This essay is one in a series of profiles showcasing artists who will be honored in the 2018 National Sawdust Gala, to be held on May 10 at the Alhambra Ballroom in New York City. For more information, see nationalsawdust.org/gala.
“The reason opera is timeless, and the reason opera has existed for so long, is it speaks to fundamental humanity in a grand scope, and it allows us to rip open our hearts and feel things. And in 2018, we need to remember what it’s like to feel.”
It’s a long, long way from Prairie Village, Kansas, to the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, the Barbican Center, Covent Garden, and so on – and Joyce DiDonato worked hard every step of the way, overcoming setbacks and rejection to earn the renown she now enjoys as one of the finest vocal artists of our time. Her path may not have been easy or quick, but it led her to exactly where she belongs: on the world’s greatest stages, and in the hearts and memories of countless admirers around the world.
Her talent is undeniable, as anyone who has seen or heard her perform can attest. But what truly makes DiDonato an artist to cherish – and a disruptor of the highest order, as well – is the deep, generous passion she has shown in her tireless quest to remind us all just how central a role the arts can and must play in our lives.
Her own passion was ignited at an early age. “I was very lucky – I grew up in a very musical household,” she says of her suburban childhood. “From an early age, through piano, through singing, I had an outlet to express myself.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that learn that DiDonato is committed to bringing the arts to young people who haven’t enjoyed the same opportunities and resources. “I don’t know how many scientific studies we have to go over and over and over that prove how effective arts education is in helping children in all aspects of their lives,” she says. “For some reason, we as a society have eliminated that from our cultural fabric, and from our educational fabric. And it’s tragic, and it’s a horrible mistake.”
That art and life are inextricably bound is demonstrated as well in the work DiDonato has done with inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, the maximum-security prison in Ossining, New York, as part of a Weill Music Institute program. Emboldened by one of her signature roles –the activist nun Sister Helen Prejean, in Jake Heggie’s opera Dead Man Walking – DiDonato not only shared her abundant talent with the prisoners, but also inspired some to embrace opera as a creative outlet through which they could tell their stories and express their emotions.
Whether she’s working with inner-city youth or prison inmates, her motivation to share her art is consistent and compelling: a message she shared in a rousing commencement address she delivered to new Juilliard School graduates in 2014. “I wanted them to know how powerful their mission is, and the possibility for them as they go out into the world,” DiDonato says. “They can change lives. And if you change one life, you change the trajectory of the world.”
Video, dance, live-action painting—even moving seats and craned necks—were part of what Vivien Schweitzer experienced witnessing Anthony Roth Costanzo's 'Glass Handel' at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
A Miller Theatre Composer Portrait showcasing high priestess of musical eclecticism Du Yun, Jennifer Gersten writes, displayed her formidable skill for making her influences cohere as visceral, gratifying narratives.
https://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Du-Yun-inset-2.jpg600900Jennifer Gerstenhttps://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/national-sawdust-log.pngJennifer Gersten2018-11-19 18:18:552018-11-19 18:18:55In Review: Du Yun Composer Portrait