The Sills Award was established in late 2005 in honor of the Met's former chairperson with an endowed gift from Agnes Varis, a managing director on the company's board, and her husband, Karl Leichtman. The prize money is intended to help with such career enhancement expenses as vocal study, coaching in new roles, language lessons and travel costs.
The winner of the inaugural Sills Award, presented early last year, was baritone Nathan Gunn.
In a statement issued by Sills, Varis and Met general manager Peter Gelb announcing this year's award, Sills said, "Having recently seen her fantastic first performance of Rosina at the Met, I am confident that Joyce's brilliant and successful career will continue to flourish." Varis added of DiDonato, "Her magnetism and passion stimulate every performance in which she appears."
For her part, the honoree said in accepting the Award, "While I was an undergraduate in Kansas, dreaming of perhaps one day being a working singer, a woman came to our school to give a lecture on our 'Distinguished Speaker' series. Her name was Beverly Sills. I sat in awe and amazement that this legend was actually in our presence, and I hung on her every word as she taught about dedication, discipline and hard work. Fast-forward a few years, and I pick up my cell phone and hear, 'This is Beverly Sills. I want to give you my award.' I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore. I am truly overwhelmed and humbled by this honor."
Among DiDonato's recent triumphs have been her performance of Dejanira in Luc Bondy's staging of Handel's Hercules with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants (seen in several European cities and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music) and her sparkling rendition of the title role in Rossini's La Cenerentola at Houston Grand Opera this past winter. For her Rosina last year at Covent Garden in London, she won the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for best singer of the season. She has two major role debuts coming up later this year: as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier at San Francisco Opera in June, and as the titular hero of Handel's Ariodante in Geneva in November.
Meanwhile, back at the Met, DiDonato sings four more Rosinas in the new Barber — opposite tenor Lawrence Brownlee, making his Met debut as Almaviva, and baritone Russell Braun as Figaro — tonight through May 11. The high-definition simulcast of the March 24 matinee receives an encore presentation in movie theaters around the U.S. on Tuesday, May 15 at 7:00 p.m.; for details, visit www.metopera.org and click on the "Live in HD" box near the bottom of the screen.