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Jessica Duchen
Monday 13th July 2009
I Don't Know How They Do It
Joyce DiDonata sings in her wheelchair

Three cheers for Joyce DiDonato, the 'Yankeediva' (her blog's title) who broke her leg on stage at Covent Garden last week but sang to the end of Il barbiere di Siviglia before heading for hospital. Like her character, Rosina, she was determined to do it her own way! She's decided to sing the rest of the run from her wheelchair. After all, as she states on her blog, there's no reason dramatically why the feisty Rosina can't be in a wheelchair with a broken leg, so...

She's unusual among singers, who generally are notorious for cancelling things at short notice. But when they do, they're always made to look like selfish, spoiled children who've decided, on a momentary whim, to let everyone down deliberately. I think we need to have another think about that.

I've just spent all weekend without a voice - luckily I can't sing to begin with, but not even being able to answer the phone just isn't funny. A cold, laryngitis, whatever - a "severe infection of the upper respiratory tract", perhaps?! - is easy to catch and can take a week or ten days to go. And that's the mild end. I looked into all this at some length for Songs of Triumphant Love, which opens with a star soprano, Terri, undergoing an operation to remove a polyp from her vocal fold. That is the most extreme end; there is much in between.

Terri tells her daughter that everything, but everything affects the voice:

'Aeroplanes, pollen, dairy produce (which Terri won't eat), pregnancy, time of the month, the menopause, emotional traumas like divorce and bereavement, passive smoking, screaming matches with a difficult lover - the list is endless. A singer's voice is her musical instrument and she mustn't take risks with its efficiency. "It's a wonder there are any female singers on this earth..." '

So next time you heave a sigh of frustration when your favourite diva doesn't show, just remember that she's probably at home with her head over a bowl of steam, wondering how she'll pay her bills if she has to cancel the rest of the run...

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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