavonice.

  23. Hannah said…

    Joyce, as a young singer on her journey in this crazy world of music, your words about being present and pushing away the negativity are invaluable. It is incredibly interesting to think of you as someone who has suffered from that so recently. I think I can speak for myself and my young colleagues when I say that we think at one point that will have to go away! And so knowing that you still have those thoughts is in a strange way (and please do not take this the wrong way) comforting. Seeing someone I admire so much take all of the big stages and sing with the most beautiful and flawless quality, knowing that the voice inside has never stopped you from fulfilling your dreams and all of ours is a joy. A triumph!

    That little inner voice is such a demon, making or breaking auditions, difficult passages or performances. But I think recognizing that everyone has that voice unites us all and maybe we can turn that little voice into a means of helping instead of giving in to it’s mischievous ways.

  24. Samantha said…

    Thank you so very much for your insight. I find that the inner voice that we tend to listen to is, more often than not, the most unkind voice in the world. I am indeed a young Mezzo-Soprano, and have trouble fighting this unwanted passenger. I have been a fan of yours for years, and this is the first of your writings I have read. I wish you a Happy New Year as well, and look forward with excitement to what is to come!!

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