Joyce DiDonato makes opera feel fresh at BRAVO! series

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Leading classical vocalist Joyce DiDonato and Yale’s Brentano String Quartet joined forces Thursday, Sept. 22, for BYU’s third BRAVO! performance this season.

DiDonato, a Grammy Award winner, performs in classical concerts and operas throughout the world. She is renowned for her vocal talent and edginess in the field. Darrell Babidge, BYU associate voice professor and guest artist coordinator, said she’s one of the best out there.

Joyce DiDonato conducted a master with vocal performance students on Wednesday, Sept. 21, followed by her performance on Thursday, Sept. 22. Kansas native DiDonato said she remembers what it's like to study music at college. (Pari Dukovic)
Joyce DiDonato conducted a master class with vocal performance students on Wednesday, Sept. 21, followed by her performance on Thursday, Sept. 22. Kansas native DiDonato said she remembers what it’s like to study music in college. (Pari Dukovic)

“If you asked most people in the opera world today, they’d agree that she’s the leading mezzo-soprano in the world,” Babidge said.

Jeffrey Martin, BRAVO! series producer, said DiDonato is also known for her contemporary branding and involvement in social media. Contrary to the typical opera singer image, he said, DiDonato seems to have a finger on the pulse of popular culture.

“She kind of has this hip edge to her, I think, that a lot of classical singers don’t have,” Martin said.

The Brentano String Quartet, the quartet in residence at the Yale School of Music, started the concert with pieces by Bach and Haydn. DiDonato then joined them on stage for a compilation by Richard Strauss.

The pairing of an opera singer with a string quartet is unique, as opera singers are usually accompanied by either a full orchestra or a single piano. But this arrangement isn’t new to DiDonato or the Brentano String Quartet, who performed together at Carnegie Hall last year.

DiDonato took the stage again after the intermission, performing energetic Spanish arias and some well-known vocal audition pieces with a jazz twist.  She punctuated each piece with jokes and commentary, directing most of her remarks to music students in the audience. DiDonato simultaneously made fun of the struggles of the music industry while urging everyone to aim high and go after their dreams.

“You will never be worse off by dedicating so much to the pursuit of music, beauty, truth,” DiDonato said.

The audience kept DiDonato for two encores, and she ended the show with an operatic rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

The performance was made possible by an endowment given to the School of Music nine years ago by Nancy Marriott. Since then, classical vocalists have come once or twice a year to perform in the BRAVO! series. Babidge, who requests the appearances, said he usually gives Martin his top one or two names and those artists agree to come because of the BRAVO! series’ reputation for top-notch performers.

Babidge said he was very excited about this year’s visiting performers.

“We had Renée Fleming here earlier this year, and she’s like the top soprano in the world,” Babidge said. “To have them both on our campus in one year at BYU is quite the coup.”

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