Joyce DiDonato

Joyce, Queen of Mezzos

Jan 13, 2013

WRTI will broadcast Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda live from The Metropolitan Opera on January 19th. The performance will also be shown live in hundreds of movie theaters around the world.

In this tale of royal intrigue, set in 16th-century England, the title role of Mary, Queen of Scots is sung by Joyce DiDonato. WRTI’s Jim Cotter spoke with the superstar mezzo-soprano about her latest role, how she constructs her characters, and how her years at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts were more useful personally and professionally than artistically.

Today, Joyce DiDonato is firmly ensconced on opera’s "A" list. But when she was training at AVA in the 1990s, such a future outcome seemed very unlikely.

DIDONATO: I wasn’t a star singer there and it wasn’t clear that I would go on and have a career, I had to go deep inside myself and ask do I still want to stay with this?

COTTER: So why did stick with it?

DIDONATO: I had to.

After Philadelphia, she had spells in the young artist programs at Santa Fe Opera and Houston Grand Opera where she says it all began to come together for her vocally.

COTTER: The voice started getting free and I started too find my voice, and that needed to happen. And happily it did and I continuously work to find more freedom.

DiDonato believes that in order to fully explore roles she needs to understand what the composer wanted, the historical context of the story and bring her own life experiences to the process of creating a fully fleshed-out character.

DIDONATO: The pain that I’ve gone through, in various ways, it always comes out of nowhere and socks you over the head. Of course I use that. It informs who I am as a human being and therefore it informs who I am as an artist.

The tragic opera Maria Stuarda, part of Donizetti's “Tudor Trilogy” of operas, reveals the deadly rivalry between two monarchs: Mary, Queen of Scots, and her cousin, Elizabeth I, Queen of England. Elizabeth has imprisoned Mary for treason, but agrees to meet with her at the urging of the Earl of Leicester—Elizabeth's advisor and Mary's lover. Tempers flare, insults are hurled, and Mary's fate is sealed. She contemplates her death with great dignity and virtuosic bel canto singing in the final scene.

It's true — opera is totally over the top. Plots can strain even the barest semblance of credulity (too many cases of ghosts and mistaken identities to count), with characters that could get you thrown out of an introductory writing course, down to the blushing ingenues and the evil connivers who might as well be twirling waxed mustaches.

Jim Cotter speaks with pianist Rudolf Buchbinder.  He performs Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with the Philadelphia Orchestra this week.

Susan Lewis takes us to The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, a regional hub for ceramics education, creation, and exhibition.

A conversation with anthropologist Nina Jablonski.  She lectures about The Evolution of Human Skin Color at the Wagner Free Institute of Science on Saturday.