Role Models: Joyce DiDonato

Mezzo Soprano Joyce DiDonato has a new album, Drama Queens.  I was watching this promotional video for the album this morning, and it occurred to me that Joyce (I have a habit of referring to my operatic idols by their first names, as if we’re friends.  Joyce, Bryn, Renee, you know, the gang.) is exactly the type of artist I would like to be.  Not necessarily the type of singer I would like to be, her voice and repertoire are very different from mine, but they type of artist.

Well, exactly what kind of artist is she? (Or, probably more precisely, what kind of artist am I perceiving her to be?)

First of all, Joyce seems always to be absolutely delighted with what she is doing.  And why shouldn’t she be?  She’s a highly in-demand, international opera star!  I’m sure that just like everyone, she has bad days and gets down, but the public face she presents is one of joy.  She’s always excited about whatever role she’s singing, or laughing with her colleagues, or discovering  the city she is visiting.

Joyce is a scholar.  In the classical music community, there is a joke that there are musicians, and then there are singers.  I hate that joke.  If you are not a Musician with a capital M, than you have no business singing classical repertoire.  Still, singers have a reputation for not understanding music theory, or being unable to even read music.

That is simply not the case with Joyce.  This vlog on how she approaches learning a new role shows just how tuned-in she is to musicality, style, language, characterization, and she is focused on trying to interpret the composer’s intention.

Notice how she talks about being aware of the orchestration and what it says about the character or situation.  She is focused on details that many singers don’t even give a second thought.

Joyce gives back.  Her blog, Twitter, and vlog, all focus mainly on advising and inspiring young singers.  She makes it clear that she didn’t get where she is just by chance, but by hard work, study, and persistence.  She has often mentioned that she wished there was something like her blog available to her when she was starting out.

She also has an extraordinary knack for making opera accessible without dumbing it down.

Joyce is an absolutely captivating performer.  I had the privilege of seeing her sing in the Met’s The Enchanted Island last season.  The woman owned the stage.  I can’t explain it better than this:

Joyce has a sense of humor.  Some performers just take themselves way too seriously.  Humor is essential, especially when you’re, say, singing a Puccini role where you watch your lover die tragically of consumption every night.

Madame DiDonato’s hard work, study, joy, humor, and gratitude would be assets in any field, but in the world that originated the term “diva” they make her truly divine.  So, the next time I’m hung up on some kind of operatic conundrum, I’ll ask myself “WWJD?”  What would Joyce do?

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