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Interview: Joyce DiDonato

Most performers would dash off the stage after falling and breaking an ankle. Not opera star Joyce DiDonato – Steven Ang finds out more

Joyce DiDonato

Think Madonna’s onstage fall at this year’s Brit Awards was shocking? Try literally breaking a leg mid-performance and continuing the run of shows in a wheelchair. American opera singer Joyce DiDonato, one of the biggest names in the international operatic circuit, made headlines for doing just that.

During a run of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville at London’s Royal Opera House in 2009, the mezzo-soprano slipped at the end of the first act but insisted on continuing the performance with a crutch. ‘It was a challenge, to be sure, but also a wonderful experience,’ DiDonato recalls. ‘The role of Rosina is a character that I know inside-out, and I think that helped me improvise the performances in the wheelchair.’ Hopefully, when the diva takes the Esplanade Concert Hall stage in May, there won’t be any accidents.

DiDonato presents selections from her 2012 LP Drama Queens, a concept album of baroque arias written for powerful female characters, monarchs and sorceresses among them. The album was recorded with the baroque orchestra, Il Complesso Barocco, and their music director Alan Curtis. Musicians from the orchestra will perform as Il Pomo d’Oro and support DiDonato.

While Drama Queens isn’t her latest album, the singer has a soft spot for it: ‘It’s a project that has incredible depth, and one that I enjoy returning to often. It’s the perfect project to introduce myself to a new audience.’

Country Girl
This eager, optimistic attitude is what catapulted a little girl from a small town in the US onto the world’s biggest opera stages. Born Joyce Flaherty in 1969 to an Irish-American family, she started performing in choirs and musicals in high school. Music college came next, followed by apprenticeships with professional orchestras/ But what really earned her accolades is her no-holds-barred performances of florid baroque and bel canto music: quick tunes that require pitch-perfect accuracy. DiDonato takes it a notch higher, declaiming verses with the ferocity of a thespian – yes, even when on a wheelchair.

‘I started in the theatre, so I had to actually build a singing technique that would serve the dramatic component as I wanted,’ explains DiDonato. ‘I had oceans of expressive musicality swirling around in me dying to get out. Once I felt secure in my technique, the sky was the limit for me. Hopefully it still is!’

So what would she do if she ends up falling bum-first at the Esplanade? ‘One can never know until they’re in the position!’ laughs DiDonato. ‘But I can say that having sung ill before, and having to sing very soon after the deaths of family members, I’d imagine I would find the strength somewhere.’

Joyce DiDonato is at Esplanade Concert Hall on May 4. 7.30pm. $40-$140.

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