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Joyce DiDonato invites you to help create a better world

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato's new album, <em>Eden</em>, is a meditation on the natural world.
Sergi Jasanada
Courtesy of the artist
Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato's 'Eden' makes its US debut in Kansas City.

The Prairie Village, KS native's theatrical concert work, presented by the Harriman-Jewell series, makes its U.S. premiere at the Folly Theater on April 12.

This story was first published in Classical KC's "Take Note" newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox the first Wednesday of every month.

No matter the project, no matter the tree, no matter the change…each starts from one small place: the spark of an idea, the seed, the first step.

That’s the inspiration for the new theatrical concert work “Eden" — starring mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato — a co-commission by the Harriman-Jewell Series. The performance arrives at Kansas City's Folly Theater on April 12.

“Eden” explores nature, growth and healing, and asks the question: “In this time of upheaval, which seed will you plant today?”

The program of nature-inspired works, from the Baroque era to now, includes a new song by composer Rachel Portman.

Portman, considered one of the United Kingdom’s foremost film composers, has scored over 100 films including “Chocolat,” “The Cider House Rules,” and “Benny & Joon.” She is the first female composer to win an Academy Award, for 1996’s “Emma,” and first to win a Primetime Emmy Award, for 2015 “Bessie,” as well as multiple award nominations. She also writes for the classical realm, from orchestral works to musicals to chamber music.

“I really enjoy the challenge of writing music in lots of different forms,” she shared in a 2020 interview with the podcast Score, “whether it's for the concert hall or whether it’s setting voices or movies.”

Her new work, written specifically for this project with Joyce DiDonato and the orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro, is titled “The First Morning of the World,” with lyrics by Gene Sheer.

The song — with a soaring, winding melody — argues that if we truly listen to nature, despite all our human folly and destruction, we can begin to heal.

Portman is often inspired by nature, including her 2020 album “Ask the River,” as well as work for The Climate Coalition and “Endangered” for the BBC Symphony Orchestra. She also shares her explorations through social media, celebrating the delicacy and nuance of nature through images of tree roots, spiderwebs and skylarks.

“I am passionately interested in the environment and our connection to the environment, and the fact that we are part of it. I worry about the Earth,” she said. “I’m worried that we are not really listening to the Earth….I’ve written quite a bit of music over the last ten, twenty years that has been connected to environmental themes.”

The Prairie Village-native mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has also used her art for activism, and she has a rich relationship with the Harriman-Jewell Series.

“The Harriman-Jewell Series has a long history with Joyce DiDonato, dating all the way back to her as a young concert patron during her early teenage years growing up in Kansas City,” said Clark Morris, executive and artistic director of the Harriman-Jewell Series.

From those formative experiences in Kansas City, DiDonato has grown into one of the art form’s leading artists, singing in the world’s finest opera houses. She’s used her artistry and passion to encourage change and inspire hope, with projects such as 2016’s “In War & Peace: Harmony Through Music.” Like “Eden,” that project was a collaboration with the Italian orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro and conductor Maxim Emelyanychev.

The album debuted #1 on Classical Voice and the show had its world premiere in Brussels. After a tour of Europe, their performance in Kansas City marks its United States premiere. Along with Portman’s work, the concert includes nature-inspired arias from the last centuries, works by Gustav Mahler, Josef Mysliveček, Aaron Copland, Biagio Marini, and more.

“Eden” is a call to action: “This whole project is about planting seeds..planting seeds of music, of ideas, of questions…and seeing what comes to fruit from them,” says DiDonato.

“Joyce hopes that all of us take another look at our connections to nature to experience greater hope for a better future,” says Morris. “The seeds of Joyce’s creative artistry were nurtured here in Kansas City, and I think we can all be proud of her evolution as an artist and be very thankful that we have artists of her intellect and talent in this world.”

At the concert, each audience member is given a packet of native seeds to plant or share. At the premiere in Brussels, Belgium, DiDonato told the audience, “I didn’t just want to plant a tree for every ticket we sold. I want every one of us to go home and participate in growing something.”

“By the time this project ends we will have planted thousands and thousands of native seeds and you will have helped it grow. So thank you for that.”

Harriman-Jewell Series presents “Eden” Tuesday April 12, 2022 at 7:30pm at the Folly Theater. For more information, visit

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen is a freelance writer in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. Learn more at Proust Eats a Sandwich.
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