All Arts – Discovering New Rhythms: Joyce DiDonato on Her Album “Songplay”

All Arts

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has performed celebrated arias in arenas around the globe, from the world’s most prestigious opera houses to a maximum-security prison. Most recently, the star toured the United States with her new album “Songplay,” a record that spins selections from “The Great American Songbook” into a dizzying array of musical exploration.

Blurring musical genres with a diverse selection of jazz, tango and (of course) opera, the project is arranged by pianist Craig Terry and features musicians across disciplines, including legendary Jazz Players Chuck Israels, Jimmy Madison, Lautaro Greco and Charlie Porter. Earlier this month, DiDonato performed as part of Lincoln Center’s “American Songbook” series in the Appel Room, where ALL ARTS was there to capture the live concert for the series “The Set List.”

To mark the broadcast and streaming premiere of “Joyce DiDonato: Songplay” on March 24, we corresponded with DiDonato about how the album came together, the challenges she has faced singing across the genres and more.

What was your initial inspiration for “Songplay” and how did the project come to be?

It came from my deep love of song! Craig Terry, the pianist and arranger for this project, had the idea of transforming some of the Arie Antiche pieces that every beginning voice student encounters. We wanted to reignite the joy inherent in these pieces and to highlight the essential beauty of them.

How does your technical approach to singing these particular songs differ from how you might approach a traditional aria?

It doesn’t differ at all. I always approach music in the same way — focusing on the text and painting with my voice to tell the story. The fact that I am with a jazz ensemble and using a microphone just gives me a different choice of colors and dynamics than I may have with a traditional orchestra.

Were there any specific challenges for you as an artist and musician in collaborating with musicians from outside the world of opera?

I learned what it means to have amazing rhythm! The jazz musicians have an impeccable, astonishing capacity for incredibly complex rhythm, and it was easily intimidating. But once I learned to trust the bass and drums to take the lead, we settled into the right kind of groove!

Was there anything that really surprised you through the process?

How organically our two musical worlds fit together, once we all agreed on a common language! The Baroque world has always thrived and demanded improvisation from its performers, so this fusion seems to feel quite simple, giving a different color to music we have loved for years, even centuries.

What is your favorite thing about performing these pieces live?

Telling the story so vividly and bouncing off the improvisation of these amazing musicians around me. Not once do the pieces feel as if they are ever played the same!

What is your favorite song to perform from the album?

Impossible. Every single one is my favorite!

Do you think you’ll make more records like “Songplay”?

Let’s see how this one goes, first!

11 Jun

Who needs espresso? Or to understand the wonder of life? Apparently I only need this....!

11 Jun


9 Jun

Cry. You can reapply the concealer .... tears are cleansing and sometimes called for ... 😔

FOLLOW Joyce DiDonato

#SummerLovin #LovinLavender #LavenderLovin

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 ✨

If this girl can do it, you can too!!!!!!! #belikeanant #heavyload #yourenevergivenanythingyoucanthandle #antsruletheworld #summerlovin

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