Joyce DiDonato

Claire Black of the Scotsman meets American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in Milano (click the link for the full article):

Pop stars, soap stars, Big Brother contestants – it seems that anyone can now be a diva as long as they behave badly enough, wear high enough heels or can warble through, auto-tuner and amplification-assisted, of course, a clutch of crossover classics. But it wasn’t always like this.

Before being in a relationship with Gethin Jones was enough to earn you access to the “d-word”, membership of that exclusive club depended not only on acting like a goddess, but sounding like one too. True opera greats – Maria Callas, Leontyne Price, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf – were remote, grand, impossibly glamorous and certainly not just one of the gals. Soaring vocal skills and awe-inspiring technique were one part of the package, tantrums and hissy fits, or choosing seven of your own records as your Desert Island Discs (as Schwarzkopf did) made up the rest. Their voices may have been sweet but they were not. More than a little attitude has always been part of being a diva.

DiDonato is a perfect example of a new generation of opera singers whose talent and commitment to their art is unquestionable, but who also manage to shake free from tradition, whether that is by writing a blog (named cheekily in DiDonato’s case Yankee Diva) or by mixing more established repertoire with contemporary works – DiDonato won praise in the role of Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s opera of Dead Man Walking, which she’ll perform again next year in Houston. She might be celebrated as one of the finest interpreters of Rossini, but a quick glance through her biography reveals that initially it was for Broadway or a career as a teacher that she was aiming, until at the age of 19 she discovered opera.

It all means that standing at the stage door of Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where I’m to meet DiDonato before the evening’s performance of The Barber of Seville, I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I don’t have to wait long to find out. Arriving conspicuously on time, DiDonato is alone, no chauffeur, no assistants, no-one to fetch soya lattes or carry her Blackberry. She is quietly spoken and friendly. And she’s wearing jeans.

Her dressing room doesn’t hold any diva-ish touches either. There are no bouquets of flowers, no bottles of champagne chilling in ice buckets. The only furniture is a stool where DiDonato perches and a small, hard sofa which is mine. The sole luxury is air-conditioning to keep out the sweltering heat.

DiDonato may garner ecstatic reviews for her voice, but it’s also her persona, the sense that she’s down to earth and just like the rest of us that has won her many fans. Partly this is down to her blog, updated remarkably regularly, where she shares backstage chit-chat, photographs that she’s taken and, of course, gives an unmediated glimpse into the life of an international opera singer, a life that’s a lot less glamorous than many might imagine.


Joyce DiDonato breaks a leg at Royal Opera House


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