Joyce DiDonato is one of the most in-demand mezzo-sopranos of her generation. Equally at home on the concert platform as the opera house, we’ve been hugely privileged in London to see her frequently in both. She made headline news when she fractured a bone in her leg during the first night of The Royal Opera’s revival of il barbiere di Siviglia, but trouper that she is, finished the run of performances in a wheelchair.
She makes a welcome return to Covent Garden in the company’s first ever staging of Massenet’s take on the Cinderella story, Cendrillon, in July. We caught up with her during rehearsals.
Who or what was the main inspiration for you wanting to become and opera singer?
I fell in love with music at a very early age (as early as I can remember!) and fell in love with the stage when I first stepped onto it at 13. Opera is just the perfect marriage between the two, so I think opera itself is my inspiration. I’ve also since grown to see the power of music in so many people’s lives, and this continues to inspire me in a much deeper way each and every day.
If you had to cite three career-defining moments, what would they be and why?
It’s nearly impossible to isolate three moments, because I’m a product of all the moments that have happened to me. But if pressed, I think getting accepted into the Houston Opera Studio was a defining moment, because it’s where I found my voice teacher, and where I put the finishing touches on my training. The second would be the Placido Domingo Competition in 1998 where my manager discovered me. He has been a guiding force and wonderful support to me for these 13 years. Choosing a third is incredibly difficult, but I will say the incident two years’ ago here at Covent Garden, finishing a show on a broken leg should rank high. I think I learned a tremendous amount about myself and my fortitude – something that certainly serves and opera singer in today’s world well!
Mezzos tend to be the only singers who get to play girls and boys. Which do you prefer and why?
I love them BOTH! I feel incredibly lucky to be able to explore the different genders, and love the variety in emotion, character and music. In my recent recording, Diva/Divo, I explored this world in great depth and learned so much about this fascinating, never boring world!
What are the specific challenges of playing a trouser role?
I have to be careful to avoid singing “aggressively” as a man, which can be appealing in the character, but not ideal for the voice.
Alice Coote is your Prince Charming in Cendrillon – how does it feel not to be wearing the trousers?
Well, she wears them so well, so it’s easy to let her have them for this! We’re actually in vocal heaven, singing with each other, and in the moment, pants or skirts – it’s just glorious music making!
This is the first time Cendrillon has been performed at The Royal Opera – what can audiences expect?
I hope they will be swept away by a truly magical, innocent and surprising piece. If we do our job right, they should be both laughing and crying while discovering a real jewel of an opera.
Which roles are on your wish list and why?
Well, I’d love a shot at Tosca, but I don’t see that in my vocal future – but the chance to stab the villain? Priceless!
What are you future operatic plans?
For the moment, I’m just happy I’ve survived the most taxing, intensive season of my career! But in the next season I’ll be taking on the title role of Maria Stuarda, so that will be all-consuming in very short order.
If life has taught you one thing, what would that be?
That it’s ALL good!
Joyce DiDonato sings the title role in The Royal Opera’s first-ever staging of Massenet’s Cendrillon from 5 July. You can also catch it on the BP Big Screen for free on 13 July. www.roh.org.uk
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