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Kansas-Born Diva Joyce DiDonato's New Record Is As Much Jazz As It Is Opera

Parlophone Records Ltd
Prairie Village, Kansas, native and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has a new album, Songplay.

When opera singer Joyce DiDonato decided to try her hand at singing jazz, the idea wasn't as much of a stretch as it might seem. She says the two genres have one key thing in common: improvisation. 

"The expectation (in Italian Baroque music) is that the singer and the orchestra would come and improvise the harmonies and the vocal style," DiDonato told Kansas Public Radio's MichaelKeelan. "So in that element, it's exactly what happens in the world of jazz, it's just the chord structure is a little different."

The Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas. But these days, DiDonato spends the bulk of her time on tour (10 months last year). Most recently, in February and March, she's been touring with a band, singing songs from her new album, "Songplay."

A collaboration with pianist and arranger Craig Terry, the record combines jazz and tango styles with opera, jazz, and American songbook standards.

"Both Craig and I, we have a very adventurous spirit. And we thought, 'Well, why can't we just twist these up a little bit and turn them on their head? And still with great musicality? Can't we just kind of infuse a different kind of life into them for fun?' And that's what we did." 

Songs like Giordani's "Car mio benis," Rodgers and Hart's "With A Song In My Heart," and George Shearing's "Lullaby Of Birdland" all end up with a mix of jazz, classical and tango. 

"Part of it was this wanting to show that we've been singing the same song, more or less, for four centuries," DiDonato said with a laugh, "because we're still singing about love. We're still singing about the desire, the loss, the insecurity." 

She added, "I love bridging these parallel worlds and showing how similar they are."

DiDonato has a busy spring ahead.

Starting March 30, she takes on the role of Sesto in "La Clemenza di Tito" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. In April, she presents master classes at Carnegie Hall as the 2019-2020 Perspectives Artist. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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