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Mezzo Joyce DiDonato Named Recipient of Met's Second Annual Beverly Sills Award

Sills Award recipient DiDonato
© Sheila Rock 2007
Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has been named as the second recipient of the Metropolitan Opera's annual Beverly Sills Award for young singers, the company announced today.

The prize, the largest of its kind in the country, carries a $50,000 purse and is intended for extraordinarily gifted singers between the ages of 25 and 40 who have already appeared in featured solo roles with the Metropolitan Opera. DiDonato is currently starring as Rosina in the company's new production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Established last year with an endowment gift by Agnes Varis - a managing director on the company's board - and Karl Leichtman, her husband, the award was created to honor Beverly Sills, and promotes career enhancement by funding voice lessons, vocal coaching, language lessons, related travel costs and other assistance for a young singer. The winner is chosen annually by Beverly Sills and Nathan Leventhal. DiDonato is the second singer to receive the prize, with baritone Nathan Gunn having inaugurated the award last year.

"I am so pleased to congratulate Joyce," said Met general manager Peter Gelb, who with Sills presented the award to DiDonato. "Having recently seen her fantastic first performance of Rosina at the Met, I am confident that Joyce's brilliant and successful career will continue to flourish and hope that this award will help in future operatic endeavors. I also want to express my gratitude again to my friend Agnes Varis for her continuing support for this Award. She should be cloned!"

"While I was an undergraduate in Kansas, dreaming of perhaps one day being a working singer, a woman came to our school to give a lecture on our 'Distinguished Speaker' series. Her name was Beverly Sills. I sat in awe and amazement that this legend was actually in our presence, and I hung on her every word as she taught about dedication, discipline and hard work," said DiDonato, in accepting the award. "Fast-forward a few years, and I pick up my cell phone and hear, 'This is Beverly Sills. I want to give you my award.' I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore. I am truly overwhelmed and humbled by this honor. I am so grateful to the Metropolitan Opera and to Beverly Sills and Agnes Varis for their commitment to the future of opera. I intend to uphold their standards and vision to the very best of my ability and rise to the challenge of joining the great legacy of singers from the past with the exciting and bold possibilities of opera in the future."

DiDonato, who continues her performances as Rosina in Barbiere at the Met through May 11, made her company debut in November 2005 as Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro. She performed the role of Stéphano later that season in the then-new production of Roméo et Juliette.

"Karl and I are so pleased that Joyce DiDonato, one of the finest mezzo-sopranos in the world today, is the recipient of the second Beverly Sills Award," said Dr. Varis. "Her magnetism and passion stimulate every performance in which she appears. We are honored to support this award, which both celebrates the legacy of our good friend Beverly Sills and supports the careers of our current opera singers."

DiDonato's career has taken her to the top opera companies in the world, including the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, Teatro alla Scala, the Bayerische Staatsoper, and companies in Amsterdam, Geneva and Tokyo. Career highlights have included the title role of Cendrillon at Santa Fe Opera, Dejanira in Handel's Hercules with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at New York's Brooklyn Academy of Music and London's Barbican Centre, Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking with the New York City Opera and Meg in the world premiere of Mark Adamo's Little Women. She has performed in concert with the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the Paris Opera orchestra, St. Luke's Chamber Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

DiDonato's engagements for the current season include the Composer in Teatro Real's production of Ariadne auf Naxos, Idamante in Opéra National de Paris's new production of Idomeneo and Angelina in Houston Grand Opera's La Cenerentola.

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