How Joyce DiDonato plans on spreading peace with her concert performance in Abu Dhabi

With an album exploring war and peace, the singer tells us that opera has plenty to say about modern times

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Joyce DiDonato
'In War and Peace: Towards Harmony through Music' concert, Moscow, Russia - 01 Dec 2018
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The Abu Dhabi Festival preview ­performance has become an annual tradition.

Ever since the festival – which begins its main concerts from March 7 – held its first taste-tester in 2014 with a sold-out performance by the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, the preview concert has become a firm favourite of the UAE concert calendar and a worthy introduction to the bevy of performances to come.

This year is no different – with celebrated American mezzo soprano Joyce Di Donato taking the Emirates Palace stage today.

An expert interpreter of the works of Handel, Mozart and Rossini, her rich and lyrical voice has headlined many of the opera world's hot spots – including Milan's famed La Scala, Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl in the United States.

She makes her UAE debut with her timely new album, In War and Peace. Spread over two halves, the concert examines how conflict and serenity were explored in the works of great composers such as Handel and Purcell.

Speaking to The National ahead of her performance, DiDonato says her album and subsequent tour is an attempt to make sense of the turmoil engulfing us at present.

"There is a quote that has given me great guidance during this project. Jonathan Larson, an American writer wrote: 'The opposite of war is not peace. It is creation.' I like that sense of empowerment when feeling overwhelmed by it all," she says.

“I may not always be able to find peace at a given moment, but I always have the potential and opportunity to create, whether it is dialogue, art or to create harmony.”

Congratulations on ‘In War and Peace’. What was the impetus for taking on such a monumental project?

The general state of the world – in particular the terrorist attack on Paris in November 2015. I was sitting at my piano working on my upcoming recording when I heard of the news, and I could no longer justify a "normal" classical recording of Italian arias – I needed to use my voice to seek out understanding of the world around me.

What stands out about the album is setting an example of how opera can speak of today's issues. Do you feel the art form has been backwards looking for too long?

Perhaps, but only because of our ­industry’s tendency to keep these “­sacred” pieces in a gilded cage, rather than ­allowing them to be living, breathing entities. The subject matter of this music is deeply alive and real, and certainly applicable to our daily lives. I begin the concert with the words written over 300 years ago and set to music by Handel: “Some dire event hangs over our heads. Some woeful song we have to sing in misery extreme …” I don’t know of any human being that sees the news today and doesn’t have this same visceral reaction.

The show is divided in two parts between War and Peace, how do you prepare for such an intense performance?

It’s the most draining performance I have ever given, because I invite the audience to plunge into the darkness right from the start of the piece (in fact, even from the point they enter into the theatre), but then it is my job to transport them all into the light – into the harmony of peace – by the end of the concert. It’s a tall order, but one that I have found to be immeasurably satisfying.

You have performed this album far and wide, does it give you an added conviction when you hit the stage?

Without a single doubt. This is a ­project of our time, and the audiences are living it alongside us in the concert hall. I am more convinced than ever that the arts will be our teacher and our guide during this moment in history. It has been that way for centuries. I just hope we start to listen to it soon enough.

Finally, what would you like your Abu Dhabi audience to get out of your performance?

I would like them to feel a deep and lasting sense of peace, and consider outside the concert hall how they can personally nurture more inner peace for themselves, and for their particular circle within our world.

Joyce DiDonato and Il Pomo d'Oro Orchestra will perform at Emirates Palace tonight at 8pm. Tickets cost from Dh175, and can be purchased from

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