* DiDonato's portrayal of doomed Mary Queen of Scots is hit
* American soprano says worked hard to master role
* Does kickboxing to keep fit, finds gym machines boring
By Michael Roddy
LONDON, July 9 On stage and off, you don't want
to tangle with Joyce DiDonato - American soprano extraordinaire
and practised kickboxer too.
The 45-year-old diva has been leaving audiences at the Royal
Opera House in Covent Garden roaring for her singing and
performing of the hugely demanding bel canto (beautiful singing)
role of the doomed Queen Maria Stuarda - Mary Queen of Scots -
in the second of Donizetti's three Tudor operas.
There's hardly a more gripping and dramatic scene in opera
than the one at the end of Act Two when DiDonato as Maria has a
knock-down, drag-out confrontation with Queen Elizabeth I, sung
by the up-and-coming Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio.
They spit insults at each other, DiDonato hurls "vil
bastarda" (evil bastard) at her rival and pulls the tablecloth
from under Elizabeth's picnic lunch, sweeping all the food and
dishes to the floor - all this in the full knowledge that it
will ensure she has her head chopped off.
"I feel completely shattered," DiDonato, changed out of her
16th-century-style royal frock into a cocktail dress, told
Reuters at a reception after the opening night on Saturday.
"This is the most difficult role I sing so I always have to
step back a bit and make sure I've got some bit of me that is
engaged just in navigating the vocalising ... but there are two
moments when I just lose it and I'm really not present anymore,
and one of them is the confrontation scene," she said.
Otherwise DiDonato - who practises the martial art of
kickboxing to keep fit because she finds fitness machines boring
and shows off her arm muscles to prove it - thinks that in this
production she has finally nailed a role she has also played at
the Houston Opera and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
"The first time, in Houston, the part was 'singing me' kind
of from beginning to end but I got through it. I did a lot of
work and when I got to New York I'd say there was about 16
percent of the opera that was still 'singing me' and at some
point I just had to get through those particular moments.
"Here I finally feel like now it's mine, I'm choosing in
every moment how I want to sing it rather than this is the only
way I can do it and I've never felt that with another role. This
has been the biggest learning curve for me."
Here's what else she had to say about her long climb to the
top of a cut-throat profession, her upcoming South American tour
and new album after winning a Grammy in 2012 for "Diva Divo":
Q: You didn't have one of those immediate career successes,
and didn't really hit your stride until about a decade ago, when
London and European audiences embraced you before you'd become a
star at home. Now you are a regular at the Met and sometimes
host the global HD broadcasts. What's it like being at the top?
A: If you're at the top the bottom comes very quickly
(laughs). But really, the only way through the time when you're
not getting work and when it's hard and when things aren't
coming is to go back and do the work you have to do. The work is
what will get you through and if a singer starts to fail there's
no way you can hide it, you have to work with what you have.
Q: You've got a big South American tour coming up and a new
album of bel canto songs from Naples, but from some little known
composers. Why this flirtation with the southern climes?
A: I was in South America just two years ago and after my
first concert in Santiago I was so surprised that first of all
it was sold out and then they literally showered the stage with
flowers ... These audience were thirsty, and especially the
young people, so after the first concert I called my manager and
said let's find another tour and we booked it ...
There's a passion, an unfiltered joy and exuberance and that
will lead me into the launch of "Stella di Napoli" which is my
next album and really it's sort of an homage to bel canto opera.
(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Gareth Jones)