The Met’s 2017–18 season is bookended by new productions of Bellini’s Norma, the tale of a powerful Druid priestess concealing a secret family, and Massenet’s Cendrillon, the French composer’s rich take on the classic Cinderella story. This season, these opera’s formidable title roles are sung by Sondra Radvanovsky and Joyce DiDonato, respectively—two artists who have reached the pinnacle of their profession. The American divas spoke about their characters, their careers—and the connections between the two.
“Norma, for me, is a woman with a dual personality. We have the personal side of Norma, who has two children that she loves very much and a Roman lover no one knows about. And then we have the very public Norma, the Druid priestess, the leader of all the Druids, who look up to her for guidance. She’s conflicted, because she wants to be the leader of her people, but she also just wants to be a normal woman, like all the women out there. But she’s not allowed to … Of all the roles I sing, Norma is the one I relate to the most. I don’t have children, but I have a private life that I keep very close to my chest. And I’m always conflicted because, as opera singers, we travel ten or 11 months out of the year. We miss weddings. We miss birthdays. We miss holidays. We miss important milestones that people get to experience … To be an opera singer, you have to love what you do. You have to have a passion and you have to have a drive because we do give up so much to live this life. And it’s difficult, constantly thinking about your voice—‘Oh, is the voice going to be there today? Am I getting sick? Did I sing that note okay?’ … Everyone has a gift, and I think I was very lucky to find my gift at a young age. I started taking voice lessons when I was 11 years old, and my choir director at church said to my mother and father, ‘That girl, she has a gift. And I think you really should help nurture it. She has the passion.’ Without the passion, it’s just a job. But with the passion, it’s a vocation, it’s a career—for me, it’s my life. I don’t think I could survive without singing. I honestly don’t. It’s so 100% a part of who I am that I can’t disassociate Sondra from the opera singer.”
“Cendrillon is the French girl who we here in America know as Cinderella. She’s a character familiar to so many of us because we grew up with her. We grew up knowing her loneliness, that she has been rejected by family, she has lost her mother and feels a deep sense of sadness about that. But she is also a girl who holds onto hope and who holds onto the idea that goodness and love really conquer. And in the story, she finds her prince—but what I like about this version is she’s not dependent on the prince. It’s not that she needs him to make her life complete, but she wants to love him, and it’s a beautiful, pure way of looking at the expression of love … She is a character I have sung for almost 19 years, and I hate to say it because it sounds like a cliché, but it’s impossible for me to sit here, knowing that I’m preparing this role for the Metropolitan Opera, and not feel like Cinderella. I came from Prairie Village, Kansas, and I thought I was destined to be a high school music teacher. I thought I would be living a life in the suburbs, very normal. Yet, when I went to college—and it sounds strange to say—but it felt like the stage really called me. I got bitten by the bug and it felt like home. It took me a little while to reconcile what felt like a very narcissistic lifestyle. But in the end, what I found is that, actually, I am in a position of service. Especially now, when we need music and the arts to open ourselves and open our channels to compassion and empathy more than ever. So, when I sing, it’s not about the spotlights—I mean, all that’s lovely—but it really is the privilege of being able to give people a hugely emotional and connective experience.”