Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lessons learned

I don't know that I've ever felt quite as much relief for a show closing as I did with the finish of this most memorable and unbelievably special "Barbiere" in London last week. I truly have never experienced anything quite like it, and now that I've had some time to reflect on all that happened, the exhaustion has indeed set in!! I've taken this past week to rest up, regroup and rest! (Did I mention that I've been resting?) I had no idea how many different muscles (upper back/shoulders) would be involved in singing from a wheelchair, as I was left feeling as if I had run a marathon after each show. But sore muscles aside, it was one helluva ride!!!

Let me be clear: without question it is a ride I hope never, ever to repeat - hence my game plan to dive full-force into physical therapy and resume my yoga regime enthusiastically as soon as I possibly can. (Although I have found that there are a number of yoga postures I can actually accomplish with a bit of imagination!) But having said that, it is an experience I wouldn't trade for anything in the world: it has only confirmed in my heart and soul how important the experience of theater can be (both for performer and audience member) and how necessary it is in our lives.

From a personal standpoint, if you had told me one month ago that I would have this particular challenge ahead, I would never have thought that I could do it. And yet, when the challenge confronted me, in a split-second (that damned split-second!), there was no question for me whether to continue or not. Perhaps it's the Midwesterner in me that simply knew I had a job to do, so I said to myself "shut up and just do whatever you have to do to get the job done, already!" To me, that wasn't heroic - it was simply me doing the job I was hired to do. But you throw into the mix the support of so many people - the amazing staff of the Royal Opera House who treated me to the very best of care, the astonishing cast who didn't blink a single eye in rearranging the show to accommodate a Rosina on Wheels, the brazilliant fans who supported me with such gusto and VERVE welcoming me with open arms for each performance, my tireless friends who helped to keep my morale so very high, and not at all the least, my heroic husband who kept me laughing non-stop through this all, literally carrying me through this - and all of a sudden I could do things I never thought possible.

(My exceptional cast who truly helped carry me through each show)

Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but it's the simple truth: aside from the pain and inconvenience, I had a real ball with this. The first night that I entered into the stage on wheels, I had NO idea of what to expect, of how to play it, or how it would turn out - the truth is, none of us did. That very first night every single, solitary thing was improvised by the entire cast. (I think that was only possible because #1 - we had rehearsed this show impeccably exploring all the individual intentions and interactions profoundly, #2 - this is a cast who knows this show inside and out, and #3 - every single member of the cast is a stage animal with real theatrical instincts, so we could actually continue to tell the story of these characters, even while completely making things up on the spot.) After the throw of my first dart at the start of "Una voce poco fa", I felt immediately that the audience was going to be with me, and that somehow, this was going to work.

From that moment on, I grew in confidence and made the decision that there was no point in trying to hide the fact that Rosina was on wheels - I simply had to run with it, so to speak. And within the very first phrases of that famous aria, I felt IMMEDIATELY how trapped Rosina actually is. It had never been quite so literal before, but I used that and felt it and played it, and in the end, I fell in love with this particular version! (But let me be clear - I never EVER need to repeat it!!) The overwhelming sense of independence I felt in wheeling myself around, the deep sense of frustration of being trapped and unable to join in the games on stage, and the immense sense of freedom I had as I pulled myself onto the stage in the final moments of the opera, all contributed to making this girl come very much alive to me, and I hope to always carry her around with me.

From a very technical standpoint, once the run carried on, I began to observe how I was singing differently. Yes, I had to pay attention to my support in a different way since I was seated for the entire show, but I realized that because I could rely less on my physical body to "act" for me, I had to resort more and more to simply the voice. Back in my AVA days in Philadelphia, we had a brilliant monster of a Maestro who tormented us with unmatchable expectations and demands. (He worked with Serafin in the "good ol' days" of bel canto with Callas, etc. HA! As if there is an "etc" with Callas! Did I really write "Callas, etc"?!?!) BUT, he would spend literally HOURS on a single page of recitative until we got all the myriad colors to literally burst off the page. "ACT WITH YOUR VOICE NOT WITH YOUR HANDS!!!" It was exhausting, demoralizing work, ("Can't I do ONE phrase right? WHAT MORE DOES HE WANT FROM ME? BLOOD!?!?!?"), and yet in the end, to this day, I can hear his voice in my head as I prepare those recits, and I drew on that voice while in my chair to concentrate even further my "vocal acting" to bring this character to life.

That freedom of acting with the voice is of paramount importance to me and one of the million reasons of why I love what I do. But I also have to say, in the interest of full disclosure, I REVELED in the opportunity to find ways to "act" with my trusty chair and with my enforced confinement. "How to give adolescent attitude with one push of the wheel?" "How to show astonishment with only the pivot of a wheel?" "Normally I should fall to the floor at this point in utter shock, so how I can I accomplish that in this chair?" I loved solving those problems and found that indeed I had a full range of possibilities to play with - and that kind of challenge is something that really gets my blood pumping!

(With my dear friends, Bill & Kevin, who happily took the cast out for a day of sightseeing!)

So in an odd way I will miss my "Rosina on Wheels" and return to "Rosina in Heels" soon enough (although they will likely be modified heels to start with!). But the lessons I've learned from this experience will hopefully fuel all of my performances, and the utter kindness of people has put a permanent smile on my face. How FABULOUS to be a part of a "good news story" in these particular days of news of the other sort.

For now, I've been soaking up the lovely weather here in Aix-en-Provence (even if I'm a bit sick that I can't get out and go hiking or swimming or do a major photo excursion here, but perhaps it's just as well I'm simply resting up.). I'm ready to revisit this amazing journey of "Furore" once again here in the place where Dajanira was born for me 5 years ago - how lovely to return to this spot and bring her journey with me full circle. And then what I expect to be an amazing road trip through Austria (my first!) to debut in Salzburg, which is beyond a dream come true for me. Whether I'll be seated or standing on my one good leg, I don't yet know - I need to see how I feel on the day, try some various positions in rehearsal and play it a bit by ear (something I've gotten quite good at!) But I can tell you it is far easier to sing sitting down than to sing on only one leg - I haven't found way to locate the support I need in that way just yet - most especially for this challenging concert. I'm still not allowed to put any weight on my delicate right fibula, but I'll get there!!

Finally, I want to simply thank each and every one of you for your support - whether in applause, in writing, with flowers or cards - it has touched me deeply. It doesn't escape me how fortunate I am to have had such an active flood of support - goodness knows there are countless people that face difficulties and don't have this kind of outpouring - so I consider myself beyond blessed. Your words have meant so very much to me, and in the end, it is quite true that you are the reason I sing. Thank you.


Ann said...

You go, girl. I never had a doubt you would take this injury, work past it and dazzle people along the way.

Soon you'll be back taking photos and on your feet!

Glòria said...

We are fortunate to have been able to attend the performance on 15 and have been able to meet you after the function and at the ROH's store.

We hope you will enjoy your days off and you will be soon 100% physically, because vocally even in a wheelchair you has been masterful!.

Thanks for your simpathy and we look forward to seeing you in Barcelona next January!.

Irishrover said...

I would have SO loved to be able to see you in this Barbiere ! My, this is something you don't see everyday, a diva in wheelchair ! So disappointed the DVD will not be released after all... Do you know why ? If it's because of your accident, it's a huge mistake, this would have been an unforgetable Barbiere. I hope they will reconsider their decision, for everybody should be able to see your incredible determination and engagement. This is a Rosina to remember. And I can't come to see you in Aix or Salzburg either(I'm cursed), so big cheers for your upcoming concerts.

Toï toï toï !

Alixkovich said...

We'll keep supporting you until you're completely recovered!

Raisa said...

Dear Joyce:
My son is probably your youngest fan - he is only 6 months old.
He loves your Furore CD, especially Crude Furie. He gets all happy and excited every time he hears it.
From us both - all the best with Furore concerts and THANK YOU!

Mei said...

Get all the rest you can and take care...

Looking forward to your upcoming performances...

Gerald said...

Toujours le sourire Joyce! C'est merveilleux! In bocca il lupo for tonight's concert (which will luckily be broadcasted), bonne route vers l'Autriche and toi, toi, toi for this prestigious big debut! Take good care of yourself.

steve49w said...

You are unique young lady! Only someone like yourself would perservere through this turn of events. Others would have cancelled, abandoned or phoned it in. Not Joyce! If only your beloved Royals could take you (and they BETTER) as an example. Zack can't carry the whole team. Maybe they ought to have a Joyce DiDonato day!

Irishrover said...

Wow, wait, tonight's concert will be broadcast ? On which radio ? I looked everywhere, and saw nothing ! Please the persone above me, tell me where :)

Erin said...

It's wonderful that you are getting so much out of this difficult experience. Rest up and heal quickly.

Susan said...

It's not surprising that you took what could be a depressing situation and turned it into an adventure!
I love how you have your leg up in the air for all the photos. It's like you're shouting, "This won't stop me!"
Glad to hear you're resting up - sending healing vibes your way!!

Sibyl said...

Everything about you just shines with some sort of inner sunlight. Enjoy the bejabbers out of Aix and have a total blast in Sazburg!

Gerald said...

Dear Irishover... and all the others interested, well the concert will be broadcast by France Musique on 7th August from 9to 11am (time of Paris).
Dear Joyce, I hope this retour aux sources with Haendel, went more than well yesterday night. Have a safe trip through the Alps, you will see the scenery is awesome and Salzburg is a jewel of a city. Enjoy et bon rétablissement!

Mimi said...

Hello again :D Glad to hear you've been resting!!! Your words of optimism concerning your leg will always bring a smile to my face (and remind me not to feel so sorry for myself when suffering minor injuries!) I hope you have an amazing time in Salzburg. When I discovered I was away for your concert in August I seriously considered canceling my holiday! Do you know if it will be broadcast? Again, have a lovely time in Salzburg and of course Aix-en-Provence.

Sarah said...

Tomorrow is the "encore encore" HD showing of the 2007 Met Barber - just a little over two years ago that I really discovered opera and one cheeky Rosina!! What you have accomplished since then! And what I have learned about opera and singing, not least from this very informative blog. I sometimes feel like that 6-month-old mentioned above!

Olga said...

I loved it when Pappano, announcing that you'll be a "Rosina on Wheels" said "Nothing can hold this woman down" :))

And I'm also among those who bored you a couple of times around London and who just LOVED THE SHOW !!

I think it was actually much more special because of you being in a wheelchair - nowadays, when experience (if not hedonism) is considered the acme of importance in one's life, everyone wishes to experience something different - which this definitely was! :) Brava for professionalism .. if not for everything else, too!!

Wish you to be able to dance Csardas before August is over! ;) Cheers!

twelvethoughts said...


A brief note about a replaying of the 2007 Met Barber last night at a local movie theater. A very few in the crowd were briefly clapping at the beginning of the show before quickly stopping, perhaps self-consciously thinking "This is a movie theater, why the heck are we clapping? Nobody else is." But as the show went on, the movie theater audience became enthralled and entranced, more and more people applauding each number until by the end, it seemed like everyone was clapping. We were practically standing up and cheering. I've never seen anything like this at the movies before! At first I caught myself clapping a few times - I couldn't stop myself, and then I stopped even caring about stopping myself, the performance being so mindblowingly excellent. That show took people out of - transcended - the usual movie mindset people have.

I'm used to seeing people shift around in their seats at the movies, usually because they're bored or uncomfortable. Last night, people were shifting themselves to the edge of their seats (literally) to attentively watch you and your castmates perform. Never seen a movie crowd do that before either!

You were so awesome Joyce (times a billion). Each and every member of the cast was magnificent. I'd never realized JDF could be so fantastically funny. The acting, the singing, the music, the sets, the small comedic things the entire cast did magnificently throughout - it all came together perfectly.

If somebody had said before the show, "A large anvil comes down from the rafters to end Act I", I may have thought, "really???" but it, and everything else, all worked.

As loud as we clapped, I'm pretty sure you couldn't hear us but wherever you were last night, you should know that people were going bonkers over your singing and acting.

I can't begin to tell you how invigorated and elated I was leaving the theater. I'm still enjoying the opera high.

Olga said...

Joyce, you should consider publishing a book composed of your blog posts in 20 years or so, when time-shift sheds new perspectives on your depictions. You've really got a World captured in them. Recently I read Alma Mahler-Werfel's diary and even though her entries were not as nearly coherent (and autonomous from each other) as yours are, I thoroughly enjoyed them. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think that people would thoroughly appreciate it.

Baritenor said...

Dear Joyce -

When I get asked for a prediction on who will emerge as the most beloved opera singer of this current generation, who will be looked on in future years and spoken of in terms of "now THAT was a star!" I invariably seem to answer "Joyce DiDonato." It's not only because of your voice (which nearly gave me a heart attack the first time I heard you sing, in the PBS broadcast of Little Women nearly a decade ago) or your stage presence (which floors me every time), it's also because I think you are one of the most devoted singers out there.

An "speed-bump" like this proves my point. Faced with a broken leg, most singers would take the opertunity for a few nights off and let the cover have their day. That's fine, they're perfectly within their rights to do so. But you refuse to let it get you down. Now that's a professional.

You are one of my absolute favorite singers around, and this story has just reaffirmed why I like you so much. I cannot WAIT to see you in person for the first time when you bring Rosina (hopefully back on two feet!) to Los Angeles this November.

Gudrun said...

This is my first comment here.

"I consider myself beyond blessed. Your words have meant so very much to me, and in the end, it is quite true that you are the reason I sing. Thank you."

Dear Joyce, how blessed are we(!) to have encore a surprising, unforseen FURORE concert in Europe. I didn`t hesitate a second to reorganize my summer plans and book a trip to Salzburg when I read of it. For a true Handel fan, everything else becomes infinitely boring compared to Furore. Whoever has the chance to be in love with Handel and hear THIS concert is beyond blessed. Amen.

Thank you. And thank you for not having canceled it. It would have been the natural reaction and of course the whole world would have understood. The fascination and obvious love for your profession/vocation adds a dimension to your singing that we have hardly ever experienced.

I can`t wait for Furore tonight ... I consider this degree of excitement you spread as a little miracle, looooove it!

FleurduMay said...

Dear Mr Joyce, You have my entire respect for doing all this while you had your leg broken. It is totally impressive and a proof of professionalism.
Finally, ohh my God I cannot believe that I am actually writing on your blog!!!!!!!!!!!!!!