Prairie Village, Kansas, is hardly considered to be an opera hotspot. Nor is a wheelchair thought of as a noteworthy prop on the opera stage. But Kansas-born mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato is changing all of that.
But what was it like when they named you Artist of the Year?
Completely overwhelming. I was there for the recital award. But when it came to Artist of the Year, I was not even considering it as a possibility. I looked at the names on the list, and I thought that it was lovely to just be nominated. I remember that when they said, "The Artist of the Year is a singer," I said to myself, "Oh well, congratulations Plšcido," because Plšcido [Domingo] and I were the only two singers on the list. Then when they said "she," I remember my head going straight into my lap and I didn't hear anything else. My manager started hugging me, people started poking me, and there was applause. I remember I was sort of teleported onto the podium to accept. It was really one of those crazy Oscar-like moments. It's quite overwhelming.
You're stupendous as Rosina in the DVD of Il barbiere di Siviglia. Did you have any time to rehearse your wheelchair shtick after breaking your leg in the previous performance? Or did you just wing it?
I got into my first wheelchair ever at 5 PM the night of the first performance after I broke my leg. It was one of those athletic kinds of chairs that can spin around, and I literally felt at home in it within four minutes. So I said, "Let me try to pull this off on my own." But it took me a little while to avoid putting weight on the leg, because I like to have both feet under me when I sing.
May I assume that the majority of what you're singing at Carnegie Hall is song?
You may. There's so much glorious song recital repertoire that if I have a chance to do a recital, I respect that platform and want to explore the recital repertoire. But since people come because they know me as an opera singer, I try to find things that are also operatic in nature.
Your technique and range are so spectacular. Do you find that some wait for you to get through the songs so that you can do all the spectacular Rossini coloratura in one of your encores?
Even my manager said, "Great program, great program. Now, what are you doing for your encores?" My hope is that even if people come for the encores, they'll be seduced by the discovery of a new set of songs, or hearing songs in a different way. But I don't have any personal problem with putting some icing on the cake, having some fun, and pulling o, something a little crazy or surprising in the end.
You're premiering a Carnegie Hall _ commissioned song cycle by Jake Heggie.
The text is by Sister Helen Prejean. Jake and I were discussing different ideas for the cycle, and I told him that it really had to be uplifting. I said, "No matter what, it needs to be something positive." And we both: at the same time: said we should ask Sister Helen.
Sure enough, she's written a text with a very meditative quality that's very much about a passion for life. She uses a lot of metaphors of waves and surfing. It's going to be really quite beautiful.
Jake is one of those people who cross genres and styles, and people don't necessarily know what to make of it. What I love and admire about him is that he doesn't let that deter him. He knows what his compositional voice is, and he's sticking to it as it grows and develops, which is pretty cool.
I will not say "break a leg" before your Stern/Perelman debut ...
You know what? I laugh in the face of fate!
Jason Victor Serinus writes for Opera News, Stereophile, American Record Guide, San Francisco Magazine, and other publications.
Sunday March 6 at 2 PM
Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Joyce DiDonato, Mezzo-Soprano
David Zobel, Piano