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(Soundbite of music)

Ms. JOYCE DiDONATO (Opera Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

GUY RAZ, host:

This is the voice of American opera superstar Joyce DiDonato. She's singing the role of the teenaged composer in Richard Strauss's opera "Ariadne Auf Naxos."

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. DiDONATO: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: The character here is a boy, and it's one of the recordings from her new album. It's called "Diva, Divo." And on it, Joyce DiDonato performs 16 male and female roles from some of the most famous operas ever written, including this role, the composer from "Ariadne Auf Naxos."

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. DiDONATO: (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. DiDONATO: He's about 17 or 18 years old, a very young composer, who has just had the world opened up in front of him because he's actually discovered a type of love for the first time.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. DiDONATO: (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. DiDONATO: He's one of these sort of geeks that spent his whole life composing, and everything was about music, and all of a sudden, this - and he's writing about love all the time.

And then this young, very flirtatious girl appears in front of him. They have this wonderful duet and wonderful discussion. And for the first time, he sees, in flesh and blood, in living color, all these things that he's been writing about.

What I love about this is you hear the enthusiasm in him, and you hear these sort of wild leaps, which is very masculine.

And so for me, getting into the mindset of that, it's all in the music Richard Strauss has given us.

RAZ: Joyce, I want to ask you, for a moment, about you. In the liner notes on this recording, you write that you didn't actually fall in love with opera at first hearing, that it actually took you a long time. And I was surprised to read that.

Ms. DiDONATO: You know, opera is such a personal thing. I think some people come for the first time and they're moved to tears and their life is changed immediately. Other people, it's more like sort of wine. You sort of develop an appreciation for it as you learn about it more.

My passion was ignited when I stepped on the stage and I actually entered into the world of opera from the inside.

RAZ: And of course, you studied opera. You studied - you are from Kansas City, and you studied at Wichita State University. Were you kind of an oddball growing up?

Ms. DiDONATO: Well, you know, I was a theater kid. And I was the choir geek. And so I entered university to be a music teacher. And I got sidetracked pretty violently.

RAZ: Pretty significantly, yeah. I mean, because you never intended to be an opera singer?

Ms. DiDONATO: I didn't. No. I mean, I loved the stage. When I was little, you know, I dreamed of being on the stage. But I think I was modest enough to say, you know, maybe I could be a backup singer for Billy Joel. That would be really cool.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DiDONATO: That was first my...

RAZ: Maybe you still can be.

Ms. DiDONATO: Does anybody have his number?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DiDONATO: I mean, you know, I loved that idea. But I think coming from a very sort of modest background, I don't know that I allowed myself to dream that big.

RAZ: You're hearing the voice of the opera singer Joyce DiDonato. Her new record is called "Diva, Divo."

Obviously, this record, there's a lot of gender-bending. But then there's this other layer here, which is you have two takes on every story. So the same operatic story told by two different composers.

You've got two different versions of "Faust," for example, two different versions of "Cinderella." Why did you do that?

Ms. DiDONATO: Well, it was a way to try and tell stories. You know, one of my favorite elements of the opera world is that it's theatre. And I liked this idea of exploring the same story and learning from two different composers what the musical language that they used to create this.

For example, there's a "Clemence de Titus," "The Clemency of Titus" story. And in one, I sing the young adolescent boy who's in love with the older, manipulative woman. And she has asked him to kill the emperor to prove his love for her. And he's very conflicted, obviously, but he agrees to do it because he loves her so much.

And his piece, by Gluck, is very plangent and has this astonishing oboe solo going over it, and it's poetic and wonderful. And it's very feminine, in a way.

(Soundbite of song, "La Clemence de Titus")

Ms. DiDONATO: (Singing in foreign language)

Then you have the woman, and she's manipulative, and she's full of vengeance. And she's fabulous, and this is Mozart's world. And he gives her this cutting, angular, almost harsh sort of opening to the piece.

(Soundbite of song, "La Clemence de Titus")

Ms. DiDONATO: (Singing in foreign language)

And it's actually quite aggressive and what you would think of as masculine. So I found it fascinating to see how the composers viewed these different stories and the different genders in the theater of it.

RAZ: Joyce DiDonato, there's a story about you that just seems unbelievable to me, but perhaps I'll let you tell it, and this is how you once sang an opera with a broken leg.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DiDONATO: You know, I've actually gone back, and for a while, I put a moratorium on people telling me to break a leg because it did actually happen onstage.

RAZ: Yeah. Did that...

Ms. DiDONATO: But now I'm laughing in the face of fate.

I was - it was opening night of "The Barber of Seville" at Covent Garden, and it was a pretty star-studded cast, and there was a lot of buzz around it. And as Rosina, I have the opening aria of "Una Voce Poco Fa," which I've sung, you know, hundreds and hundreds of times.

And I thought, okay, this went pretty well. I'm feeling pretty good about this. And I took a little jog across the stage in conversation with the Figaro, and I fell.

I ended up getting into a cast and finishing the run of the show in a bright, neon pink cast that matched my costume perfectly, and I wheeled myself around the stage. It was pretty incredible.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: An amazing story. I know you're performing in "Dead Man Walking" at the Houston Grand Opera right now, and then you've got this very busy schedule of international performances for the rest of the year. So I will not say what people shouldn't say to you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DiDONATO: Thank you. I appreciate that.

RAZ: And, Joyce, that role that you performed with your broken leg, Rosina, you also sing it on this album.

Ms. DiDONATO: Yes, I do.

(Soundbite of song, "Una Voce Poco Fa")

Ms. DiDONATO: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: Joyce DiDonato's new recording is called "Diva, Divo." It comes out next Tuesday, but you can hear the entire album at our website, nprmusic.org. And if you're in Houston or in the Houston area, you have until February 6 to see Joyce in the opera "Dead Man Walking" at the Houston Grand Opera.

Joyce DiDonato, thank you so much.

Ms. DiDONATO: Thanks. It was a real pleasure.

(Soundbite of song, "Una Voce Poco Fa")

Ms. DiDONATO: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: And for Sunday, that's Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. You can hear the best of this program on our new podcast, Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Subscribe or listen at iTunes or at npr.org/weekendatc. We'll be back on the radio next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening, and have a great week.

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