Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato is stealing hearts everywhere lately. She brought the crowd to their feet at the 54th Grammy Award ceremony last week with her performance of Rossini’s “Non più mesta” from La Cenerentola and has been receiving rave reviews for her performance in the Metropolitan Opera’s pastiche The Enchanted Island which played during the month of January.
What is it about this Kansas native that captivates such a diverse audience? Look no further than her Grammy award-winning album Diva Divo for the answer.
Diva Divo was recorded last year and conducted by Kazushi Ono with the Orchestre de L’Opera National de Lyon. In this recording, Ms. DiDonato portrays both male and female characters, illustrating the diversity of the operatic repertoire available to the mezzo-soprano.
It is common for a mezzo-soprano to step into a ‘pants-role,’ or portray a physically mature male character whose voice still retains the innocence of pre-pubescence. DiDonato demonstrates her mastery of not only these roles, but the full range of mezzo repertoire. She does this through highlighting opposite perspectives of different characters from similar operas by a range of composers.
For instance, she sings both Cinderella characters: Rossini’s Cenerentola, and Massenet’s Le Prince Charmand. From the world of Faust, we hear from Gounod’s Siébel and Berlioz’s Marguerite. In Mozart’s corner, we hear from Cherubino & Susanna both from Le Nozze di Figaro and Sesto & Vittelia of La Clemenza di Tito.
Her performances on Diva Divo are marked by flawless technique paired with thoughtful characterization and are an example for every aspiring opera singer.
To highlight some of my favorite moments, consider the legato phrasing and low G in “Ascolta! Se Romeo t’uccise un figlio…” in contrast with the vibrant coloratura and high Bb at the end of “Nacqui all’affanno.” The overflow of drunken emotion in the female passaggio is absolutely striking in “Je suis gris! Je suis livre!” Both Berlioz arias are a fantastic testament to how DiDonato is able to transport the listener to a place of absolute ecstasy.
By far, the most rewarding aspect of this recording is how Ms. DiDonato gives life to each character. In an EMI YouTube clip of the recording session, she talks about how this album is an “exploration in to the theatrical world of opera.” In the studio setting she is able to explore the world of opera in a way that is impossible on stage, including the ability to portray three roles within the Beaumarchais trilogy! We get to hear her flirty Rosina, in “Contro un cor,” soubrette Susanna’s recitative and aria “Guinse alfin il momento… Deh, vieni, don tardar,” the young page Cherubino in “Voi che sapete“ and an older Cherubino in “Je suis gris! Je suis livre!“
In each track, the listener is treated with special nuances that bring individual characters to life as you follow their exploration, whether through excitement over the newness of a love affair, nervousness about publically professing admiration, or unabashed drunkenness.
How does she speak to such vast audiences? Ms. DiDonato uses her voice to take you on her journey. She uses the universal language of music to guide her listener through the emotional excursions of the characters she portrays, be they male or female. She is completely accessible and her specificity reflects her extreme talent.
Joyce DiDonato is a true hard-working American opera super-star. The question is, how could you not love her?