October 16-22, 2003
A 1995 grad of Philly's Academy of Vocal Arts, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato rockets toward operatic superstardom. Already a major player in Europe, with leading gigs in Milan and Paris, she scored a double whammy in 2002, winning the Richard Tucker Foundation Award (opera's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy) and starring in Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking at New York City Opera. She returns to AVA for a recital (Haydn, Rossini, Obradors, Bernstein, Heggie) en route to one at Lincoln Center.
City Paper: How did your interest in singing begin?
Joyce DiDonato: I grew up in a suburb of Kansas City -- Prairie Village -- and went to college in Wichita. Philly was definitely my introduction to big-city living! (I miss terribly going to watch the Phillies, and grabbing a pretzel for lunch on the corner. I still do a mean Philly accent, which gets me good laughs from serious Italian conductors.) I grew up singing in choir and musicals in high school, and dreamed of being a backup singer for Billy Joel. Apparently I've gotten a bit off that track! I discovered the thrill of opera my junior year and I've never looked back.
CP: What settled you on AVA? What was it like?
JD: Once I knew that I needed to pursue a career in opera, I sat down to investigate where I could learn all the things necessary to secure a future. I quickly learned there is no such thing as a secure future in opera or the arts; instead I've readily embraced the idea that this gift of opportunity comes at the right time, and sometimes in short supply, so I decided to live the moment as viscerally as I can! AVA offers the venue and opportunity to learn the craft of opera (as opposed to sitting in a library writing a thesis), and to walk on stage and sing! Every person that has stepped into that brownstone on 1920 Spruce knows the feeling of accomplishment of singing on that stage -- and we all can spit out a Mozart recitative with the greatest flair, thanks to Maestro [Christofer] Macatsoris! We also know that struggle that it took to get to that point, and it feels great to be able to say that we made it! AVA was a difficult road for me -- it was definitely the period in my development where I learned that I had to take full responsibility for my life and career. Now I can say that it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I wasn't seen as a golden child, and I don't think I was given too much of a shot at making it. I was able to receive world-class training, but I had to fight for it -- and that ability to fight for things has served me incredibly well in this tough world of opera! (Opera definitely is not for the faint of heart.)
CP: You're known for your ease on stage and interest in physical fitness. What kind of workout do you do?
JD: I try to keep to a regular workout program. I keep vowing to take up running, but I have a tendency to trip, so maybe it's safer to keep to the step machine. I watch a lot of baseball and football (especially this season, where my Chiefs are 5-0!)
CP: What was it like playing Sister Helen Prejean? Did you meet? How does the Heggie piece you're performing in your recital relate to the opera?
JD: Awesome, a life-changing experience. She's a force of nature, and meeting her, you knew that you were meeting someone who has the power to change the world. Jake's [new piece] is more a glimpse into the inner feelings of Sister Helen. She wrote the texts: They deal with her call to the work she does today; like the woman, they are full of humor, passion, prayer and a call to justice.
Joyce DiDonato performs Fri., Oct. 17, 7:30 p.m., $20-$25, Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce St., 215-735-1685.