“Houston Grand Opera waited 57 years to stage its first ‘Mary Stuart.’ But it was well worth the wait for the sumptuous rendition of Gaetano Donizetti’s bel canto feast holding court at Wortham Theater Center, with superstar mezzo Joyce DiDonato riveting in her role debut as the doomed Mary, Queen of Scots.


© Felix Sanchez c/o Houston Grand Opera

With not only voice but also personality to burn, DiDonato’s gorgeously sung, passionately acted Mary is the jewel in the crown of the show. Given her skyrocketing fame, her first turn in this juicy role makes the production an event, and DiDonato does not disappoint, even exceeds expectations.

From her first aria expressing her joy at being allowed to walk in the open air, DiDonato brings Mary to vibrant life – exuding nobility and grace under pressure, yet also warmly human. With her legato phrasing, the power and clarity of her vocal production, there’s no part of her range in which she does not sing with distinction. She dispatches the more complicated ornamental passages with fluidity and bravura ease, with a velvety warmth in her high notes, and remarkable throaty fervor in her lower register. The entire closing scene is her tour de force.”  ~ Everett Evans Houston Chronicle April 2012

“The main draw of Houston’s Maria Stuarda is mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who for the first time sings the title role of a work rightly famous for its confrontation (in defiance of historical reality) between Mary Stuart and her nemesis, Elizabeth I.
Humiliated by Elizabeth, the subjugated Mary retaliates in DiDonato’s masterly delivery with due deliberation, her anger seething yet checked by the proud manner that had so irritated Elizabeth – when Mary exclaims “vil bastarda”, you know it is her considered opinion. DiDonato’s singing of the role’s florid passages is first rate, but Mary expresses herself most touchingly in elegant cantilena – as in the final scene’s choral prayer – which DiDonato sings with seamless legato and gorgeous tone.” ~ George Loomis Financial Times April 2012


© Felix Sanchez c/o Houston Grand Opera

“On Saturday night, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato joined this distinguished company, scoring a huge success as she performed the role for the first time in a production new to the Houston Grand Opera.

From her first entrance, wistfully recalling her happy childhood days in France, DiDonato sang with commanding power, silken elegance of line and deep expressiveness. She captured Mary’s fierce pride and desperation as well as her religious piety and courage in the face of death.

Though the role has often been taken by sopranos who dazzle the audience with their high notes, DiDonato showed that, with the right singer, the lower-voiced alternate version can be just as satisfying. In the florid passages, her embellishments were exquisite – and all the more effective for seeming to flow spontaneously from her character’s state of mind.” ~ Mike Silverman Huffington Post (AP) April 2012

© Felix Sanchez c/o Houston Grand Opera


“There’s an old Italian operatic term, one that probably originated at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala (or La Scala, for operaphiles), called “prima donna assoluta.” It denotes the female singer without equal, the first among firsts, the absolute best that opera delivers. It’s rarely used seriously anymore, but after seeing Houston Grand Opera’s production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda (1835) — HGO calls it Mary Stuart, but sings it in Italian — I propose that the moniker should be brought back into usage and bestowed upon mezzo Joyce DiDonato.

There is no one like her on the opera stage today. She is a star, a superstar, in fact, and has all the finest qualities that overworked term brings to mind: a radiant and attractive stage presence whose heat can be felt by an audience; an effortless light that illuminates her character; and, the prima quality for any singer, a flawless technique and lush vocal tone that flies through whatever roulades, filigree and stratospheric heights the composer asks. She is a phenomenon

In other words, she has arrived. Like the publicists said about Garbo: DiDonato’s back and Houston’s got her! Young and on the ascendant cusp of her career, she is the future of opera. We can put all worries about that fat old art form, growing useless and eating chocolates on the divan, on the back burner for the present. With her gracing the stage, opera’s in excellent shape.

Hail to the queen. Hail, DiDonato! Long may you reign!”  ~ D.L Groover Houston Press 2012

© Felix Sanchex c/o Houston Grand Opera


DiDonato is a first-rate actor and inhabits the role with a nuance any of her stage peers would envy including the non-singing ones like Janet McTeer. The look in her face and tone in her voice when she defiantly defends her faith and reputation in the face of Elizabeth’s accusations are priceless. Vocally there’s almost nothing more you could ask for. She dispatches colouratura runs with detail, can float pianissimos and leaves the audience hanging on every breath. There is still some room for her to grow in the part […] but make no mistake, it’s a performance you’ll want to see more than once, so hearing her sing it after some more stage time is an event to anticipate.” ~ Out West Arts April 2012


“Which brings me to Joyce DiDonato, well-loved here in Houston and quite miraculous as Mary Stuart, deposed Queen of Scotland. […] She is stunning in the part, making something very great out of each and every phrase.

DiDonato is a mezzo-soprano, and the first thing to glow over in this Maria Stuarda is her brilliant range. She really gives attention to the lower notes, which are golden and resonant, almost jewel-like. The phrasing is smooth and well-connected. At the same time, she doesn’t belabor the arias, providing instead a kind of lightness more characteristic of Donizetti.

Perhaps the thing that stunned me the most was her quiet intensity in certain arias sung pianissimo, yet ringing clear as a bell in the large theater. I never struggled to hear her, and the orchestra never dominated even her most subtle phrases. In the final scene depicting her ascent to the scaffold, it’s hard not to be moved deeply when she sings, “May my innocent blood, when shed, placate the anger of enraged heaven.”

This is, after all, a tragic opera, and DiDonato demonstrated why with brilliant conviction.” ~ Theodore Bale CultureMap April 2012


“Dans ces conditions, est-il utile de préciser que le public, dès l’entrée d’Êcosse, a eu l’impression de basculer dans un autre universe? Joyce Didonato, qui avait abordé Elisabetta à Genève en 2005, relève le défi de Maria Stuarda avec un aplomb confondant.  Timbre ravissant, sens aigu du txte, intuition stylistique, goût de l’ornementation … on ne sait qu’admirer le plus dans cette performance, où l’on retrouve à la fois les accents étouffés de Beverly Sills, le contrôle immaculé de la ligne de Mariella Devia et le mordant dans l’accent de Leyla Gencer (dans le face-à-face entre les souveraines, à la fin de l’acte II.)

Le longue scène finale, de la confession jusqu’au départ pour l’échafaud, émeut aux larmes t l’on attend maintenant avec impatience la nouvelle production de David McVicar annoncée au Metropolitan Opera de New York, en décembre prochain.”  David Shengold Opéra Juin 2012

There seems to be no mood, vocal color or pitch that DiDonato cannot produce. Mary Stuart is a noble queen done wrong in this opera, and the tender, smooth beauty of DiDonato’s singing confirmed her goodness and vulnerability, especially in remarkably glowing softer passages. All the more captivating, then, was Mary’s transformation during her smack-down of Elizabeth in Act I, scene 2: DiDonato delivered this tirade of scorching insults with spitting fury and iron-hard timbre, inspiring noises of unrestrained satisfaction from the audience.” ~ Gregory Barnett Opera News July 2012