Joyce DiDonato, winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2007 Beverly Sills Award, is among the world’s most charismatic performers. A cover article in Opera News states “The buoyant progress of DiDonato’s career ... has been one of the happiest opera events of the past decade.” Critics have called her technique “fearless” and described performances as ranging from “playful eroticism to imploding self-delusion to near-catatonic depression.”
Ms. DiDonato has soared to international prominence in operas by Rossini, Handel, and Mozart as well as in high-profile world premieres. Her recordings earn accolades far and wide. Gramophone named her Wigmore Hall recital disc an “Editor’s Choice”, stating: “The sparks fly from the opening set.” The Deepest Desire, her first solo disc, was awarded France’s Diapason d’or de l’année, an extraordinary award for a recording of American songs. Her latest solo CD, ¡Pasión!, was a London Sunday Times “Classical CD of the Week”, praised for its “authentic-sounding Iberian fire” and described as the disc “that admirers of the young American mezzo have been waiting for.”
For the second consecutive season, Joyce performs three role debuts. With Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco she performs and records the title role in Handel’s Alcina, and then debuts the heroic lead in Handel’s Ariodante for Geneva. In late spring she portrays Roméo in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi at the Paris Bastille. She also performs in two familiar Rossini operas in Barcelona and Chicago — La cenerentola in the Catalan capital and Il barbiere di Siviglia for her debut with Lyric Opera of Chicago. Ms. DiDonato gives concerts of arias by Handel in Brussels, recording them for her first solo CD with EMI Classics/Virgin Classics. Recitals at Milan’s La Scala, New York’s Lincoln Center, and in Philadelphia fill out her season, which concludes with her return to Madrid’s Opera Real as Idamante in Mozart’s Idomeneo in July.
At the end of last season Ms. DiDonato triumphed at San Francisco Opera in her first debut as Richard Strauss’s Octavianl; the San Francisco Chronicle headlined its review “Robust, tender DiDonato shines in ‘Der Rosenkavalier’.” But her wily, feminine charm as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Metropolitan Opera won over audiences in New York and on cinema screens all over the world, and she was called “the best Rosina around” by the London Sunday Times for the portrayal. Her other new roles last season were the Composer in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos in Madrid and Idamante in a new production of Mozart’s Idomeneo in Paris. The crowning glory of the season for Joyce DiDonato was the honor of receiving the Metropolitan Opera’s Beverly Sills Award, given to an American Singer for outstanding leading roles at the Met. Additional honors include the Richard Tucker Award, bestowed upon a single American singer annually, second place in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, and prizes from the George London Foundation, the ARIA Award Foundation, and the Sullivan Foundation.
After beginning her career in the U.S., Joyce DiDonato developed an enthusiastic worldwide following in opera, concert, and recital. In addition to appearing with major opera companies in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Geneva, London, Milan, Munich, New York, Paris, San Francisco, and Tokyo she has sung at Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, and Carnegie Hall as well as with the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Orchestre National de Paris, St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra, and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Ms. DiDonato has had important triumphs at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro and in performances and recordings with Alan Curtis’s ensemble, Il Complesso Barocco and William Christie and his Arts Florissants.
Born and educated in Kansas, the dynamic and engaging mezzo soprano was a member of the young artist programs of the San Francisco, Houston Grand, and Santa Fe Opera companies after graduate studies at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts.
Two seasons ago Joyce DiDonato gave her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro, sang her role debut as Sesto in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito at the Geneva Opera, and returned to Covent Garden as Rosina in a new production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia — receiving the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Singer of the Year award. She reprised her tour-de-force as Dejanira in Handel’s Hercules in New York and London, earning a prestigious Laurence Olivier Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Opera. London’s Guardian newspaper stated “Joyce DiDonato gives the performance of a lifetime as Dejanira, hurling out coloratura with the fury of a psychopath before descending into insanity.” Finally, she capped off the season with a triumphant role debut in the title part of Massenet’s Cendrillon at Santa Fe Opera.
Whether singing La Cenerentola all over the world, raging as Handel’s Dejanira, or portraying Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking (her New York City Opera debut in 2002), Joyce DiDonato demonstrates the ability to breathe emotional life into the characters of her wide-ranging repertoire.
Jake Heggie is the composer of the acclaimed operas Dead Man Walking (libretto: Terrence McNally), Three Decembers (libretto: Gene Scheer), The End of the Affair (libretto: Heather McDonald), To Hell and Back (libretto: Scheer), At the Statue of Venus (libretto: McNally), more than 200 art songs, plus orchestral and chamber music. Upcoming works include an opera based on Melville’s Moby-Dick (libretto: Scheer), starring tenor Ben Heppner, for the Dallas Opera, San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera and Calgary Opera; and a collaborative project with playwright Richard Greenberg for the Metropolitan Opera in association with Lincoln Center Theater.
Heggie’s operas have been performed by more than a dozen American companies including San Francisco Opera, New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Baltimore Opera, Opera Pacific, and Seattle Opera. Recently, the operas have been featured in international productions by companies in Australia, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, and Austria. Dead Man Walking has been performed more than 100 times since its premiere in 2000, with more than 50 performances in 2007 alone, making it one of the most performed new American operas.
Other major works by Heggie include the theatrical song cycle For a Look or a Touch (libretto by Scheer, based on stories from the film Paragraph 175), the song cycles The Deepest Desire (poetry by Sister Helen Prejean), Statuesque, Rise and Fall, and Friendly Persuasions (all with poetry by Scheer), Here and Gone (poetry by Housman and Lindsay), and the cello concerto Holy The Firm: Essay for Cello and Orchestra. His setting of the Final Monologue from Master Class (text: McNally) was written for and premiered by Joyce DiDonato, and has recently been championed by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.
Recordings include Dead Man Walking (ERATO), Flesh and Stone (Americus), To Hell and Back (Magnatune), The Faces of Love (RCA Red Seal), The Deepest Desire (Eloquentia), and For a Look or a Touch (Naxos).
Heggie was the recipient of a 2005/2006 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and has been composer-in-residence for the San Francisco Opera, Eos Orchestra, and Vail Valley Music Festival. Singers he collaborates with as pianist and composer include Frederica von Stade, Susan Graham, Audra McDonald, Joyce DiDonato, Kiri Te Kanawa, Kristine Jepson, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Patti LuPone, Kristin Clayton, Leah Partridge, Zheng Cao, Paul Groves, Nicholas Phan, Keith Phares, and Bryn Terfel.
James Keller brings his perspectives as a musicologist and music critic to Opera Odyssey. A dry recitation of facts tells us that Mr. Keller is Program Annotator of the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony. Keller has been presented as a speaker by the San Francisco Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Lincoln Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, 92nd Street Y, Brooklyn Philharmonic, among many others. His writings have appeared extensively in The New Yorker, where he served as music editor from 1990 to 2000, as well as in Opera News, Travel & Leisure, the Sunday New York Times, Le Monde de la Musique, Gramophone, Newsday, Strings, and BBC Music Magazine. In 1999 he was awarded the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for feature writing about music.
Mr. Keller describes himself as "a historian by training and bias" and says he likes to put history and tradition in a context that makes them approachable. Through education and experience, he has an interest in all aspects of music, from its history, its composition, its performance, its venues, its production, its media of publication, and its commercial aspects, to its celebration.
How did this lively, multidimensional appreciation of the world of music develop? Keller was trained as an oboist and musicologist at Oberlin, where he received Bachelor's degrees in music and Romance languages. He holds a Master of Philosophy degree from Yale University, and took graduate-level courses at Université de Paris-Sorbonne. He earned a Diploma in the Careers in Business program of New York University's Graduate School of Business Administration. Mr. Keller has carried out conservatory studies in oboe, recorder, voice, harpsichord, continuo, and piano; and his recordings of medieval and Renaissance repertoire for Norton Books' History of Western Music have remained in print (on CBS/Sony Special Products) for more than thirty years.
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