by Jill Ragar Esfeld
PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. (CNS) – Imagine a place filled with more than 400 children yet so quiet you can hear someone breathe.
That was the scene at St. Ann School in Prairie Village – and the person doing the “breathing” was world-renowned opera star and Grammy Award winner Joyce DiDonato.
“The only way I can make my voice travel is if I make it go on my breath,” she told the students gathered for a mini-concert in the church.
Her audience was mesmerized as she demonstrated her point by singing a note softly and then adding breath until her voice filled the church from altar to foyer.
How did these students rate a private session with one of the world’s greatest opera singers?
DiDonato is actually from the local area and returned home in late September to star in the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s production of Bellini’s The Capulets and the Montagues. Her homecoming included the visit to St. Ann School in the Kansas City Archdiocese.
DiDonato grew up in St. Ann parish, attended school there and went on to graduate from Bishop Miege H.S. in Roeland Park, Kan.
DiDonato told her audience that when she used to be a cantor at St. Ann and perform in musicals at Bishop Miege, she dreamed of becoming a pop star someday.
“Opera was something I didn’t understand,” she confessed.
After high school, DiDonato attended Wichita State University with a more realistic dream of becoming a music teacher.
But God had a different plan.
Through her college music classes, DiDonato developed an appreciation for opera that soon turned into a passion and – after lots of hard work – a career.
Today, she is a leading mezzo-soprano, which means her voice is lower than a soprano but higher than a contralto, and can sing what are called “trouser roles” – a female singer playing a male character.
DiDonato also described opera as having mental, spiritual and psychological components.
She admitted to the group that she is prone to stage fright and cited as an example a London concert when she had an audience of 5,000 – with another four million watching on television.
“How do I keep from getting nervous?” she said. “I remember what my purpose is, and my purpose is to sing.”
DiDonato closed her visit by singing one of her favorite songs, Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
“I want to remind you the sky is the limit – what you dare to dream really can come true,” she said.