Joyce DiDonato’s Famous “Wheelchair-Bound” Performance in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is Available April 20 on DVD
“If you’re new to the composer’s delights, DiDonato’s [Rossini arias album] is the place to start: today’s gold standard.”– Time Out New York
The story of mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato’s wheelchair-bound performances last summer as Rosina in Rossini’s beloved Il barbiere di Siviglia at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, is already the stuff of legend. Now, this once-in-a-lifetime production – DiDonato’s pink cast and all – is immortalized in a new DVD from Virgin Classics, complete with a bonus-feature interview with the Kansas native, who tells the story of her “wheelchair Barber” with characteristic wit and irresistible warmth.
DiDonato’s embodiment of Rosina in Rossini’s Il barbiere has been celebrated around the world, having been seen by millions in opera houses, international broadcasts, and high-definition transmissions, including one from New York’s Metropolitan Opera. But her most famous turn as Rosina came last June after she broke one of her legs in a slip on stage. In a story relayed by media across the globe, DiDonato kept singing after breaking her leg during a performance of Barbiere at London’s Covent Garden. Although she was in pain, DiDonato continued the evening’s performance with a cane – and was then whisked to the hospital. She finished the run of shows wearing a bright pink cast while navigating the set in a wheelchair – and winning hearts as a peerless trouper.
Even before the fateful fall, the all-star cast of this production, as heard on the new DVD, was destined to give a great performance. Joining DiDonato are Juan Diego Flórez, the world’s reigning bel canto tenor; Alessandro Corbelli, a buffo baritone who brings subtlety and edge to the traditional comic antics; and Ferruccio Furlanetto, who demonstrates that a supreme interpreter of Verdi’s tortured King Phillip can also have a sense of humor. Conducting is the Royal Opera’s Music Director, Antonio Pappano, who has led many complete operas for EMI Classics and who – though born in London – literally has the Italian style in his blood. The production is directed by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier.
Singing from a wheelchair presented obvious challenges, particularly in such a physical production, but also some unexpected benefits for DiDonato. As she related to London’s Evening Standard, “I got introduced to my wheelchair at about five o’clock and had just half an hour of preparation onstage beforehand. In the story, Rosina is caged; the beautiful thing is that tonight that became something quite literal: I felt trapped in the wheelchair. That helped dramatically. This was one of the most thrilling nights I’ve ever spent in the theater.”