Joyce Dion

Joyce Dion

“Herr Doktor. Why is it that I am not only not head over heels for Joyce DiDonato, but rather irritated when I hear and particularly see her perform?”

“You’re a grump and an emotional tightwad?”

“Yes, that may well be the case, but those features of mine are not to blame this time. My dislike for DiDonato has deeper reasons.”


“See, I should really like her. She’s skillfully using social media to further the understanding of opera as an art form and, well, OK, perhaps to control every aspect of her own brand on and off stage. So that’s fine.”


“She’s also been making statements in favour of the repeal of the DADT in the US and such. She’s making an effort to appear to be a great queer ally.”


“Waittaminute. No but yet. She’s also it seems a regular all-American girl-next-door type thing, what you see is what you get, plain and no affectations type thing. At the same time while I’m looking at her videos, I can’t resist the thought that she’s already had work done on her face. What is she, early 40s?”

“Well, you can’t know that for sure, can you.”

“No, but there are signs of tightness. Of unusual proportions in the face.”

“Is that it? That’s the ultimate reason you dislike JDD?.”

“No! That’s an aside. A side fear, as it were. A side suspicion.”


“The worst thing is… possibly the biggest reason I can’t relax to JDD is that she reminds of Celine Dion so freaking much.”

“Hmm? They’re both blonde. But I don’t…”

“It’s not so much the physical resemblance… It’s a matter of style. It’s all in the manner of singing. It’s in the expression. D’you know what I mean?”

“…Not entirely…”

“It’s a certain exaggerated, I don’t know, manneristic emotivism. An all-you-can-eat kind of wallow in two fakest things ever: emotivism and plain-ism. By plain-ism I mean when somebody makes an ideology, a business plan, out of appearing milk-and-apple-pie. Or is that milk-and-cookies? Something wholesome at any rate. And fulsome.”


“When somebody denies the existence of shit. There you have it. When imperfection, failure, dirt, hell — death, is denied. Let’s pretend it’s not there, and make this attitude my style.”

“And what exactly does Celine Dion have to do with that?”

“Well, she sings similarly, although I think she’s actually less kitsch than JDD.”

“I’m sure she’ll be relieved to hear that.”

“No, but seriously. I used to abhor Celine Dion for this very reason. Then I read Carl Wilson’s book Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste and found myself re-examine my ways. Celine Dion’s problems can be explained away into oddities, and compassionately accepted as such. Besides, she is the real queer icon of the two.”


“Did you hear her best impersonator, Laura Landauer, perform at the last Pride Week? Well, when the wind machine starts blowing at the end of the Titanic song at the end of that set on the Wellesley Stage… There was not a dry eye left in that queer crowd, I can tell you that.”

“So, let me get this straight… Laura Landauer made you like Celine Dion more? I mean, made you hate her less?”


“By detecting and overemphasizing her mannerisms?”

“Precisely. It’s like she exorcized them in a way. And Carl Wilson’s analysis of our allergic reaction to Celine was essential here.”

“So… where does that leave Joyce DiDonato?”

“I guess she’s now the repository of everything that was wrong with Celine.”

“I think you need a break. A proper off-line break, involving analog things.”

“I do too. See you next time, Herr Doktor.”

Meanwhile, JDD says it’s all so exciting:

CD says Hello everybody, whooo!

JDD says nella maniera Dionesca, Crolli il mondo, il sole s’eclissi:

Laura Landauer tells a Christmas story nella maniera Dionesca:


24 thoughts on “Joyce Dion

  1. 5 Muses for the price of 3 ….. oh my!

    Re. this post – worms can open of a …. rearrange into a well-known phrase or saying.

  2. Thank you for putting it that way. I always wondered what I don’t like about her “crude furie dehl’orridi abissi… and yes. That’s about it. It is not that her face is obviously made-over, not her voice, which is special and rich, and everything,… I just couldn’t place it.
    For me, her singing Xerxes, to stick to the example….

    compared with Murray’s Xerxes, e.g.

    reminds me somehow of a demotivational from I saw once and cannot find anymore. Two girls making out, a guy with a glass in hand drooling in the background, the line underneath saying: “Nothing hotter than two straight girls pretending to be lesbian after too many drinks.”
    For me, Di Donato is always a bit too much serving people what they want, tailored to fit their needs. For me, it always has this faking attitude to it I am not at all fond of. But that’s just my personal taste.

  3. i confess, i’ve tried hard but don’t manage either, except for the time i heard her live at LA opera as rosina. i have a rather personal pref thing and a personal reason thing. pref: to hear singers sing the emotion instead of emotionally sing. what i mean is when a character is crying, some singers manage to get that emotion across via varying the color of their voices, and some will act crying while singing. she does the latter often. that’s what originally turned me away from JDD. but i have a bigger problem: i get a headache listening to her. that’s my loss, but some singers do that to me, Maria Callas and many sopranos in recordings included. i’ve tried many of her youtube clips but never quite latched on.

  4. (Someone’s looking very East Coast today!)

    I think that’s a good distinction.

    Also, I heard this and there were moments that I couldn’t describe in any other way but ‘screaming’. Like the sound is completely open and raw, no copertura. Odd.

  5. I had a bad singing teacher once, who was by chance a great acting teacher — He himself had been a far better actor than singer, I have to say. He could go raging mad when people laughed about their own jokes in a sketch or became too soppy in an aria, that sort of thing.
    He tended to say — The audience has to laugh, and cry, not you — if you do, they end up watching you crying, and laughing.
    I don’t like DiDonato’s armida either I have to say — but nothing against screaming when fitting the role — Ann Murray screams and shouts best imho, see above^^ 😀

  6. I have to say I like JDD a lot — not completely in everything she does, but that’s true of all singers. I tend to like her more in bel canto than baroque. But when I got into this biz, both those canons were pretty much absent from the scene — bel canto meant Barber of Seville, an occasional Lucia, and not much else, and baroque…ha! So perhaps that makes me less critical than I should be, but she can come sing in my opera house any time.

  7. She has so many years ahead of her — at least fifteen. Things may change multiple times.

    Are you in the biz, Stray? Maybe you can shed light on something for me. I wonder if anybody gets any good recording contracts these days, or if these are a thing of the past. (Her Diva/Divo, as I’m sure you know, is available for free listening for a limited number of days on NPR, which I don’t know if it’s a good or bad sign.)

    By good contract I suppose I mean the kind that will maintain the connection with an artist and allow them come out with a record every two years or so. I happen to be an Otter-Nutter, and am thinking as I’m amassing all of von Otter recordings, what a fantastic contract she must have had with the DG. But maybe it was a different era, the CD era of better contracts? (when could she have signed with the DG? maybe early 90s)

  8. Oh, sorry, not quite. I did work in the record business for 15 years, but not in classical.

    The free listening thing I think is a marketing strategy that assumes 1) the audience is older, and more likely to actually buy what they hear…or at least less willing/able to nick it for free, and 2) that people are less album-oriented now, and so making all of it available for previewing is likely to sell more tracks on iTunes than just putting up a representative sample.

    I don’t know much about contractual trends over the last couple of decades. Obviously the biggest casualty since 1990 has been new studio recordings of full length operas. But, if anything, that’s probably been to the advantage of the recital disc market. Certainly JDD has something new out every time we turn around, and other singers seem to be faring well on that front, too. On the other hand, for every Domingo or von Otter on a major’s roster, there’s a whole lot of potential Villazons, so my guess is that for younger singers contract reviews will be early and often.

    1. While I was wandering around German Google looking for Castor & Pollux reviews, I came across this Otter interview in which she says (if my robot translators are correct) that she appeared at a great time, when there “weren’t too many people” to compete with for exclusive contracts. Fassbaender and Baltsa, who were slightly older, have at that point already done a lot.

      I think Garanca and Trebs must have good DG contracts now, from what I can see… ah well. What can you do.

      1. “I came along at the right moment. There weren’t many others. Brigitte Fassbaender and Agnes Baltsa were somewhat older and had done a lot that I could make new for the agents of historically-informed performance practice. My light voice suited the concept of these conductors. It suited also a few parts in French opera, like Marguerite in La Damnation de Faust.”

        I suppose that’s true, that she managed the uptick in interest in early opera really well. That she has been as interested in recital work hasn’t hurt, either, no doubt. One mezzo and a piano accompanist makes for nicely low overhead, and given her dedicated audience, those are records that probably paid for themselves. Record companies like that.

  9. Don’t mistake me, without a doubt, Di Donato can sing, Dion can too, but they somehow fail to touch my heart. But alas, this is the case with many singers I am more than fond of concerning what feelings they evoke in others.
    I guess, it has a bit to do with love, which singer we fall for. We don’t fall in love with a centrefold. It is the flaws that are an innate part of a person. — this is digressing I just find… I have my own blog to spam 😛
    Good to know someone in the business, i will try to put my thoughts in order and get back to you if I may 😉

  10. I didn’t feel qualified to comment having never seen the lady live nor listened very much…. until today when I watched / listened as much as I could on YT. I say watch/listen deliberately as I do them separately as an excersise – sometimes I love the vocals and not the visuals or vice-versa. My conclusion is that in this case I like neither. I don’t find her onstage personae or offstage character appealing in the least and the voice leaves me cold. Something about the fluttery quality of the vibrato, the overzelous attack and underused eyes make this singer a non-starter for me although I’m sure she is excellent at what she does and makes lots of people very happy.

  11. Now I feel bad for starting a pile-on… I hope some JDD-ians will come in and tell us we don’t know what we’re talkin’ ’bout.

    But meanwhile, yes, ‘overzealous attack’ is right.

    (A good twitter-friend and a JDDian who lives in the UK was appalled by my attitude, told me I was being “a Celine” about it. The night I posted this I also enabled twitter-via-mobile and by accident left notifications on. When in the middle of the night (3am I think it was) I heard my cell phone beeping a message, I immediately knew that that was George, scolding me for panning his beloved Joyce. My notifications are now off. )

  12. [shrugs] What can I say, Lankin is right, it’s what speaks to you. I can hear everything you’re pointing out, and sometimes it matters to me and sometimes it doesn’t. Here’s an instance where it doesn’t:

    It won’t change your minds, but it does make me happy. It wasn’t that long ago that there wasn’t any such thing as a recording of Ariodante (even a pirate one). Or Serse, for that matter. So I tend to think there’s room for everybody who can give us a run for our money. And might I add that my benighted local classical station, in its token “baroque and early music program”, has “Ombra mai fu” in heavy rotation, sung by Jose Carreras. I’m pretty sure they do this just to piss me off, but it does remind me what life was like back when actual Handel specialists were rare and exotic creatures with no gigs.

    1. True. There’s no such thing as too many Ariodantes, Serses or Alcinas. I heard a good CD of Deidamia (baton Haïm) the other day, and thought how great it is that even the obscure works of Handel are now being recorded.

  13. PS: for the record, I tend to associate Celine Dion’s singing with aluminum siding. Maybe this is my version of synaesthesia, but whatever, I am not a fan.

  14. First of all, thanks for the hilarity of post and photos. While perhaps not a dyed-in-the-wool JDDian, I do enjoy her singing. So… my uninformed two cents. 🙂 First of all, a tidbit towards the face debate (just the shape of her cheekbones?): a clip from Little Women in, I believe, ’98:

    Then, about the voice. I do see what you mean by overzealous attack. But I love her tone, which I’ve always mentally labeled with adjectives like “sweet” and “pure.” It could be accused of too little idiosyncrasy; too little bite, perhaps. As tha dieu says, a lot of this may come down to personal preference. I am sure that part of my attachment to DiDonato is sentimental, as Cenerentola was the first live opera I saw, so that her “Una volta c’era un re” inaugurated this stage of my obsession. 🙂 I am planning/hoping to hear her as Isolier (Comte d’Ory) and the Komponist in Ariadne later this season, so I will try to listen and watch with extra attentiveness and report back.

    1. Please do. I’ll be watching Compte in HD, so we’ll compare the notes. She does look a bit different in that clip (gee, I’ve never heard Little Women), but I never get the perfect closeup.

      I think even by this time (early 2000s)

      there have been some changes.

  15. Thanks, after a trip that took me into the blessed sun for a few days and then back to the gloom of a Scottish winter reading this was just the giggle I needed. I am sure this is back to the old personal preference issue re. the voice. I prefer something with a bit more bite and edge (esp. when it comes to Baroque rep) but plenty love that silky tone.

    I do agree though on the marketing issue. She seems like a bright woman so it’s hard to know why she should allow herself to be marketed as some airbrushed Barbie doll… plenty of singers have very fine careers without all that nonsense. The Divo/Diva cover being a perfect example; straight out an 80s Cinzano ad and the sterilised/emasculated imagery makes Julie Andrews’ Victor/Victoria look like the roughest Drag King/Queen in the Bowery by comparison!

    I suppose it just makes me so grumpy – in a world overrun with the idiotic and the banal opera is one of the last places we can hope to retain some hold on ‘authenticity’ and depth of emgagement. To have it trivialised by the over application of hairspray and the wind machine seems so poor. Garanca is another case in my point! All I can say is they are both pretty lucky French and Saunders are retired from TV, the potential for an excellent piss take is very high when Olivia Newton John (Xanadu era) seems to have become the role model for female opera singers (or at least their stylists).

    Oh god, now the refrain from Xanadu is in my brain…

  16. Actually what really irritates me abot that Divo cover is that it is the very antithesis of ‘queer’ – the wonderful queer heart of opera is ripped out by some middle of the road, middle-aged man’s straight fantasy.

    Compare with Bartoli… who let’s be frank has quite a job to manage dragging up with a figure that resolutely screams woman! Where Bartoli is genuinely transgressive (and having fun too) Divo just seems so very very vanilla! To the point of being worthy of a Ben and Jerry’s…

  17. straight out an 80s Cinzano ad and the sterilised/emasculated imagery makes Julie Andrews’ Victor/Victoria look like the roughest Drag King/Queen in the Bowery by comparison!


    Tho’ Xanadu is probably less harmful because they never claimed they’re more than light entertainment. This video made me smile. It’s so bad, it’s good.

    I also thought there’s a bit of Baywatch going on in the DiDonato esthetics. If the Baywatch was all dressed, kind of thing.

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