Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato returns to her hometown for her fifth recital with the Harriman-Jewell Series and this time, it happens to be for the Harriman-Jewell Series 50th Anniversary Gala Feb. 1.
Her first concert with Harriman-Jewell came as a solo recital, and her entire family attended. “My dad was a long-time subscriber when I was growing up, and he would always come home to regale us with tales of the great artists he had just heard, so to have him sitting in the audience – as a subscriber – and hear his own daughter sing was something he never could quite wrap his mind around! It brought me great joy to give that experience to him!”
DiDonato will be joined by her friend and fellow opera star Juan Diego Flórez. “I’m the hometown girl so he is part of the recital with me. Juan Diego and I have been stage partners since 2002 (Paris) and have been the go-to Rossini Opera Couple for over a decade. I think some of the greatest operatic performances I’ve been a part of have included him, and many people would label them ‘legendary’ including my broken leg suffered on opening night of the Royal Opera’s Barber of Seville and sang the rest of the performance in a wheelchair.”
Clark Morris, the current executive director, calls the choice to bring in DiDonato as a further stamp of approval on the significance of the series. “The series has seen some leading talent with Luciano Pavarotti and Marilyn Horne. It seems fitting that the vocalists for the gala ring with our history. Both Joyce and Juan had a special relationship with Dr. Harriman and ironically they have never sung in a recital together. They have performed in many operas, but not like this. Juan Diego and Joyce both reached out to me after Dr. Harriman’s passing and spoke of his significance. They are the right artists and the right connection with us to make this gala so unique.”
Dr. Richard Harriman, an English professor at William Jewell College, along with colleague Dean Dunham, who shared an office together, started the Harriman-Jewell Series. He was able to mark the performing arts series 45th anniversary before his death. “He was always incredibly kind and gracious with me, never hesitating to express his great pride in presenting one of Kansas City’s own,” DiDonato exclaimed. “But in his very generous way, he always wanted to remind me that it was because of my artistry, and not just a hometown connection that brought me there. I appreciated that, because he only brought the best of the best to his series. What an incredible legacy he has given to Kansas City!”
DiDonato now works with Morris. She raves about him as well. “Clark is a tower of elegance, class and creativity, and I couldn’t imagine a better predecessor to Dr. Harriman. Clark has tremendous comprehension of what the artist’s life is like, and you see that understanding at every level of his organization ~ they treat their artists with incredible kindness so we are left to simply create on the stage. It is a rare and wonderful thing!”
As of the publication date, the program had not been finalized, but DiDonato knows there will be “lots of Rossini.” Accordingly, being part of the gala answers her take on the series’ importance. “I’ve always said about the program that one of the things that makes it so special is that it has brought the world to Kansas City, through dance, jazz, opera, chamber music and more,” DiDonato explains. “The vision it took to make this a reality is what changes the world! I think, as a local singer who has gone out to perform on the world’s greatest stages, there is something special about bringing me home to help celebrate this amazing organization’s incredible achievement, and – hopefully – to propel it to the next 50, wonderful years!”