The Telegraph: My life in travel

The Telegraph

The mezzo-soprano recommends Kansas City’s best speakeasy and recalls a trip involving a night bus and a chicken

I SPEND MORE TIME ON TOUR than I do at home. It’s pretty tiring but you get to visit so many places in such quick succession. Last year I toured for 10 months: in three weeks we visited Shanghai, Beijing, Macau, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul and Abu Dhabi.

I ALMOST PASSED OUT WHILE GORILLA-TREKKING in Rwanda. We managed to get 6ft away from a huge silverback. He climbed up right beside us and loomed over us to prove his dominance. I didn’t breathe for about 10 minutes, honestly.

YOU CAN’T BEAT SANTA FE in winter. Slightly north of the city is Ojo Caliente, which has hot sulphur springs. There’s nothing better than lighting a fire and retiring to an outside hammock, having spent all evening soaking under the starry night sky. When not relaxing in a hammock, I like to book a casita at the Four Seasons in Santa Fe.

I’VE LEARNT TO KEEP FOODIE FRIENDS close, especially if embarking on a sailing holiday. The Balearic Islands – Majorca, Menorca and Ibiza – are my favourites to sail around. There’s always a captain on-board but rather than hiring a chef, I make sure I invite friends who have a talent for cooking.

NOTHING GRATES ON ME MORE THAN HOITY-TOITY HOTELS where you have to walk on eggshells. The Conservatorium in Amsterdam strikes the right chord. It’s a converted bank, so it’s very spacious, with rooms that are modern but unpretentious. And don’t get me started on the breakfast – the best cantaloup in Europe.

ALINEA IN CHICAGO is one of the most imaginative restaurants in the world. Last time I was there, they set the table with these beautiful flags decorated with pressed flowers, or so I thought. They turned out to be rice papers for our spring roll starter. Dining at Alinea is always a creative and participatory experience.

SPEAKEASIES AND JAZZ CLUBS are back in vogue in my hometown of Kansas City. My favourite is The Green Lady on Grand Boulevard, which is a glowy, candlelit bar where they serve cocktails and where locals perform classic Kansas City Jazz. FOR A REAL PARTY there is nowhere like Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. I personally recommend the Solarium. It’s a three-storey nightclub with live salsa and bossa nova bands where you can dance the night away.

I TREASURE THE PHOTOGRAPHS I take on my travels, far more than any souvenir. If it doesn’t fit into one of my two suitcases, I don’t need it. OPERA GOWNS TAKE UP A LOT OF SPACE in a suitcase. Every taxi driver who picks up my cases says: “Oomph, these are big.” And I say: “Really? I’d no idea!” I wish I didn’t have to carry so much luggage, but the gowns and the scores take up more space than one might imagine.

MY WORST TRIP INVOLVED A NIGHT BUS AND A CHICKEN during my first audition tour, 20 years ago. I was supposed to be in Seville for a 10am audition, but I missed my connecting flight in Madrid, so hopped on a night bus instead. During that journey a man fell asleep on my shoulder and a chicken caused havoc in the aisle: it was like something from a Pedro Almodóvar film. Eventually, I reached Seville at 4am. I didn’t get the job.

IF ONLY I COULD RELIVE THE YEARS I LIVED IN PARIS after I moved there in 2002 to play Rosina in The Barber of Seville at the Paris Opera. My life then was like a movie: I spent my afternoons sketching fountains and statues in the Tuileries Garden and strolling along the Seine.

TAKING A SHOWER MID-FLIGHT was surreal. I was flying with Emirates, of course. I’d never flown with them before but somehow they manage to make it feel like you’re not even flying. I also love United Airlines – I’m officially a “Million Miler”, as of this year – but my least favourite airline is Ryanair. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that.

LONDON’S CLASSICAL MUSIC SCENE IS UNRIVALLED – and I’ve travelled around quite a bit. There’s such a variety of stuff happening there, from recitals at Wigmore Hall and huge concerts at the Royal Opera House to the Barbican, which hosts all kinds of extraordinary and experimental visiting residencies.

CONCERTGOERS IN ASIA BEHAVE VERY DIFFERENTLY from Europeans. In Abu Dhabi they’ve warned me that the show will start much later than planned because they are expecting a lot of sheikhs to arrive by helicopter, at their leisure. Asian audiences tend to be quite reserved and deferential, until the very end when they explode as if it’s a rock concert.

ALL THE GEAR

DAY CREAM

Staying hydrated on tour is essential. I’ve found that Dr Hauschka’s products protect my skin really well from the effects of air conditioning and stage make up.

From £44; dr.hauschka.com

SUITCASE

This Samsonite Cosmolite 144L case is large enough for me to pack everything on hangers – which means I can just grab garments by the handful and dump them in the hotel closet upon arrival.

From £445; samsonite.com

LIPSTICK

It’s so hard to find red lipstick, but Chanel’s are always reliable. At the end of a flight I always put on sunglasses and a slick of red lipstick to hide the jetlag.

From £31; chanel.com

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#People can do #EXTRAORDINARY things. https://t.co/7ZxdpSk0TC

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“Alex, I’ll take welcoming hotel hallways for $1,000, please.” #AgrippinasKarma #Poppeawarnedme #whereitalyandaustriamergeforbetterorforworse #redrum #heresjoycee #seriously #RIGHTOUTSIDEMYDOOR #touringlife

TONIGHT we bring our #Agrippina to the @liceu_opera_barcelona for 3.75 hours of scheming da capos!! No puc esperar!!!! #elpoderabsolutcorrompeabsolutament #totiaixíaquestsrecitatius #diversíoperversa Photo: Javier Del Real @ilpdo

Close up of the print on my Agrippina Dress! I found the silk in #Shanghai and knew it was for this aspiring, conquering Handelian Roman!!! #dragonsandbuildingsandsilkohmy #abdolutepowercorruptsABSOLUTELY #norestforthewicked #rulersareyoutakingnote??

Last night I had the great, wicked joy of debuting the role of Agrippina with my beloved Il "Pomo d'Oro" orchestra and a wonderful cast. It’s going to be great fun getting to know her more and more ... not a moral fiber to be found in her!!!! Reminds me of a few people presently in power, no?? #absolutepowercorruptsABSOLUTELY #motheroftheyear #wheresmythrone #whatdoesagirlhavetodotogetacrown #thoserecitsthough 📸: @catecool

When I first flirted with the idea of taking on #Agrippina, it was asked of me, “But you do know she’s quite wicked, right?” Oh yes. I know. A new tour begins NOW with an extraordinary cast and my beloved partners Il Pomo d’oro with Maxim Emelyanychev at the helm. Between our limited 5-city tour, we are RECORDING!! • Handel: AGRIPPINA Luxembourg City • Madrid • Barcelona • Paris • London Il "Pomo d'Oro" orchestra @ilpdo @maxim_emelyanychev, harpsichord/director • Joyce DiDonato - Agrippina @LucaPisaroni - Claudio @elsabenoitsoprano - Poppea @xaviersabata - Ottone / Giunone Franco Fagioli- Nerone @andrewmastroni - Pallante @carlo.vistoli - Narciso Biagio Pizzuti - Lesbo • #BacktoHandel #Wicked #absolutepowercorruptsabsolutely #ihavealwaysbraggedabouthowmuchiloverecitative #timetoputmymoneywheremymouthis #HIGHDRAMA #handel @philharmonie_lux @teatro_real @liceu_opera_barcelona @theatre_champs_elysees @barbicancentre @askonasholt STYLING: @vitatzykun PHOTO: @chrissingerme

“I left my heart ... in Windy Chi-Town...” Aside from the glorious music making with the astonishing, treasured @chicagosymphony, it was this day at the Warrenville Juvenile Detention Center that stole my heart. I applaud the CSO and Maestro Muti for their commitment to bring their music to these beautiful kids, and I was deeply honored to sing for them. Seeing tears come to their eyes as they experienced Mozart first hand was simply life-affirming. As the beautiful girl in the yellow shirt told me afterwards as tears spilled from her eyes, “I don’t know what happened to me, but it feels like all of the anguish I’ve ever felt in my life came pouring out of that music.” Let’s not EVER underestimate the need for human connection in these kids’ lives. In a broken system and an often broken world, music and the arts are a bonafide, VITAL part of healing. How can you help? Photos: @toddrphoto

Can you #HANDEL the #glamour? You know you can’t!!! 🤓 Hotel room studying, people. It’s real, it’s thrilling, and it’s my most favorite thing everrrrrrrrrrrrr. [srcsm] #sheisNOTplayingaround #anythingforthethrone #andstillshepersisted #couldthereBEmorerecitative? #no #notherecouldnot #justtakethethronealready #GOTagrippinastyle #absolutepowerblahblah #historySUREDOESrepeat #andstill ... #thisroleisEPIC

Getting my Cléopâtre on! What a JOY to be back on stage with the singular @chicagosymphony making extraordinary music together. I’m so glad to be here.

I am thrilled to remain in the gorgeous world of Berlioz a while longer and look forward to singing his poignant cantata La Mort de Cléopâtre with the brilliant Chicago Symphony Orchestra​ and Maestro Riccardo Muti​ this week! May 2, 4 & 7: Orchestra Hall May 3: Wheaton College​ @chicagosymphony @riccardomutimusic Photo: Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune

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

~ Joyce DiDonato