From Ancient Egypt to Tudor England, history’s most capricious yet captivating royal heroines are the perfect challenge for Joyce DiDonato, opera’s ruling mezzo-soprano, says Neil Fisher.
Exactly how do you call someone a vile bastard? Joyce DiDonato is still thinking about the best way to deliver one of opera’s most infamous put-downs – spat out by the heroine of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda (Mary Stuart) in her great confrontation with Queen Elizabeth I – when we meet in the American mezzo-soprano’s hotel in London’s West End. As the china clinks and the Earl Grey is poured, DiDonato warms to her theme. ‘I could be a little dirty…’ she suggests, conspiratorially, ‘but Maria is a queen and she’s rising to the occasion when she says that’. Regal hauteur, DiDonato decides, will prevail. At least until Mary Queen of Scots, as she must, loses her head entirely.