My Life: a week with Joyce DiDonato

Joyce DiDonato shares a week in her life as she prepared for the opening of La Donna del Lago at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the Grammy Awards in LA earlier this month.

Monday: I wake up in my own bed in my very own hometown of Kansas. Yesterday I performed at the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts – a jewel of a concert hall – for the Harriman-Jewell Series 50th Anniversary Gala. It was the first time Juan Diego Flórez and I have appeared in concert together and the anticipation was immense. In rehearsals we went through a flurry of improvisations, saying things like ‘I’ll enter here’ and ‘Let’s take the high note for eight beats this time’, and the adrenalin was pumping. The concert was a smash, and afterwards I escaped to a private dinner with close friends and family, mercifully escaping the Super Bowl frenzy that has captured the rest of the US. We had the restaurant entirely to ourselves. Heavenly.

This morning is not so perfect: my flight to New York has been cancelled, which means I’m missing an orchestra sitzprobe of La Donna del Lago for the Metropolitan Opera, so I’ll also miss my one chance to introduce my phrasing, tempi and timbre to the orchestra. But this is the Met, so I’m not in the least bit worried. My flight is rescheduled for tomorrow, and I profit from a free day by hitting my favourite vegan restaurant and hibernating away from the howling winter winds.

Tuesday: For the second day in a row flights are cancelled, and so for a third morning running I wake up in my own bed – I feel like I’ve won the lottery. I have been at home for a grand total of just 22 days in the past year, so this is a morning to be truly savoured. This bubble of bliss is quickly popped, though, by the realisation that I will miss the only full run-through of the opera before going on stage. I worry that my absence could potentially throw off the entire week of rehearsals, but there really is nothing to be done. I’m given another 24 hours to revel in my own home (the value of which, in terms of revitalising one’s spirit, should not be underestimated). I whip myself into action: months of receipts and paperwork are filed, and I get loads of laundry done. Talk about glamour!

Wednesday: Bingo! My 6.30am flight is going ahead and I land in NYC just as National Public Radio’s video from the Stonewall Inn gathering (a performance I organised) is going viral. At 10.30am, I head to the Met for rehearsals, and I’m greeted at the stage door by cameras rolling from [TV station] ZDF. The crew will be with me most of the day as they are filming me for a portrait piece, including an interview during the 30-minute break on stage. At 4pm I dash across town for a rehearsal (the dash is also being filmed) with Brentano String Quartet. I’m meeting with them for the first time, and we launch straight into discovering how our pieces fit together. At 8pm my day finally tapers off and I enjoy a huge plate of pasta away from the camera crew.

Thursday: I wake up in the same position I fell asleep in, not having moved all night, and it’s back to the Met for Act 2 with piano. I have to say it’s a bumpy rehearsal, with tensions running high: quite normal at this stage in the process. I dash back across the city to Carnegie Hall for a 4pm rehearsal with the quartet, putting the finishing touches to our pieces for a 7.30pm performance, including a set of lullabies written by single teenage mothers and mothers in prison. At the recital, the emotional heat is off the charts as we listen to their compositions being performed. These beautiful, soulful women are attending Carnegie Hall for the first time, one even mentions it’s the first time she has ever left Harlem. As I start the first song the chills in my body begin, and they don’t let up until well after I’ve asked them to take a bow for the rapturously applauding – and visibly moved – public.

JoyceDiDonato © Instagram JoyceDiDonato
JoyceDiDonato © Instagram JoyceDiDonato

Friday: I wake up cursing my snooze button, as my stylist for the forthcoming Grammy Awards arrives five minutes early at 7.45 am. We decide on a big Vivienne Westwood skirt, Alaïa belt and a simple black T-shirt, before I dash off to another staging at the Met. I’m finally beginning to feel fatigue setting in, but this is banished by euphoria as reviews (both personal and in print) roll in from the night before, and it’s clear that something very special happened at the performance. These are the moments that make all the delayed flights, long rehearsals and tiredness worth it. My day finishes after I pick up some jewels to wear for the Grammys, and back in my room I collapse in a heap to watch The King’s Speech.

Saturday: My alarm wakes me at the break of dawn so I can be whisked away to catch my 5.45am flight to Los Angeles for the Grammys. The only thing that makes it possible for me to rise from the mattress is the knowledge that the California sunshine is waiting at the other end. As soon as I’m off the plane in LA, I drop my luggage at the hotel and I head off for a bike ride along Venice Beach. I can’t think of a better way to finish the week – except for the heavenly glass of Napa Valley Pinot Noir that found its way on to my room service tray!

Sunday: I wake to the sound of waves crashing on Santa Monica’s pristine beach, order a California breakfast of organic berries (paradise in a bowl) and head off for a revitalis- ing, sun-drenched walk on the sand, knowing that these few stolen moments of sunshine will have to sustain me back in sub-zero NYC. The Academy did not choose to award me a Grammy this year, but the trip was hardly for nothing as it was a beautiful reminder that even opera singers are a part of a huge, powerful music industry and family – what’s more the people-watching was fabulous!