sábado, 28 de noviembre de 2009

Interview with Joyce Di Donato

Photos: © Sheila Rock, courtesy of Virgin Classics; © Marty Umans; © Catherine Asmore; ©Terrence McCarthy, SF Opera©
Ramón Jacques
Joyce Di Donato, has a new Rossini CD out, and thanks to this composer she will make her much anticipated debut at the Los Angeles Opera singing the role of the feisty Rosina in the Barber of Seville. She first discovered she had a major gift for singing Rossini when in the fall of 1996 she found her way to the Houston Grand Opera Studio. She was once dubbed “the Rossini mezzo for the next generation” and success after success she’s now much-in-demand for her signature Rossini heroines: Angelina in La Cenerentola and Rosina. My first encounter with Joyce’s artistry occurred in 2001 at the Houston Grand Opera where she was singing the role of Dorabella in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. At that time, my friend Laura Chandler, the editor of Houston’s Opera Cues magazine urged me to interview the singer, who in her own words described herself as “Passionate, Adventurous and with a light, humorous outlook on life” and so I did...... Here’s the interview that wasn't published before. Cheers Joyce! Break a leg! (but not literally again…I hope)

How do you explain the fact that the U.S.A. has become a mass-producer of great operatic voices?
I think that a lot of emphasis is put on learning a real, proper and sustainable vocal technique. But because in general we are at a disadvantage in not being raised speaking several languages, we know that we have to work extremely hard to pass the scrutiny of opera lovers. Preparation and a strong work ethic are really drilled into young singer’s psyche in the conservatory, so we don’t shy away from the hard work. The risk, however, is that we are trained to aim for ‘perfection’, and that is a dangerous ambition for an artist – so I think the one thing missing (again, in general) in an American musical education, is the priority of expression and improvisation that I believe is also essential to our art form.

In your case, what attracted you to opera?
My 3rd year in college I stepped onto the stage in my first opera, singing in the chorus of Die Fledermaus, and I was immediately, irrevocably hooked. In my studies, I realized very quickly that opera required every single part of my being: physical, intellectual, artistic, emotional, and even spiritual. The challenge of integrating all of these elements into one vocal line reaching into the audience is something that continues to ignite my passion today.
How important was your participation in Placido Domingo’s Operalia voice competition?
In practical terms it is where I was ‘discovered’ by my manager, who still remains my manager today, and who has helped build my career into something meaningful. In personal terms, to have the validation of the towering artistic legend, Maestro Domingo, is something that no other kind of approval can bring. It brought me the opportunity to sing with him on the winner’s concert, and that single duet from “Norma” will always be a highlight of my career, for sharing the stage with a presence such as his is something that can never be replicated! What a gift he is, and how generously he shares of it with so many young and aspiring artists. He is a hero.

Who has influenced your career in a positive and profound way?
If I have to choose one name, the single one that rushes to my mind is Frederica von Stade, for she exemplifies the kind of artist I admire and strive to be: overflowing in generosity, sincerity and integrity. I don’t have patience anymore for other kinds of artists; no matter how celebrated they may be, when their aim on the stage is to demonstrate how good they think they are, and to manipulate their way into the public’s good graces. This doesn’t interest me in the least. I prefer the performer who gives of their heart and soul to the audience, without expectation or need for validation. This, to me, takes courage and generosity, and that is what moves me.

How would you describe the current state of your voice?
This is tough to answer! In some ways I prefer to leave it to other people to say, for they are the only ones capable of knowing what it really sounds like – even if I hear myself on recording, it can’t be an accurate description, for it’s never the same as hearing it live in the theater! I do think that the repertoire I’m singing is perfect for me, and I’ve always planned on moving into the bigger Strauss and French roles, and this transition seems to be fitting quite well. I hope it’s growing in the right way and in the right time. What does make me happy is that I feel that I am able to accomplish technically the musical gestures I desire – and this is always my ‘technical goal’.

Do you know how many roles comprise your repertoire?
Gosh, I have never counted! Let’s try it: Mozart: 5, soon to be 6; Rossini: 4, soon to be 5; Handel: 6 (some only for recording); Donizetti: 1; Bellini: soon to be 1; Strauss: 2; Massenet: 1; Offenbach: 1; Berlioz: 1, soon to be 2; Premieres/Modern Opera: 4. Give or take – I’m sure I’m leaving some out! I hope there will be more big bel canto roles as well as more French heroines … but always with an equal amount of Rossini and Handel and Mozart.

Let’s talk about composers. For instance, Rossini’s Angelina in La Cerentola and Rosina in Barbiere di Siviglia have taken you to the most important opera houses around the world. Do you consider them your favorite roles?
I do, for it is such a joy to sing them.

Have you considered singing the “serious” operas by Rossini? and Gluck?
Yes, I have, and I hope those will both factor into my career in a significant way.

You’ve excelled singing roles in operas by Handel. How did you discover this composer?
Truly, he found me! The first real dose of Handel I had was covering Jennifer Larmore in Chicago’s production of “Alcina”. At that time, Handel wasn’t a ‘given’ for American opera singers, so we didn’t necessarily aim to be Handel specialists. But coming over to Europe, it was much more accepted and performed, and so soon the offers started coming in from “Handel Conductors”, and once I sang my first role on stage (Sesto in Amsterdam) I was completely taken aback about what a rich experience it was to perform Handel. I stupidly had no idea he was so dramatic and so rewarding to perform. I think he, as a composer, has taught me more than any other single composer, and I fully expect that to be the case as my career continues. No other composer asks so much of the individual performer to find raw and profound emotion – and for this, I think I may find his music to be the most gratifying to perform. It is also, by far, the most difficult to perform.

Mozart is another of your specialties. Would you agree (or disagree) that the characters in his operas are vocally perfect and challenging, but shallow and dull to interpret on stage?
Who in their right mind says Mozart’s characters are shallow? Seriously? They must be insane. Quite to the contrary, I find them rich, complex, fascinating, absorbing and utterly, completely human and flawed. I find them some of the most complex and human of all characters in opera. Each time I step foot on the stage to interpret a Mozart role, I feel an enormous and profound sense of honor and gratitude to sing them.
Early in your career you were cast to sing roles in world premieres (Jackie O, Little Women, Resurrection and Dead Man Walking) does singing contemporary opera still interest you?
Absolutely – for to be a part of the creative process (as opposed to just the interpretive process) is an extremely rich and gratifying experience. It has taught me how to learn a score thoroughly (which benefits me greatly when delving into ‘old’ operas, because I know I don’t have to rely on tradition or a CD to learn the role – I can rely simply on what the composer has put down on the paper), and it has given me the chance to perform works that resound with a contemporary audience – and there is no mistaking the visceral reaction that an audience feels when they witness the execution in “Dead Man Walking” to the polite, but sometimes distant reaction they have to traditional repertoire.

What's your opinion on modern stage productions?
I have absolutely no problem with any kind of staging whatsoever (traditional or ‘modern’) as long as it is true to the story. If the staging supports and tells the story, and doesn’t apologize for actually being an opera, then I embrace it fully. As long as a stage director can convince me of the ‘Why’ of what he or she is asking me to do – I am game for anything. What I cannot tolerate are stage directors coming in and asking to cut music because they don’t know what to do with it, or to change text because it doesn’t fit ‘their vision’, or that role their eyes when a singer can’t physically manage their invented circus act while sustaining the vocal line – this I cannot support. I say if they want to create their own opera, put pen to paper and write your own! But I hunger for a director who comes in prepared and finds new colors and suggests fascinating subtexts and discovers and searches and makes me think and delve and be more true and potent in my performance. This I love and thrive on.....

Pairing your vocal personality with the passion you’ve demonstrated onstage, I envision an outstanding Carmen. Would you ever consider singing the role?
I’m not sure about Carmen. She’s a tricky one, because no matter how you sing it, the majority of the public will feel you’re ‘not a real Carmen’. But considering how the role was written (for a true lyric mezzo), there’s no reason I shouldn’t sing it. But I would have to be certain to have a conductor who had a similar vision, and a stage director who knew the opera inside and out, and would stage it with true, heart breaking theatrical values.

Finally, what is that single moment you treasure the most on a stage as an opera singer?
Singing “Il padre adorato” in Idomeneo in my first performance a few weeks after my own Father’s death. It showed me the truth in Mozart’s writing, it illustrated the profound truth and power of music, and it showed me in a very visceral way how fortunate I am to do what I do – express emotion and truth through music. I’m still not sure how I actually sang that performance, but I have a feeling my Dad was with me every step of the way.

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