There is a moment in Rossini’s jovial opera Il Barbiere di Siviglia when the heroine, Rosina, complains that she has cramp in her foot – and the line has never seemed more appropriate than this week at Covent Garden.

Photography: Dave Benett

Joyce DiDonato, the US mezzo-soprano who performs the part for the last time in the run tonight, would have achieved wonderful reviews for her voice alone: luscious and clear, with a freshness that filled the theatre. It was as good a performance as anyone could remember, from a new star, but the event that made it extraordinary occurred during the first act on the opening night. DiDonato slipped, hurting her ankle, and sang for the next three hours supported by a crutch. It turned out to be a fracture, but rather than withdrawing from the show she pressed on, singing and acting largely from a wheelchair. Whirling about the stage, with a bright pink plaster cast on her leg, her predicament seemed fitting for her character, who is supposed to be imprisoned at home by her guardian. On her blog DiDonato wrote that “being trapped in the wheelchair was a quite literal way of demonstrating Rosina’s frustration and huge desire to break free”. She certainly managed that. The rest of the cast was spectacular, too, in a performance shown live on big screens around the country last Wednesday – but DiDonato stole the show. If, when the production is revived, Rosina appears on the stage without a wheelchair decorated with a big ribbon, it will seem as if something has gone wrong.

– Sunday editorial, The Guardian, July 18, 2009

Last Saturday’s performance of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Covent Garden was one of those rare nights at the opera that nobody present will never forget. The staging sparkled with wit and fun, Antonio Pappano’s conducting was delightfully brisk and witty and the five principals all knocked spots off each other with their showpiece arias and comic timing. Everyone was ‘in the zone’, giving of their very best, and the audience knew it – the applause was delirious and tumultuous.

The extra element was provided by the fabulous Joyce DiDonato, who took a nasty tumble in Act I as she ran across the stage and collided with a banister. She recovered quickly and seemed fine, but re-emerged in the next scene with a walking stick. After the interval, the stick had turned into a more supportive crutch, which she wielded to great comic effect (she also inserted an extra line into the recitative explaining that she had a cramp in her foot.)

DiDonato sang divinely (singing the best “Una voce poco fa” I have ever heard, not forgetting Bartoli) and there wasn’t a second in which one was aware that she was actually in considerable pain from a bone broken above her ankle. What superb old-school professionalism – and an instance of the magic of good old ‘Doctor Theatre’, who insists that “the show must go on …”

– Rupert Christiansen, Telegraph, July, 2009

Rossini’s Barber of Seville is packed with showstoppers; but when did we last see it cast at such strength, sung with such tongue and vocal chord twisting relish, and conducted with such panache that every number did just that – stopped the show? Answer: the current revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s wild and wacky staging at the Royal Opera House. They must have added a quarter of an hour to the running time in applause.

Joyce DiDonato’s dazzling Rosina was hanging on for dear life at that point having stumbled and sprained her ankle in the second scene. She battled on, of course, singing with delicious innuendo and fabulous aplomb, and the crutch she used came in useful when she trashed the set in the storm scene. But then no one was ever buying that “I am a well behaved girl” line. DiDonato has the attitude; she owns this role.

– Edward Seckerson, The Independent, July, 2009

A standing ovation for Joyce DiDonato at the end of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville at the Royal Opera House on Saturday; at least they could stand. The American mezzo soprano sprained her ankle towards the end of the first act.

An announcement before the curtain went up for the second act informed the audience that, although she was in considerable pain, DiDonato insisted on continuing singing the lead female role, Rosina.

Hilarity was mixed with applause for her pluckiness when she made her first entrance after the accident with the aid of a metal crutch – particularly since about the second line she had to sing was, “I have a cramp in my foot.”

Her performance was vocally unaffected; and she even used her walking aid to take a swipe at a footlight. And, in the final curtain call, the excited audience was treated to the unusual sight in an opera house of a mezzo waving her crutch at them.

– The Evening Standard, July, 2009

The singing all round easily meets the high expectations created by such a top-flight cast, with the applause following DiDonato’s Una Voce Poco Fa, exceeded only by the audience eruption after Florez’s Cessare Di Piu Resistere. Shortly after the former, DiDonato slipped and hurt her right leg. Although she gallantly continued her performance (many were unaware of the injury), she returned after the interval on a crutch. It was announced she had sprained her ankle, although it turns out she broke the fibula of her right leg. Perhaps by completing the performance, she was reflecting Rosina’s steely resolve, but certainly DiDonato suddenly found herself playing two heroines at once.

– Edward Bhesania, The Stage, July, 2009

Neither the indisposition of Simon Keenlyside as Figaro, nor Joyce DiDonato’s sprained ankle, nor even the momentary malfunction of the surtitles, could prevent this from being a magical evening.

Poor Joyce DiDonato fell in Act I and sprained her ankle, and had to hobble about on a crutch for the remainder of the evening (drawing huge laughter on her second-act appearance when Rosina complains of cramp in her foot). ‘Dunque io son’ was absolutely delightful, and she was a powerhouse in the second act, seemingly unimpaired by the pain in her foot. The eccentric staging of the tempesta required her to kick the leg off the harpsichord, bash one of the footlights and push over a huge wardrobe, but she managed even this, so with her unimpeachable technique and gorgeous tone she was an audience favourite.

– Dominic McHugh, Musical Criticism, July, 2009

When people say “break a leg” to a singer, they don’t mean it literally. That was no comfort to American mezzo Joyce DiDonato, who broke her fibia during a show at London’s Royal Opera House on Saturday.

After having received rapturous applause for her fiery entrance aria in Rossini’s comedy “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” DiDonato stumbled when walking across the stage. A few moments later, she left the set, returned with a stick and carried on performing. It looked like she had sprained her ankle.

DiDonato later revealed on her blog that she had, in fact, broken her fibia. There’s a picture of her sitting in a hospital looking glum in her plaster cast.

Incredibly, her performance after the accident was as full of comic sparkle and zippy coloratura as before. She decorated her crutch with a pink flower, and used it to bash bits of the set when her character was having a tantrum.

– Warwick Thompson, Bloomberg, July, 2009

With the characters afflicted by ‘anvil-hammer headaches’, scarlet fever and debilitating foot cramps, we were reminded that Bartolo is in fact an ‘esteemed’ doctor and that Figaro lists ‘surgeon’ as one of his skills. Indeed, it seemed that Bartolo was right when he complained that Figaro was turning ‘this house into a hospital’ – not least because the prima donna, Rosina, was wheelchair-bound throughout.

This was not, however, a quirky directorial whim of the kind that 21st-century audiences have become all too familiar with. There cannot be many Rosinas who would willingly elect to tackle the substantial challenges of the role from this confining position, but there was little choice for the American mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato who, having continued valiantly after slipping on the opening night, subsequently discovered that she had in fact fractured her fibia. Forbidden to put any weight on her plaster-encased leg, DiDonato must have been in considerable discomfort, if not pain, and the audience whole-heartedly appreciated her determination to continue in the role, welcoming her first stage entry with a rapturous outburst of grateful applause.

If she was physically incapacitated, DiDonato was in no way vocally, musically or dramatically hampered. This was an outstanding – and given the circumstances, astonishing – performance.Capricious and independent throughout, she overcame the physical restrictions imposed on her, offering a consummate display of coloratura singing and acting with panache and verve.DiDonato’s technical mastery is accompanied by innate musicality and powers of communication: she manages to make Rossini’s idiosyncratic twists, leaps, stutters and dynamic dips sound both effortless – in ‘Dunque io son’ she dazzled with a thrilling sparkle of a trill – and genuine.

Paradoxically, she used her injury to superb dramatic effect. Trapped both figuratively and literally, DiDonato presented a poignant picture of innocent vulnerability, threatened by a domineering tyrant; but simultaneously she twisted, pouted, whizzed from left to right, swung her undamaged legs and flailed her arms, allowing the petulance and feistiness of the ‘real’ Rosina to shine through.

– The Opera Critic, July, 2009