For Joyce DiDonato, 2013 is the year of the queen. This month, the 43-year-old American mezzo-soprano sings the title role of Donizetti’sMaria Stuarda in a new production at the Metropolitan Opera.
Although major prima donnas such as Beverly Sills have hurled their coloratura at the notoriously difficult part, the opera, which premiered in 1835, has never before been presented at the Met. Based on the lives of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I, it reaches maximum intensity when Mary calls her cousin a “vil bastarda.” Every time, says DiDonato, who also sang the part at the Houston Grand Opera last season, “this rush of adrenaline goes through me.” This from a woman whose latest recording, Drama Queens, presents arias from the 17th and 18th centuries that run the gamut—as she puts it—from “suicidal sadness to rapturous bliss.” Beneath the beautiful gowns of her tragic queens, she says, she’s always looking for “something humane and insecure, vulnerable and triumphant.” Otherwise, she adds, “there’ll be no living with me next year. If I ever have to go back to a peasant girl, what will I do?” Born in Kansas, DiDonato attended the young-artist programs of the San Francisco, Houston Grand, and Santa Fe opera companies after graduate studies at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts. Since her Met debut in 2005 in the pants role of Cherubino in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, she has emerged as a commanding, royal presence.