One of my greatest pleasures is to listen to the mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who has just been named the Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year, a prize awarded by the Dallas Opera.
Miss DiDonato’s mellifluous coloratura voice has graced the world’s stages, entrancing audiences with her interpretation of works by composers including Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti.
Currently starring in Benoît Jacquot’s production of Werther by Jules Massenet at the Royal Opera House, Miss DiDonato is wowing London audiences in this tale of doomed and tragic love.
When I first met Miss DiDonato, I couldn’t help but notice she was vibrating with love and joy, and that many people were naturally drawn to her energy field and her warmth. They seem to soak up her aura and cannot get enough of it.
My personal affinity with her was heartfelt and instant. In each other, we recognised kindred spirits. And I admired her extraordinary musical talents, but also her generosity, her enthusiasm, her graciousness, and her passion to make the world a better place.
For Miss DiDonato is more than an opera star – she is a stellar human being, unafraid to use her position to support others, not least as a long-standing supporter of LGBT rights.
Miss DiDonato responded to the recent murder of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida by posting a link to her performance in February 2015 of Dido’s Lament from Henry Purcell’s 17th-century opera Dido and Aeneas. She performed that at the Stonewall Inn, a famous gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. The performance was given to commemorate the emergence of the modern gay rights movement, which had been sparked into life following riots at the Stonewall in 1969.
And at the 2013 Proms, she moved many to tears when she dedicated her performance of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, from the Wizard of Oz, to the LGBT community “whose voices are being silenced”, particularly in Russia.
I also admire her work with the Carnegie Hall’s outreach programme which last year saw her visit the Sing Sing prison in New York state, collaborating on songwriting and compositional projects. She also performed for the prisoners, as she did in April this year on a return visit.
But perhaps it is the support Miss DiDonato has given to the Dallas Street Choir which moves me most. This choir is made up of the homeless – people who have lost their voices as well as their places in society. By encouraging them to sing, the Choir gives back to these dispossessed men and women their dignity and hope.
Her performances for the Choir not only raised vital funds, but also endorsed the value of song as a mark of respectability.
She may be divine on stage, but Miss DiDonato is no clichéd diva: “I know that every time I step on the stage it’s a real gift,” she says. “So I try not to take it for granted, and I try to make it an experience that the public can really participate in.”
Miss DiDonato’s compassion and humanity is an example to us all. I am immensely proud to call her my friend.