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Joyce DiDonato, a different kind of diva

November 28, 2009 | 12:30 pm


For young opera singers, lucky breaks don’t come easy — and for mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato they tend to be incredibly painful.

This past summer, DiDonato was in London performing in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” (a role she reprises Sunday in her Los Angeles Opera debut). She was well on her way to a successful opening night at the Royal Opera House, one of the world’s most prominent opera houses, finishing the character’s famous aria, “Una voce poco fa.” Then suddenly, DiDonato tripped on a metal flap track onstage and fractured her fibula.

Most singers would (and probably should) have called for an understudy immediately, but DiDonato insisted on hobbling though Act 1. At intermission,  she swore off the doctors and went out for Act 2 using a crutch. She received rapturous applause at the curtain call and soon became a darling of the European press when she finished the entire run — not missing a single show — with her leg in a cast, singing Rossini’s ingénue from a wheelchair.

Speaking last month during a run of “Barber” at the Metropolitan Opera, DiDonato, 40, says she never considered not going back on stage: “That wasn’t an option for me. I just kept thinking, ‘I just sprained it. If I can put ice on it and keep it elevated when I’m offstage, then I’ll get through this OK.’ That was my thinking, it wasn’t at all that I can’t go on.”

In many ways, DiDonato represents a new wave of American opera singer — and not just because of her toughness. The stereotype of opera divas has long been women who are serious, stout and secretive — who liked to be adored only from afar. DiDonato could not be more different. She’s svelte, as cheery in person as she is on stage as Rosina, and has no interest living her life behind a veil of PR, spin and celebrity hauteur.

For James C. Taylor's Arts & Books profile of her, click here.

Photo: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times