Masterclass: Joyce DiDonato on ‘Playing’ Music

Joyce DiDonato, masterclass

Award-winning mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato.

WATCH: Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato visited SFCM for a masterclass in May where students got a lesson in life from one of the best in the business.

By Mark Taylor

A transformative presence in the arts. That’s what Joyce DiDionato has been called by critics in the world of music. The world-renowned singer brought that presence to SFCM to deliver the commencement address, perform at the ceremony, and deliver a masterclass to students. 

Emma McAlister ‘22 was one of the voice students who collaborated directly with DiDonato, “Working with Joyce was priceless. She emphasized that this was truly about play, how we should be almost in ‘a sandbox together,’” McAlister said. “You also knew going out there that she was going to give you tough love. She uplifted our strengths while immediately starting on what we need to work on.” During her time at SFCM, McAlister studied with Susanne Mentzer. 

DiDonato grew up in Kansas and, after performing in school musicals, studied music education at Wichita State University, before deciding  to focus fully on singing post-graduation. She studied at the Academy of Vocal Arts, and went on to participate in the Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Singer Program, eventually also joining San Francisco Opera’s Merola Young Artists Program in 1995. Since completing her education, DiDonato has performed with many of the world's leading opera companies and orchestras and won multiple awards including the 2012, 2016, and 2020 Grammy Awards for Best Classical Vocal Solo. 

Her advice to students ranged from having fun while practicing to remaining steadfast in your goals, even through adversity. “My biggest takeaway was remembering that every artist has their own path, and you must be patient while remaining persistent,” said 2022 voice graduate Taylor See, who also worked directly with Didonato. “It is refreshing to hear someone with so much success speak on struggle and perseverance,” See added. While at SFCM See was a student of César E. Ulloa. 

For McAlister, the experience was doubly special for the Master’s degree recipient, as she graduated just days after DiDonatos’ class. “It was magical to be able to not only say ‘I graduated,’ but ‘I graduated and sang for Joyce DiDonato in 48 hours.’”

Watch Joyce DiDonato’s full masterclass at SFCM below. 
You can also hear a full playlist dedicated to DiDonato on the SFCM Apple Music channel or SFCM Spotify Music channel.

Learn about studying Voice at SFCM.