Joyce DiDonato is one of the most acclaimed opera singers of her generation; this year, she won the Grammy for Best Classical Vocal Solo. Her latest album, In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music, is a collection of baroque arias from the 17th and 18th centuries divided into two sections — one addressing war, the other, peace.
Ari Shapiro: Tell us the story of how you decided on the theme for this album.
Joyce DiDonato: I was sitting at my piano going through a stack of arias, trying to find repertoire for this, and the Paris attacks had just happened. And I thought, I have to address what’s happening today, because these composers from years and centuries ago have already been talking about war and peace. I [wanted] to really formulate something that helps me reconcile my world today and perhaps, with a little bit of luck, actually goes out to the listener and helps them.
In the war section of the album, there’s an aria by Handel, and the lyrics suggest that war can be not just external but also internal. There’s a line that says, “Oh, thoughts, you persecute me.”
This is an internal war that I think is ultimately, probably, the source of all external war — it’s when we are not at peace with ourselves. And it’s that incessant inner voice that keeps gnawing away at us. In this case, she’s a rather evil character: She’s power hungry, and she knows she’s perhaps overstepping the boundary. It’s that gnawing doubt of conscience that comes into her head, and it torments her. Ultimately, my approach with this album is not an external war, but it is that internal war that we all are in conflict about.
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