Opera star Joyce DiDonato returns to St. Ann’s to thrill another audience

Joyce DiDonato (center) with her sister, Amy Hetherington (L) and St. Ann's principal Becky Akright after the mini-concert and question session at St. Ann's on Thursday.
Joyce DiDonato (center) with her sister, Amy Hetherington (L) and St. Ann’s principal Becky Akright after the mini-concert and question session at St. Ann’s on Thursday.

You might have been lucky enough to be in London’s Royal Albert Hall this month where international opera star Joyce DiDonato captivated the audience with her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  Or, if you are a student at St. Ann’s, you would have been captivated by that same opera star singing the same song just a few feet from you Thursday.

“I’m one of you guys. I’m a Tiger,” DiDonato told the students on her return to St. Ann’s where she graduated in 1983 and where her sister Amy Hetherington is the music director and has taught for more than 20 years. DiDonato, who grew up in Prairie Village and graduated from Bishop Miege, is back home in Kansas City performing at the Lyric Opera. “I love coming home because I still live in Kansas City.”

“I didn’t think about being an opera singer until I was 22 years old,” she said. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow'” has special meaning, she told the appreciative students, because “”dreams do come true. The sky is the limit.”

Joyce DiDonato enthralled students at St. Ann's Catholic School Thursday.
Joyce DiDonato enthralled students at St. Ann’s Catholic School Thursday.

Answering a series of questions from the students, she said her original dream was to be a pop singer, maybe a backup singer for Billy Joel. As one of seven children she would sing while vacuuming — her chore as a girl. She went to college to become a teacher and learned about using her voice. Her father introduced her to opera and the rest, as they say, is history.

DiDonato estimated she has appeared in 50 operas but said she still can get nervous, pointing to the London concert with 5,000 people in the hall and another four million watching on television and screens set up in the parks. Her embarrassing moments: when she fell on stage and broke her leg then finished the performances in a wheel chair.

Can someone break a glass with their voice? “It can be done, but I don’t have the type of voice to do it. But I waited tables for 10 years and broke a lot of glasses.”

She doesn’t have a favorite opera, she said, because she is working with music from the greatest composers in history. She loves opera because it’s physical, it’s mental, it’s spiritual and it’s psychological. She told the students that the story of Romeo and Juliet – her current role – is timeless. The fighting between families and in neighborhoods goes on to this day.

In addition to the concert for the 450-member student body, which included ‘Uno Voce Poco Fa’ from the Barber of Seville, DiDonato worked with seventh and eighth grade students in a master class session.

Her sister, whom she said is a fabulous pianist and taught her to play, accompanied her on the piano Thursday.