Joyce DiDonato: It’s 16 November, 2015: I am seated at my father’s old piano in tranquil, uneventful Kansas City, Missouri, with a pile of 60 obscure Neapolitan arias. I’m researching music for my new album, music by composers such as Niccolò Jomelli and Leonardo Leo, who wrote in a post-classical, pre-bel canto world that is sorely underrepresented today on recordings and concert platforms.
My task is to select 10 of these obscure arias to feature on my album and perform on a world tour. Just the day before I had been in glossy Dallas, Texas singing the final emotion-filled performance of a new opera written for me by Jake Heggie titled Great Scott, which asks the pressing question, “Does art matter?” – a question I often contemplate.
I decided to pose a question: ‘In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?’
My phone was propped up on the music rack of the piano – never a good idea for concentrated focus – but I was breaking my self-imposed rule because I was waiting for texts and postings from friends and colleagues in Paris who were dealing with the harrowing aftermath of the Paris attacks, which had rocked that city three days earlier.
My head swirled. My heart wept. My artistic soul searched.
Yet my deadline was looming and I had music in front of me, waiting to be discovered. It was music that was novel, to be sure, but it was striking me as hollow. How could I devote immense, intensive personal and professional resources to this project and dare to bring it to 20 cities, when the music sitting in front of me felt – apologies to these fine composers – like a gimmick while the world around me continued to surge out of control?
And then, from the pile of my own music, Dido majestically appeared. And then Sesto, in his war-torn desperation; and then the prisoner Almirena’s haunting Lascia ch’io pianga emerged, almost begging to be heard.
I wrote to my Paris-based record company. “How is everyone?” And then, “Don’t shout at me, but I need to change the project. I want to sing about war and peace.” And to their credit, they abandoned our previously agreed theme and let me record a different album.
Read the entire feature via The Guardian