Joyce DiDonato Honored with 2016 Maria Callas Award
This prestigious award, named after one of the most renowned opera artists of the 20th century, is given to a single performer each season in recognition of a particularly memorable and outstanding company debut. The winner was announced earlier this evening at the annual Dallas Opera Board and Trustee Appreciation Dinner held in the Crescent Ballroom of the Rosewood Crescent Hotel.
One of the world's reigning mezzo-sopranos, Ms. DiDonato has traveled far from her native Prairie Village, Kansas, to becoming a Grammy Award-winning international artist treasured for her incandescent stage presence and acting skills, as well as her one-of-a-kind lyric coloratura described as "perfect for bel canto" (renowned musicologist Philip Gossett, quoted in The New Yorker, October, 2013).
The role of American opera singer Arden Scott, the central character in Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally's Great Scott which premiered in Dallas in October of 2015, was created by Joyce DiDonato. The critics responded with unrestrained enthusiasm:
"DiDonato was a wonder," wrote Jason Victor Serinus for Classical Voice North America. "With every technical effect perfectly executed, she proved herself once again a star."
Dallas Morning News critic Scott Cantrell noted that "DiDonato, displaying her renowned virtuosity in coloratura excerpts, is deeply engaging" while Ian MacKenzie of Opera Today praised the mezzo for singing "like an angel."
Senior critic Gregory Sullivan Isaacs of Theater Jones had particular praise for Ms. DiDonato's approach to her character: "She plays her with a very un-diva-like simplicity; the local girl who made good, who feels the pressure of impending time and voracious young replacements."
"It's a tremendous thrill to learn that our patrons have decided to honor Joyce for her starring role in one of the most important North American premieres of the 2015-16 Season," notes Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny. "Great Scott was designed to showcase her extraordinary artistry-and indeed it does-yet audiences were just as touched by Joyce's incredible humanity. She imbued her character Arden Scott with life, breath, and a true and generous heart. When Arden ultimately found the courage to accept new professional challenges and a second chance at love, audiences wanted to stand up and cheer!
"We are deeply indebted to Joyce for her brilliant work throughout the world premiere production of Great Scott. Nothing would please me more than to have the opportunity to bring her back to the Winspear for more extraordinary performances."
The voting for the Callas Award was conducted entirely online by electronic ballot and was open to season subscribers only. The results were verified by the independent accounting firm of Travis, Wolff & Company, L.L.P.
The winner will receive a beautiful etched-crystal plaque created by award-winning designers from Tiffany & Co. for The Dallas Opera. The plaque bears the likeness of The Dallas Opera's unofficial Godmother, Greek soprano Maria Callas. "La Divina" launched The Dallas Opera with a 1957 recital at the Music Hall in Fair Park and continued to grace TDO's stage in those early years with a series of now-legendary performances.
The 2016 recipient responded to the news, by email, with a statement read to the dinner guests this evening by The Dallas Opera's Kern Wildenthal General Director and CEO Keith Cerny:
Of course it is the dream of any singer to be mentioned in the same breath as Maria Callas, so I will very proudly carry this mantle associated with so many of my dear colleagues from years past! But perhaps the most sublime part of this, is that the award comes from this incredible journey of a world premiere, which The Dallas Opera championed so beautifully, and one that celebrates our art form so victoriously.
We created a glorious "GREAT SCOTT Family" within the beautiful "Dallas Opera Family," and for this, I feel so very grateful. I'd like to imagine that Maria is smiling down on us all, proud for carrying on her philosophy of singing from a place of truth-for without any doubt, we all know how much she continues to matter!
A million thanks for this most special award!"
"I am overjoyed that The Dallas Opera has decided to honor my dear friend and colleague Joyce DiDonato with the Maria Callas Award," writes composer Jake Heggie. "Joyce is not only one of the world's great opera stars with a talent that dazzles, inspires, moves and changes people forever-she is one of the brightest lights on the planet: a humanitarian driven by generosity, social justice, and an innate passion to connect. Like Callas, Joyce is definitive in every role she sings-allowing us to hear old and new works with fresh ears. She combines a flawless technique and sparkling vocal beauty with intelligence, integrity, authenticity, beauty and truth.
"What an honor it was to create Great Scott for her at The Dallas Opera," Heggie adds, "and, oh, how I look forward to how she will continue to awaken our hearts, minds and ears in the years to come as she blazes forward with bold choices and relentless curiosity.
"Brava, dear Joyce!"
There were twenty-two additional 2015-2016 Season nominees for the Callas Award (artists making outstanding company debuts in a principal role)-listed below in alphabetical order:
ADDITIONAL NOMINEES FOR 2016 MARIA CALLAS AWARD
Audrey Babcock - "Rosette" - Manon
Jonathan Blalock - "Prince Claus" - Becoming Santa Claus
Matt Boehler - "Donkey/Messenger" - Becoming Santa Claus
Alyson Cambridge - "Julie LaVerne" - Show Boat
Andriana Chuchman - "Magnolia Hawks" - Show Boat
Troy Cook - "De Bretigny" - Manon
Anthony Roth Costanzo - "Roane Heckle" - Great Scott
Edwin Crossley-Mercer - "Lescaut" - Manon
Jeffry Denman - "Frank" - Show Boat
Kathryn Leemhuis - "Javotte" - Manon
Kate Loprest - "Ellie Mae Chipley" - Show Boat
Michael Mayes - "Wendell Swann" - Great Scott
Giancarlo Monsalve - "Mario Cavaradossi" - Tosca
David Pittsinger - "Count Des Grieux" - Manon
Rodell Rosel - "Anthony Candolino" - Great Scott
Lara Teeter - "Cap'n Andy Hawks" - Show Boat
Dale Travis - "Sacristan" - Tosca
Katherine Whyte - "Pousette" - Manon
The "Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year Award" was launched during the 1991-1992 Dallas Opera Season.
The first recipient was Sharon Sweet for her impressive performance in the title role of Aida. The list of subsequent winners reads like an opera's "Who's Who" from Susan Graham, Cecilia Bartoli, Mary Dunleavy, Elizabeth Futral, Hei-Kyung Hong, Denyce Graves, Indira Mahajan, Mary Mills, Patricia Racette, Latonia Moore, Christopher Ventris, Catherine Naglestad, James Valenti, Ben Heppner and Laura Claycomb, to Greek-born Soprano Myrtò Papatanasiu (Violetta in Verdi's La traviata), mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard (Rosina in The Barber of Seville) and last year's winner, Russian soprano Ekaterina Scherbachenko for the title role in Tchaikovsky's Iolanta.
Photo by Karen Almond, Dallas Opera