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Interview | Joyce DiDonato

By Dan McHugh

Joyce Didonato, the American Mezzo-Soprano, stars in opera houses across the world. In 2019, she spoke with The Classical Station’s Bob Chapman, host of the Thursday night Opera House, about her new release, Song Play. This album won the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album.

Joyce DiDonato
Photo by Simon Pauly

Song Play contains Italian Baroque songs and American Standards performed in original jazz arrangements. Remaining true to her operatic roots, Ms. DiDonato added a new interpretation to pieces that are customarily used as beginning repertoire. During the interview, she expressed what she wanted to achieve in this recording:

“I said that I have two requirements if we go forward with this. And number one is that I have to still sing all of these pieces, whether it’s the Italian or the American standards. I have to sing it with my voice. And the other requirement was to bring in top-level musicians who know how to straddle both worlds of classical and jazz. And I think that’s the reason we’ve ended up with something really special. You know, I didn’t want to try and become a jazz singer overnight because that’s such a specialized lifelong study.”

As a world-renowned singer, Joyce DiDonato takes on many roles. From a recent performance in Handel’s Agrippina with the Metropolitan Opera (a 2021 GRAMMY-nominated performance) to the trouser role in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, Ms. DiDonato’s repertory spans centuries. While speaking with Bob Chapman, she talked about adding her personal touch to music:

What I’ve been doing my whole career is playing with color and playing with the text, and especially in the baroque world, going into this music and bending the pitch and making things a bit more bluesy or more straight down or more full throttle. That’s exactly what, in my opinion, all of these pieces (in Song Play), as we’ve done them, it just requires that heartfelt communication and the ability to paint colors with the voice. So for me, this really wasn’t stepping outside my comfort zone at all. It was just sort of embracing the world of harmony changes and a bit stricter rhythm …

Visit our Conversations page to listen to the entire interview with Joyce DiDonato. Or listen on our app. Every Sunday evening from 6-9 p.m. Eastern The Classical Station’s Preview! features new recordings and interviews with classical musicians.

Photo of Joyce DiDonato by Simon Pauly