Home on the Road: Joyce DiDonato

For my second installment of Home on the Road, I'm so excited to host mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. Joyce's passion for life is evident in everything she does: in her blog, in her photography, and most especially in her incredible singing. It is no exaggeration to say that she is one of the most important artists of our time, and exactly the kind of singer that is changing our field for the better, but none of that expresses just what a lovely, sunny person she is. Quite simply, to know her is to love her, and I'm so happy for you to get to know her a bit here.

Joyce has been on the road for the past 13 years, ever since she graduated from the Houston Opera Studio in 1998. During 2009, she spent a total of 33 days at home (in Kansas City), with never more than 6 consecutive days at home. She did, however, get to be with her husband (conductor Leo Vordoni) for about 2/3 of the year, which she counts as a very good year.

LMB: Do you have any stuff that you always bring with you when you travel to make your temporary home feel more like a real one?

JD: It sounds stupid, but every time Leo and I enter a new apartment, we say "Welcome home." It's a mind set—a total mind set. In the beginning I used to travel with picture frames and candles and all these things to try and make me feel more "at home," but that just got—well, heavy! I prefer to travel lightly when possible, or keep more space for dresses and books! But essentially if I have a working high-speed internet, this is what keeps me in touch with my loved ones and friends, and so I do feel that I can set up "home" just about anywhere. (And I'm writing this from Milan which is probably the MOST challenging city to set up a "homey feel"!!!) I do travel with my yoga mat which I try to use on a regular basis, but essentially that's it. I've learned that I'd rather spend a bit of money to stay in a nice place, because if I'm 11 months on the road, the road is truly my home, and it's important to feel safe and comfortable and be able to REST wherever I am. So a few years back I stopped trying to save $500 on housing and bumped myself up into nicer accommodations—and I have never once regretted it!

LMB: You sing a lot in Europe. How much do you try to immerse yourself in the culture of wherever you are? Are there any American things, or foods, or traditions that you can't live without, no matter where you are?

JD: I will often arrive in Europe with some peanut butter and Thomas's Whole Grain Bagels! But I do think it's very important to take advantage of learning the culture where you are and to make the best of the opportunities to try the different foods, take up the afternoon siesta routine (which is pretty fabulous!), and just get inside how a different culture functions. It was NOT easy at all for me at the beginning—I REALLY missed my creature comforts. But with time and a few repeat visits, I've learned how the markets function and that ultimately I can find anything I REALLY need. So I sort of jump into it full steam. I WILL say, however, that the thing I crave most if I've been in Europe for an extended period? MEXICAN FOOD! So the first thing I'll do in the States is get a REAL Margarita (sorry, Europe—you do many things well, but mixing a REAL margarita is NOT one of them!), and a big burrito!!!

LMB: I have not yet figured out how to pack light for a trip of several months, and I'm getting tired of shipping boxes back and forth all the time. Any advice from a seasoned traveler?

JD: Well, I know now the different cities where I'll be going, and if I can find the toiletries I like to use, or ones I can try in the different countries, I will shop for my toiletries when I get there, as those weigh a lot. I've learned that as long as I have my music, the under-garments I need (because those can be nearly impossible for me to find on the road, especially in Europe!), and the shoes I need, anything else I can find on the road, so I don't stress the little things. Any medications you may need are imperative to bring along—for us singer types, it's important that you bring all the preventative things, and a good stash of Emergen-C. I think I've over-packed for every single trip I've ever made. There is ALWAYS the shirt or dress that I never ever wear on the road, but I still pack it thinking, "you never know...." I always end up wearing the same clothes and leaving 4 or 5 pieces completely untouched, but then I'll STILL pack those unworn numbers the next time. I guess I'll never learn!

LMB: You and Leo spend so much time apart. I'll take any tips you've got on how to do that whole long-distance thing!

JD: Well, the one advantage we have is that when we met, our relationship started with us being apart, so that was how our relationship dynamic was established from the beginning. To us, it's normality. But that doesn't mean it's easy. Communication is absolutely, completely and utterly the key. Skype is a God-send. Period. It is an unbelievable gift. We make sure that when we are on the road we are in touch at LEAST once a day via Skype/telephone, but there are also the constant text messages, emails, little "thinking of you" notes that just keep us connected over the miles.

We try very hard not to be apart more than 3 weeks. Longer than 3 weeks, you've each gotten into a very independent routine, and then to come back together and have to share your space again can sometimes lead to stress or conflict. We had that a bit in the beginning, and just being able to identify that this is what is happening makes the transition back together much easier.

But I think the other immensely important factor is that you have to feel that you can thrive on your own. If you spend so much time apart, it's vital that you still grow and learn and thrive and feed your interests, so that the time apart doesn't feel like dead time while you're waiting for your partner to come home. I think both Leo and I have an ability to use the time apart productively and fruitfully so that when we reunite we have lots to share and learn from each other. So feeding yourself while you're on your own, instead of only seeing how lonely you are, I think is a big key.

LMB: In order to have the career that you have, you have to be willing to be away from home most of the time. How have you made peace with that? What makes it worthwhile for you?

JD: For me, it is something I have had to learn. I was rather miserable in the first years of my career. Not only was I in places where I didn't know anyone, or certainly didn't speak the language of the country, but the more poisonous thing was that I was only focusing on the things I was MISSING. All I saw was that I was away from my family, missing birthdays, missing Mexican food, craving my own bed, missing my friends—and so because my vision was full of everything I WASN'T doing, I was missing out on all the things in front of me: new friends, new cities, new languages, new cuisines, new opportunities. I started trying to switch my focus to what was in front of me, and this world began to open up. I still missed my family, yes, but I didn't spend all my waking hours thinking about that—I went about the business of living my life where I was with what was around me. This was a huge change for me—and it happened strictly in the confines of my attitude! I still struggle with missing my husband, yes—but I acknowledge it and then get my butt off the couch and go take my camera out to photograph an astonishing sculpture or monument, and then I feel productive for the day!

LMB: Any other advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out? Or advice that you did get that has been helpful to you?

JD: I think something people need to think about in this business is how good you have to be at being alone. It's a funny paradox, because we have to know how to function among a HUGE team of people putting together a show—and it's an extremely social, hectic, vibrant atmosphere. For singers, we have to stand on the stage and "speak" with 3,000+ people a night, and at the end of the night take all of their applause and bathe in it, but then we go home and we are alone. Mightily alone. This was, for me, the most challenging aspect of handling the career. It is the alone time that is the most difficult—and if you're not good at being on your own, it will be a very, very difficult road. So somehow you have to find a balance between the HIGH of the applause and social buzz, to the seemingly LOW of the isolation of your hotel room. I try to march a middle line—realizing that the reality of my life lies somewhere between the high and the low—because neither of those extremes is exactly real. I think if we can learn to handle those two extremes, it can be a very rewarding life!

Thanks again to Joyce for all her insights! You can find out more about Joyce at www.joycedidonato.com. And if you haven't seen it yet, be sure to check out my first Home on the Road feature with Kelly Kaduce.

*Photo by Sheila Rock, courtesy of Virgin Classics


  1. Louisa - what an awesome entry and SO helpful for my upcoming year!!!!

    Joyce came and spoke to the Lindemann Young Artists when I was in the program & I still remember her talk with us!!! It was so refreshing, down-to-earth and honest - just like this interview!


  2. rosejean goddardJuly 15, 2010 at 2:46 AM

    What an eye-opener! Just to realize how it is for a singer on the road. I learned a great deal from Joyce's insights, and I appreciate what a master she is at life! Thank you, Louisa, for an outstanding interview.
    Grandma Rosejean

  3. These posts are SO AWESOME, thank you! I'm really loving them!!!


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