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.



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.

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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.

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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.

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5 hours ago

You can hear the whole concert TONIGHT on @AllArtsTV ... free of charge, my friends ... free of charge! #ARTSFORALL

5 hours ago

Thank you, Holly!!! We had the time of our lives!

5 hours ago

The more I sing it, the more I love it! So happy to introduce so many people to this piece!!!

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This tour went WAY too quickly! Happily, it will have a lot more life in the years to come - hopefully in a city near you! In the meantime, an immense thank you to the brilliant @princetonuniversityconcerts series at #Richardson Hall. What a joy to be a part of your 125th Anniv Season! To all the wonderful singers in the audience today: the world awaits your magic! And to these astonishing musicians and friends - MY BAND! I adore each of you and thank you for playing with me!!!! @craigterrypiano @hotlipsporter @lautaro_greco #ChuckIsraels #JimmyMadison. #Playon!!

What a week!!! Monday #Songplay at the #AppelRoom in NYC, then glorious rehearsals for #Clemenza for the @metopera, and next up - a final Songplay (for the moment!) at @princeton!! What’s next? Spring will spring???? #bringiton

If you missed my fascinating conversation with @kevankenney as part is the @buildseriesnyc, you can see it here - but buckle your seatbelt, we get INTO it!

Thank you, @buildseriesnyc and the fab @kevankenney for the thoughtful questions! Check it out on

Head to at 5pm ET today for a LIVE video of my chat with the fab @kevankenney! Can't wait to be back at BUILD Series ✨#aolbuild @askonasholt @warner_classics Photo: @chrissingerme

Tune in to or @lincolncenter’s Facebook page TONIGHT at 8:30pm to watch Songplay LIVE from Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Theater! Can’t wait!! 🎺🎹🎤🥁🎵 Performed as part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook. @allartstv @askonasholt @warner_classics @craigterrypiano @hotlipsporter @lautaro_greco #chuckisraels #jimmymadison

Just arrived at the #AppelRoom and the inspiration is everywhere! Tune in in just under 4 hours LIVE on!!

Working our way to the East Coast, #Songplay landed in #Boston for the @celebrityseries, and we had a brilliant time!!! Was great having so many @necmusic students there!!! Thanks for all the love!! Next stop: #NYC, LIVE from the Appel Room as part of @lincolncenter’s American Songbook. You can watch this “dazzling”, “masterful”, “brave” and “playful” concert LIVE via the one-and-only!!! Don’t miss it!!!! @craigterrypiano @hotlipsporter @lautaro_greco #chuckisraels #jimmymadison

Well, hello, @oberlincon! How YOU doin’? Can’t wait to see y’all tomorrow night for #SongPlay! #playwiththatsong #yougottalovetobeabletoplay

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

~ Joyce DiDonato