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Joyce DiDonato

Joyce diDonato
Joyce DiDonato as Cherubino in Lyric’s 09-10 production of The Marriage of Figaro. Pictured with Danielle de Niese.

Joyce DiDonato as Rosina in Lyric’s 07-08 production of The Barber of Seville.

The perfect 21st-century diva.

She has been called “perhaps the most potent female singer of her generation” by the New Yorker, while The New York Times referred to her as “the perfect 21st-century diva – an effortless combination of glamour, charisma, intelligence, grace and remarkable talent.” Audience-loved, critically acclaimed, Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato is making her much-anticipated return to Lyric Opera of Chicago to open Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito on March 5th – and she can’t say enough about this rarely performed gem that marries a scintillating plot about a Roman political scandal with some of Mozart’s most sublimely beautiful music. 

The opera tells the intensely psychological story of the Roman Emperor Titus, or Tito. Power-obsessed Vitellia, daughter of the recently deposed emperor, is determined to have Tito as her husband – or to have him murdered. When Tito chooses another as his empress, a seething Vitellia turns to Tito’s best friend, Sesto, who is fiercely consumed with lust for her. Seductive, desperate, and fixated, Vitellia convinces Sesto to assassinate the Emperor. When their plot fails and their ultimate betrayal is revealed, the two must face Tito – and Tito must determine their fate. 

“There is no doubt that Clemenza is a masterpiece, and that Sesto is one of the most tortured characters in opera,” shared DiDonato. “There is a big discussion as to whether he is weak or not – but I don’t think he’s weak at all. I think he’s blinded by passion, completely torn between loyalty to the friend and ruler that he loves, and the woman that he loves. It certainly seems to me that Mozart had a special place in his heart for Sesto, as I don’t think he wrote a single extraneous note for him. And his second act aria, 'Deh per questo' is a pure masterpiece.” 

For a singer like DiDonato, whose recent engagements run the gamut from starring roles at world renowned venues like London’s Royal Opera to song recitals and concerts around the globe, she shares that her preparation for every performance has the same through-line: “I want to be certain that I am deeply inside the thinking and emotions of a character. But Sesto is challenging – Sesto is Mozart at his most demanding. There is a coveted purity of line through which a world of emotion must travel, but not be overdone. It’s a very draining evening!” 

An opera that can be enjoyed equally by both seasoned fans and novices, DiDonato hopes that Chicago audiences will love Clemenza. “The biggest strength, aside from the glorious music, is its pure humanity. Sesto is blinded by love. Vitellia is blinded by power. Tito is the one who stands up against his pain and betrayal to do what is right. Isn’t it amazing that we can still learn – more than 200 years later – from this incredible work?”

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Lyric Opera presentation generously made possible by Julie and Roger Baskes, The Negaunee Foundation, and Roberta L. and Robert J. Washlow.