Kirsty Young's castaway is the mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. Winner of two Grammy Awards, she is best known for her interpretations of Handel, Mozart and Rossini operas. Born into a Catholic family in Kansas, she was the second-youngest of seven children. Her love of music was awakened by watching her late father directing the local church choir. Her first ambition was to become a music teacher, but watching a televised performance of Don Giovanni during her third year at college ignited her interest in opera. After acceptance onto Houston Grand Opera's young artist programme, she overhauled her technique and went on to win second place in 1998's Operalia competition. Her first big role came in 2002 singing Rosina in The Barber of Seville in Paris and she made her debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 2005 at the age of 36. Since then her star has shone brightly and she has performed across the operatic spectrum, from contemporary works, such as Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking to Strauss and Handel. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is the bbc hulu on Kirsty young. Thank you for downloading this podcast of desert on an discs from BBC radio for for rights reasons. The music choices are shorter, the radio broadcasts for more information about the programme. Please visit bbc dotcom, dont uk, slash radio. For my car, The way this week is the opera singer, Joyce donato revered. As amidst soprano of exquisite capabilities. The variation in color she brings to her performances regularly leaves audiences and critics alike spellbound in all and admiration he opens her most and makes it all sound, well utterly effortless. It hasn't been at night,
Tina teacher told her. She was singing on the use and muscle and that her career would be over before it had even begun. at one point in her early thirties, she trudged rind a dozen european opera rises in two weeks and was rejected by every single one, but they may come toughen Kansas, the use of dedication, discipline and hard graft meant that when her moment to play the great rules, finally came, she will ready and then some covent garden. A few years back, she broke leg on stage and finished the knights performance on crutches completing the remainder of the run from a wheelchair. She says on a good night? I have the extraordinary privilege of breathing life into masterpieces, and that is a joy. What remains tough is the roller coaster sing hurtling. the high of having audiences screaming for you to the louvre sleeping alone in some horrible hotel, where you're overwhelmed by a feeling of unworthiness invaded
lies the rub, Joyce to denounce it. How do you manage that's, because that is much of your life? I ate is much of my life. It's interesting that the world of opera is full of extremities, so big tragedy, big love, big conflict, big high notes- and because, for some reason I have chosen this career that has that roller coaster that plunges you in to the depths and then whips you up to these heights and it takes a while the figure how to navigate that in order to us accede on the stage I have to be very present in every single the second that I'm singing. So if I'm worried about the note that didn't, go very well behind me or this scary, one, that's approaching I who's my sense of being now being here and producing the sound. Well, I can just step isn't now Somehow I I seem to stay in a relatively middle road. You once said the voice.
She's just a wild beast that you sort of just hold onto it, sounds like you must constantly have trying to rein in and and and get under control this professional life you have Well, there is an element of that and I see- that when I look at my calendar and that that can overwhelm me, but the truth is this business feeds me a lot. I be really exhausted at the start of a show, and I hear and overture starting and that music absolutely gives me energy lifts me up and energizes me in a way that I feel it I can climb vienna crime mt everest that night, let's go, let's go, I feel run over by a truck the next morning. but being immersed in such an dagger angli beautiful art form. That is what constantly gives me energy that and knowing the effect that it has on people. Listen to it. Let's go. The music choice did not to tell me about your first peace today.
Why'd you terseness, where you know. At the end of the day, I like music, to help me feel good, and I dont have a sin. let tee nor mediterranean cell in my body, I'm of irish descent in time as wide as they come. But something in my cornerstone is very let there be no order. Something. Latin music has always really resonated with me and it feeds me in a way that. Hopefully I do on stage whether people, so this is a tangle, an argentinian tango, one of the region I love this is sung by one of my dear friend and colleague, jose manuel Zapata, and he brings this really. While unfiltered didn't raw exuberance to the way he sings, and I feel that immediately when I listen to it.
Look we sit on caddy identify gideon does not mean that whatever the sort of italy and then on the amounts already do better data sharing this, wouldn't that pretty soon a runaway, maybe be able marrying me money fuzzy manuel supporter with Campbell archie from tangled mental model for that little bit, side of you. That is letting a will forever be letting oh. But of course, as you say, there's not a bit of you that is Letty no eu, the stages that you occupy, adjusted and after that maxwell s skull and so on a long way from tippins restaurant pie, pantry and hurry village. Kansas that was her. You worked as a teenage waiters, let let's ponds
for a moment on the subjects. The vexed question I imagine, of perfection in performance. This is true. And dental it sends the audience to that special place. You can't surely think about perfection. Something else has got to happen. Perfection can end up locking in the performance kenneth o a hundred per cent. We can become your biggest enemy as an artist. If my My goal is perfection I'll, be admired as a singer, say: oh that voice. It's incredible, look at what she does but to make somebody travel to a place. That is when we have let go, and that is that mental work, its psychological work has nothing to do with. Locality has nothing to do with the technique of a singer. It has to, happen mentally, and then you have to give yourself permission to just jump off. The cliff.
And does it come I mean often you know people will remarking you performances the, but the fact that you are you're really good actress does that come into two. Oh no question mean of young people write me there. Twenty twenty one years old and they say would amount to be an option, but what I had to do- and I see this tunnel vision and these wide eyes and their very ambitious, and I know that they sit with headphones and listened opera all day long and I say police stop listening to opera. First,
Due to europe, could travel go, get into trouble, go live life because again, opera is representing the huge extremity of life experience and, yes, we have to know our languages and we have to have our voice in good shape, but if we have nothing to say, if we're just going to attempt to make beautiful sound on the stage that lasts for about thirty seconds and then I'm bored, I want to feel something. I want that stage experience to help me. Look inside myself, more profoundly less here somewhere. Music, then tell me about your second. What are you gonna hear? This is this was my first real solo and it goes back to the high school days I had the most extraordinary high school choir director Carl wolf.
And he's the first person that really taught me the power of ensemble and creating something of so much beauty, that's impossible by yourself- and this was my first solo, my sophomore you're, nice close, probably fourteen or fifteen, and it's called that young child. Tatiana yeah. It was the.
hmm, the Noise in the yes. benjamin, Britain's that young child from a ceremony of cattle sung there by the american boy choir, so Joyce
and also that you said that was your first using solo peace when you were in the quiet, your father was a choir master. Was that night a part time quartermaster. You were very, very close to your desktop. Tell me about him yeah. He was an architect. He worked from home self employed is not a good business man. He would give his work away for free, but it was a wonderful architect and he was the volunteer church choir director. Our local catholic church that was really the biggest musical influence on me, coral, music and watching my father conduct the adult choir at church and was so a connection through music but a connection beyond music. He would spend a lot of time with him yeah. It's am. I miss him. We would tuck philosophy and we would talk astronomy we'd sit under the stars and ponder the universe.
what I realize now looking back on it was his dream was to be a musician. He grew up around the world war two time and his father. said no son of mine is going to be a pansy musician, and so that dream was squelched from the very beginning. To this day, he's probably was the some had the greatest appreciation and need for music that I've ever known and it brought him great comfort and solace and sometimes difficult life. So I think it it showed me from the very beginning. The power of music tat actually help somebody to heal somebody and
remember. He would come to everything that I did and with every concert he would save what sort of this kind of sense of astonishment. But you really doing this and you were one of the seven kits. I was number six of seven. You were six of some. So give me a little flavour of family life them ah well, chaotic disciplined. The catholic faith was the foundation of our family sunday, breakfast always together again, my dad being not a great business men finance was were scarcely difficult at times, so we all started working at the time we were thirteen or fourteen going back to tippins pie pantry. I started their winners. Fourteen we had a pair way through college. We had to help pay for the vacation. We almost lost our house one time and- and I think my father that really actually drove him quite
Two in a very frightening edge, which he came back from, was a lot of responsibility. I realize now it was probably too much responsibility for a thirteen or fourteen year old, but on the other hand I could handle it. Then I saw I was able to help contribute to the family. In that way, let's have some music choice. Did not tell me about your sir disk of that. What's this. Well. Ok, so this was my escape, so is, as all the pressures of the family were mounting up, I would escape to my upstairs bedroom steal my sister's lp of Jesus Christ superstar, and I grab my hair brush and I'd turn that volume up loud, as I could so even hearing my mother go turn that music down, I couldn't hear her and I became Mary Magdalen, the
Yes, the That was, I don't know how to love him sung by the original broadway cast from the andrew, lloyd, webber and tim rice, musical Jesus Christ superstar, and it seemed to me Joyce didonato, you are back in the bedroom. You had the hairbrush that were right in there Did you even need a here blossoming they must have been. You must have been aware that you will have to reflect singer. Quite a young age, nor, no quite actually, quite the opposite. I knew I was musical and I love the stage and I could sing in tune
but I was never never pointed out for having a great voice. The voice is actually the thing that I've had to build but that did not keep me from nailing this song? Ok, my bedroom. Is twelve new rights and an catholic school you are in the third grade when your teacher they are described, do as the perfect student. I wish all my students were like her mission. miller she sent a note home to my parents. It was you know that significant, because that became my identity. I think that happens to kids when the young, you become the troublemaker you become the teachers, pat you become the good student, and that became my identity. and what did your mother say it? Was she full of praise and warned that this great little note that come back, I see I remain where my dad's reaction, not my mom's, actually, I'm for. She reacted well. So tell me a bit more about your mom. What's she like? Well, you know
I'm so glad I've gotten older, because I have such a better understanding of her now He was the mother of seven kids with no money and staying at home, and it was really hard on her. I dont think she enjoyed being mom. She did the right things, but it was my sense was She was doing it out of duty, so I didn't get along with her and I think for a long time I you said so thing about not being worthy in the opening statement. I think that has been something that is the challenge for me is that what else do I have to do, that was really
fundamental part of my growing up. How what else too? I have to do to get her to see me and I happily have left that behind for the most part, but it was that was a very formative. Part of my upbringing. Let's have some were music Joyce did not tell me about you next one. This is it's your fourth of the morning. Well, this is still my high school years and again either it was in my bedroom with a hair brush or it was at the piano that I felt understood. This was the one place that I could express myself freely and I guess a little bit like my father. I started understand my place in the universe, because no other place made sense. So I really I lost myself in the world of Billy jaw. I could play his music on the piano and I'd come home from school a bad day. The boy friend didn't
pay attention to be that day and I I would lose myself in individual states. nice that attacked about all the knights eyes we're all that was The dual and scenes from an italian restaurant, it was all in their choice to denounce it wasn't metals waves and those are the day you studied local musical education at which the state university in Kansas, you went to studied next in philadelphia. You were studying vocal performance building, you're taking me
weak, but it was also where you learned, among other things, I heard not to cry in front of the conductor. Goodness me, that sounds tough. The best lesson greatest lesson I needed at that time. It was it's the academy of vocal arts in philadelphia, and it's really probably the top place to go and train as an opera singer, perhaps in the world, but certainly in america, and it's tough you're expected to ah to stand up. and to produce. You know the birth of an opera singer takes so much psychologically mentally musically vocally theatrically, and it's not easy, and it's not for the faint heart- and I didn't understand it at the time. Well, just tell me, but one of the demands cause. I read this and I don't know if it's true the first time that you were rehearsing at la scala for riccardo muti, you stood in front of him. He opened the piano lid began to play. Tell me what happened.
He asked me why I was singing so poorly and I were at that time, I'm a professional singer I don't think I was singing that poorly, but it's the prison, nice thing that I had learned at a v a that you have to be so tough mentally. You can get a bad critic, you could the audience could boo you, the maestro, could say you're, you're, terrible and you have to go deep down and find something within yourself that says no, I'm gonna sing and in this instance, he walks out of universal. Does
I even listened to using any more now, and what do you think this was a christmas concert and I thought: okay well at least I'll they're going to fire me, but at least I'll be home for christmas. Here's the truth about that. Now that I look back on it, you don't become riccardo muti without an exacting demand for excellence, and he was hearing something that was not excellent at that moment, and I contracted to sing in concert with the le scholar orchestra, with ricardo, muti atlas scholar in milan on television, and he was right to demand. Excellence was here
in the way he demanded it that's his way. He just hear her. He had this way of either I would have broken or I would have raised the bar and stepped up to the next level. Happily, I didn't break, but I stepped up to the next level and I'll tell you that concert was one of the best musical experiences. I've ever had not easy, but it made me better. Choice did and also tell me the next piece of music, then it's your face. Well, this is, I think, one of the great creations of all mankind, first of all, its by the titan Mozart, one of First roles, I ever thing I audition for carabine o the sword, star mental role in the opera, but I didn't get it in college. I got Marcelino the old lady if anything, but then happily, I was able to
come back and sink harrowby noise, a debut role in a number of important theatres, but also simply as a music lover. This is the peace that restores my faith in mankind and humanity. It's the overture to the marriage of figaro. The the the
part of my sons-
virtue to the a figaro with the chamber orchestra of europe conducted, thereby yannick a cigar. So the reason that you chose that choice does not, apart from being, as you say it, one of the finest piece of music, surely ever created was that it reminds you of your dave you at the met. That was two thousand and five. Yes tell me about the hours before tell me about what's going through, Your head ha ha a lot of nerves, a lot of excitement, a lot of responsibility there is that that idea that This doesn't go well, I'm finished, which is again a terrible place for an artist to be is in a defensive place. So one of the things I I try to do is to a lot of mental work. No you're prepared
you're ready for this. It's time. This is your moment. You know in train, go into a proactive mental space and what had taken you to the met by two thousand and five with these citizens tiny little bricks that all had been put in place and a lot of them were to do with rebuilding your technique, what to do with learning how to work with him Tell me about the time when you went round europe- and I said in the introduction there was by this
you had a manager, you were lined up to do certain auditions in two weeks you did a dozen and each presents edna carry on you're all right, we'll find somebody else. It was that certain things or decision, where the tired most decisively turned tell me about it. He had the lead up to that was. I had spent three years from twenty six to twenty nine rebuilding my technique. My voice teacher had said you have no future. Will you have to rebuild? And at this point all my colleagues for whizzing passed me, but after rebuilding the technique, I did find management, but it was european man,
meant. The european manager found me and said you have to come to europe because nobody over here knows who you are so. I said: ok and we set up a thirteen city, audition tour in sixteen days, and I got twelve outright rejections right away and it wasn't she's terrible. It was. We have nothing for her. We already have singers that fit in that area and my thirteenth audition. I was really tired and I was really over at all and I fought see I have no. I have no business in this career. It was the only a level house and it happened to be the paris opera and about two hours after me. decision and I think I sang the same audition that I had for the dozen before was the same voice. It was the same presentation, but they called and said we have a new production of the barbarous seville and I broke in at the EU level. Did you do anything to celebrate when you got a point,
I cried. I cried and I said what what and I kept saying are you sure? Are you sure really me to me what your next piece of music Joyce? What are we going to hear? No well, it goes back again to these corral days and listening to my father conduct the, higher, but also that sense of music, giving expression when, when I dont know what to say- and this is actually the peace we played at his funeral and the peace that brings tranquillity in millisecond. Everything can be out of control, and I put this on and I immediately come back to centre, the the
Randal Thompson's hallelujah, performed by the robert short chamber, singers Joyce did not, who I once read. You see an extremely funny thing about the four stages of an opera singers. To tell people about this, the eye effectually Francesca them. Bello first said this to me wonderful stage director and she was giving a talk to us the houston opera studio. We were very young and eager young artists and she gave this wonderful context for what we're, starting often she said, there's four stages to a career. I use my name for example, said who is Joyce Dita nano and then get me Joyce donato. The third stages get me, someone like Joyce dear nano, and the fourth and inevitable stage is who is Joyce data, not oh
so you are at least get me Joyce. He donato not get me somebody like eyes. The EU depends on which theater I might be between the two right now and living the life. You live, as we know, constantly on the rude constantly striving constantly managing the bookings in the diaries, a considerable strain, surely on personal relationships I'm sure you have been married twice are now in a relationship again. Is it to do with? As you explained, personal journey and the trajectory in the strength of that personal journey or is a logistics thing that makes it difficult. Oh wow, now that's a really good question. I will have to ponder this on my own for well. I think it's a. It is obviously a combination of the two, but ultimately, I would say it is that personal journey, the logistics of having any kind of
relationship in this career are very tricky you're, you wanna be best friends with somebody, but you can't be that person that brings them chicken soup when their sick an end that so that's difficult But ultimately I know in my case it really has been about giving myself permission to continue to grow I've had to reconcile a lot of guilt along the way because going back to the catholic thing, you know you get married and you take a vow in its for life and its struggle. When when your reality doesn't line up with what you thought you were going to do. But I know in my case every instance in my personal life has brought me to much deeper personal growth, and I don't have a single regret to me, but your servants. What are we going to hear? Well? This was em, I think of this because there
was a really cataclysmic event in my life in the world's life and was nine eleven, and I was in Washington dc the day that this happened. So it wasn't quite new york city, but DC was the second area of attack, and I feel, like my entire world, collapsed in that moment, because I'm not thing made sense to me here- was people in the name of their religion, doing something devastating. I went to church that morning and I saw a priest in the most remote way going through the motions- and I looked- and I said, but that this religion here there's that religion
I was already religion wasn't making much sense to me any more in it in a dogmatic kind of away and it just that part of my world dissipated. It didn't make sense any more and it was no longer a place that I could rationally fine comfort. So the thing that I turned to was music and in music. Was there to bring sanity back in and Oh what I would go to was you and in the name of love. was screaming this outgoing can't it just be about love. Can't we just stop the insanity of everything else and I'm till screaming that out today, and I hope one day we get it
the that, was you too and pride in the name of love, so Joyce did not too. I was very careful today in speaking to you not to use the word diva and the only person who said at the table is you of course, has also been ordered connotations now, but but do you rather enjoy sort of swanky king through the great opera houses of the world? And you do you have a good sort of writer? Do you make sure that
dressing room was painted a certain color, the now it's so much work. I find that so much work is and then I'm sort of I play a character on stage and I love it. I loved to disappear on this stage, but I really don't want to play a character off stage its exact sitting. I wanna be me I want to. I just I've tried that I try Don't do that coat? He heard. What did you do? Well, you know it's the behaviour, it's the dress and trying to add a sense of mystery. I've tried it in it. Just doesn't work and the truth is I ve broken through several other ceilings. By being myself and I think. The audience then can relate to me on a more genuine way because of it's who I am
wasted and also you know. The purpose of this whole conversation is that I'm about to cast you away to an island all on your own with your music. How will you manage practically, I mean? Are you somebody who can you know gas a fish or wrestle an alligator or a platter palm tree? To make a hat? I can learn yeah right now. I don't have the skills, but I'll figure out a way. I bet you will tell me about your eighth, then. What are we going to hear? Well, it's sister Helen prejean. Who is the dead man walking none? She first came to fame through the film with sean penn and susan sarandon as becoming a spiritual adviser to her
death row inmates, but her platform has become so much bigger than that, and I had the extraordinary privilege of now calling her my friend, but I first portrayed her in an opera and she penned a song cycle, also written by jake heavy called the deepest desire, its phenomenal to hear her talk about this desire to serve, and it's a four song cycle and the fourth She called it primary colours and the first part of the song she says I live my life in primary colors. I let praise and blame fall where they may. I hold my soul in equanimity and give the fruits of my labors to god, and then she says how she finishes her day.
the the Hmm, the, the When the voice was my castaways Joyce and also the peace, was the deepest desire for meditations on love, primary colors, composed by jake heavy and the music, was performed by the Kansas city symphony
it's time, then Joyce to send you away with the books. We give every castaway two books, they get the complete works of shakespeare and the bible, and then they get to take another book to what will Europe be? My go to book is called the power of one which sounds like a self help, but but it's not it's actually a novel by bryce courtney by boy growing up in south africa and its fascinating and inspiring and long look. I could take a long time reading a choice, We also allow you and luxury. You know. I think I will want to hang sound so silly. And I am assuming I can bring a misuse- your assuming correctly here. Ok, stupid rules. I bring some lavender scented oil,
beer, I measures can be stressful being on the island and it will call me down in a nice way good for the bites good for the son out an illusory it. Certainly yours and finally, if you had to say just one of these eight discs from the waves if they were to threaten to be washed away, which one discord you safe. I think I would if the jake heavy its he's a friend sister Helen as a friend, it's talks about the big picture. it's gonna remind me about what's really important and I'd be surrounded by friends, choice did and also thank you very much for letting us here, your desert island discs. Thank you. The
you ve been listening to a diamond from the bbc. fine, more information on the radio for website BBC co, uk slash radio for the The.
Transcript generated on 2022-06-19.