by Bryan Buttler
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Joyce DiDonato worked three jobs while attending Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA): She was a singing waitress at Victor’s Restaurant, the choir director at a Presbyterian church in Landsdale, and did cold-calling to raise funds for the Philadelphia Singers.

“And I still had no money!” she tells me. “But my favorite thing was walking to the Italian Market with $5 in my pocket and coming back with enough fruit and vegetables to last me through the week, and stopping by one of those carts and for $1 getting two pretzels and a Diet Coke.”

But it was that training at AVA, which the Grammy winner calls “hard, but fantastic,” that she credits for the success she’s had today, singing at opera houses around the globe. I’m speaking to her while she’s in New York, where she’s reprising her critically acclaimed depiction of the title role in Rossini’s La Donna Del Lago at The Met. But underneath the $300 tickets, the opening night galas, the glamour of it all, DiDonato believes that her journey to opera has a much higher calling.

Take last week, for example: DiDonato opened La Donna Del Lago and the next day headed to the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, the famed high-security prison in New York, not because she did any crime, mind you, but because she was part of a Carnegie Hall program that teaches inmates classical composition. And, yes, three of the inmates have written arias for her that she’ll be performing for 300 of the men at a concert.

“I come home, and the first thing I think is, ‘I’ve got to tell the kids about this!'” she says.

The “kids” she’s referring to are the high school students she’s reaching out to in her other advocacy program called Opera Rocks. It’s a newsletter targeted to youth who enjoy opera, and its goal is to make connections to young people who may feel somewhat isolated or alienated due to their love for the art form.

Read the entire interview here.