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THAT’S OUR JOYCE: Globe-trotting DiDonato brings her vocal mastery to the Harriman-Jewell Series

Joyce DiDonato, who grew up in Prairie Village, is fast on the way to becoming the world’s greatest living mezzo-soprano. In anticipation of her February 13th recital here on the Harriman-Jewell Series, we asked what she’s up to these days. She was entrenched in a production at Houston Grand Opera — and looking forward to two Metropolitan Opera roles and eight recitals this spring, including a Carnegie Hall debut — but was kind enough to answer some written questions. Winner of the Richard Tucker and Beverly Sills Awards and of Gramophone’s 2010 Artist of the Year Award, she has been said to possess a voice that is “nothing less than 24-carat gold” (London Times). Now in stores is her splendid Diva/Divo CD containing arias from both her female roles and “trouser” roles in which she plays male characters. Read her blog atwww.joycedidonato.com. For Harriman tickets call 816-415-5025 or go to www.hjseries.org.

Paul: What’s occupying your time lately?

Joyce: My first item on the agenda is the coming recital that involves an eight-city tour. I’m doing a number of new pieces on the program and that requires a tremendous amount of preparation and study on my part. Isolier (Le Comte Ory, for the Met) is the next project to tackle. But for the moment, all guns are blazing on my recital, as well as finishing up the shattering but ultimately uplifting run of Dead Man Walking here in Houston.

How do you first approach a new role?

I love the preparation for a new role — I feel like Columbus setting sail on unchartered seas! I first do some deconstructing of the score, highlighting my role, writing in a translation if I need it, and going through to identify all the articulations and dynamics and phrasing elements that the composer has written in. I feel like a foreman dissecting the architect’s blueprint before I start bringing the actual building to life. But then I sit at the piano and begin learning the notes and the accompaniment so that I have a very thorough knowledge of what the composer has written. I don’t tend to listen to recordings until I have done 80 percent of the work first, because I want to be sure I’m finding an interpretation that is true to the composer and that is MINE: The temptation to imitate and copy is too strong if I start listening to others too soon.

Why are this spring’s recitals important, and what do you gain vocally, musically, and personally from them? How big is the Stern Auditorium Carnegie Hall recital debut?

Any recital is a momentous thing, especially in today’s age where they seem to becoming an endangered species! For me, I find them to be the most challenging, and possibly rewarding, of the work that I do. There is a tremendous amount of repertoire out there that really gets my imagination going, and that alone thrills me. But the best part of it is the dialogue that is sprouted up between the audience and the performer. It is vastly more intimate that the operatic stage, for there is no interference — there is simply me and the pianist, and the audience: no footlights or orchestra pit to traverse, no costumes to overcome (well, there are hopefully some fabulous gowns!), no set pieces to distract — it becomes ALL about storytelling and communication. I treasure it. Obviously it’s an enormous thing to be invited to do a solo recital on the stage of the Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall. It’s the Holy Grail of musical temples! The expectation level hangs quite high, but I tend to have very high expectations of myself regardless of the venue, so that doesn’t seem to have much impact on me. (However, maybe you should check back in with me after my debut!)

Could you say a few words about the repertoire you’ve selected for the recital? Why is this music special to you?

I have done some very theme-specific recitals in the past and have enjoyed them immensely, but this time I wanted to find something that had a high “entertainment quotient” and which showed off various facets of me as a performer. I feel like the overall mood these days leans to the bleaker side of things, and so I wanted to highlight a lighter side to what I do, so I’ve included a fair amount of Rossini, and some DELIGHTFUL and oh-so-French pieces by a female composer, Cécile Chaminade, whom Berlioz referred to as “My little Mozart.” They should single-handedly clear away any linger woes about the hard winter folks have been having this year! However, I do start of the recital with a real dramatic BANG in the form of Haydn’s “Scena di Berenice” which is a concert piece, but essentially it’s a mini-opera in itself. I thought, “let’s not wait til the encores to have some real drama here!” so I’ll start with some heightened theater and then lightening things up as I go along!

I LOVE Diva/Divo! Could you say a word about what happens in your head, and in your physicality, when you are called upon to play a trouser role?

I’m so happy to hear this! I really love the project as well. Essentially, like any other character, I simply go into the text. For me, if I’m singing “I love you” as a boy or as a girl, it’s still a very vivid emotion. Physically I’m aware that the male gender moves very differently, so I do try and incorporate that very convincingly into my portrayal — that involves a lot more angular stance, quicker movements, and a certain kind of physical power that men tend to bring to the table.

You sing a lot of Baroque operas, partly because they contain some of the best roles for mezzos. Unlike their European counterparts, opera-loving Americans have yet to embrace some of the great works of that era. Why is that?

Well, I think that in general European companies have, overall, been a lot more daring in their programming. In the past they haven’t been beholden to private support — although this is changing — so the risk of alienating patrons is not an issue. By programming some more, let’s say “daring” pieces, they have educated their audiences in a different way and created an appetite for curiosity and imagination in their likes and dislikes. That’s not to say that US companies aren’t daring (I love that the Lyric is bringing Nixon in China to KC!), but it’s not exactly standard fare. For me, in the US, Handel still falls into the “adventurous programming” category, where as in Europe, it’s demanded by the public! Which is WAY cool!

For tickets to Joyce’s recital call 816-415-5025 or go to www.hjseries.org.


Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor 

Paul studied piano and musicology at WSU and Cornell University. He also earned a degree in journalism, because writing about the arts in order to inspire others to partake in them was always his first love. After earning a PhD from Cornell, he became Program Annotator for the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he learned firsthand the challenges that non profits face. He moved to KC to join the then-thriving Arts Desk at The Kansas City Star, but in 2008 he happily accepted a post at The Independent. Paul contributes to national publications, including Dance Magazine, Symphony, Musical America, and The New York Times, and has conducted scholarly research in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship). He also taught musicology at Cornell, LSU and Park University.



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